For several years I’ve toyed with the idea of vegetarianism. While I can’t claim that there’s ANY way I can go as far as veganism, I really do feel badly about the sad and pervasive inefficiency of eating meat products. Add to this the fact that the whole industry is just terribly cruel and you can build a good case for not subsidizing it with our dollars. Most of this just rattled away in the back of my mind until I visited a local dairy farm the other day.
Firstly, let me say that I went into this with a fairly open mind. I imagined a tour of a facility that was at least grounded in some level of realism. Sure, animals are going to be dirty and crowded and I was prepared to deal with that. I spent a fair bit of my life around a small farm so I get the farming thing. You do what you have to do to get your product to market. Fine. I can accept that much. You know what really just turned my stomach? You walk into the place and instantly you’re hit with the barrage of marketing. How environmentally friendly the farm is. How incredibly clean it is. How healthy the product is for you. A fucking animatronic tree babbles on for 10 minutes about how much the native wildlife just LOVES the farm because of all the wilderness areas that have been left untouched. There’s a 3D movie that talks about how healthy milk is for you and how clean and sterile the environment is for these cows. I may not know much but I do know enough to realize that any time a company spends that much time telling you how clean and sterile their product is and how good it is for the environment that they are totally fucking feeding you bullshit.
So let’s get down to facts. Facts from the tour. The tour that was promoting the farm and how great it was. Firstly, do you have any idea how wasteful this whole thing is? Their big line was, “From grass to your glass.” The premise being that these miraculous cows turn grass into milk. It’s like magic! Well firstly, that’s utter bullshit (no pun intended). These cows would be lucky if they’ve ever SEEN grass let alone had the opportunity to consume it. Every day, the video happily proclaims, the average cow eats… get this… 100 pounds of grain. Yeah. You read that right. One hundred pounds of grain, 30 gallons of water and in exchange you get 10 gallons of milk and, one can only assume, 100+ pounds of excrement. Do you have any idea how many people you could feed with 100 pounds of grain or similar vegetable products? People are starving on this planet and yet we’re force-feeding grain to dairy cows. The video made all sorts of wonderful claims about how the cows live in luxurious conditions. They have clean sand every week in their pens (because cows in their native habitat no doubt hang out at the beach so this is utterly natural) and they have all the food they want, available 24 hours a day, and even get to go (I shit you not) “hang out with each other” in a special area of their pen. Their description makes it sound more like a retirement home than the abattoir that it really is.
The marketing also went to great lengths, repeatedly, to talk about how clean and sanitary their product was, how they “harvest” the milk and sanitize the udders and cool it down rapidly to make sure it stays fresh. It just sounds so yummy and delicious! That is until you see the cows on the huge rotary milker covered with their own shit. Seriously, their pens are filled with sand, so I’m fairly certain that brown material covering them is probably not mud. If you put antiseptic on a shit-covered cow and then suck the milk out of it, is that really sanitary? Or is it just “kinda” sanitary? Close enough for the USDA, perhaps. Just worth keeping in mind, I suppose, that every drink of milk contains some amount of cow shit.
What struck me most of all was the birthing barn. Here you had cows that had been force-fed to the point of being utterly obese, filled with hormones and unable to give birth to their own children without the assistance of a stout rope. The audio voice-over claimed, “only 5% of births need assistance” but even our small sample size proved that an utterly contrived statistic. These poor animals, stretched beyond all proper bounds of nature’s intention by human greed and force-feeding, have as much chance of giving birth naturally as an obese woman does of running a marathon. In many cases their udders are so grossly distended that they can barely walk in a straight line let alone give birth naturally.
In summary, the dairy farm is a dim parody of nature. While the voice-over proudly proclaims how happy the cows are and, most disturbingly, how smart and easily trained they are, they live out existences that are more closely akin to something from an H.P. Lovecraft novel than anything else. Once they serve out their useful lives in the dairy they head to the slaughterhouse to “give their all” as the tour guide said when it was asked of her. What logical sense does that make? Who in their right mind subsidizes an industry that is not only horrendously wasteful but just idiotically cruel? In our pursuit of cheap calories, we’ve created a monstrosity, a travesty of all logical justice.
I, for one, am off dairy. I’ll admit that it will be difficult to give up cheese but the image of the shit-stained udders of dozens of cows being suckled by probing mechanical nozzles is more than sufficient to put me off milk and beef. How can we justify such an industry? As intense as the marketing is, I shudder to think what the reality is hidden behind the sanitized version we see on the tour. Perhaps if I put these products aside it can help make the huge pile of shit a bit smaller. Perhaps if we all do it will vanish entirely.