I first became a vegetarian primarily for environmental reasons. I grew up in a rural area alongside farmers who I was friends with. I’ve never been opposed to humans eating meat, in principle.
Yet, the fishing industry is wrecking our oceans and the meat industry is one of the biggest causes of climate change and habitat destruction. The single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet is to avoid meat and dairy. Being vegetarian was just the obvious step for me as someone trying to help the planet.
The animal cruelty elements behind vegetarianism came later as I gradually learnt more and more about factory farming, live transportation and the cruelties that often occur in slaughter houses. Those reasons strengthened my resolve. I am an animal lover and I did not want to be part of that cruelty.
Many of the simply absurd arguments that some meat eaters use also has confirmed my resolve over the years. I cast no judgement over other people’s dietary choices, just as I wish people would stop judging mine.
Yet the meat heads’ (how a vegan friend describes fanatic meat eaters who go out of their way to attack vegetarians and vegans) best arguments seem to be things along the lines of ‘but cave men ate meat’. If that’s the best they’ve got, I really see no reason to eat meat when I don’t need to.
But as a vegetarian, some part of me felt like I was still cheating. Yes I’d given up meat and reduced my impact. However, I still ate cheese, chocolate and cakes. I was still contributing to the envionment-destroying meat industry and, even worse, I was supporting perhaps the most cruel part of it. Dairy farming.
Dairy farming is cruel. There’s just no other word for it. In order for people to get cow’s milk, cows must be made pregnant. Their calf is then taken away from them after 48 hours. Like people, cows form strong emotional bonds with their offsping and go crazy when they are taken away from them. There are videos of mother cows galloping up the road after the van taking their calf. It’s heartbreaking.
Cows are bred constantly putting their bodies under huge amounts of strain. Cattle usually live to around 20. But dairy cows rarely make it past 5 years.
At most, dairy cows might get to spend 6 months a year grazing outside but the rest of the time they are forced to stay indoors. Sometimes they are in stalls where they can barely move. Some don’t ever get to go outside at all. As social grazing herd animals, cattle are rarely allowed to express natural behaviours and live as they should.
Dairy cows are bred to go far beyond what is natural. They are made to produce around ten times more milk than would be necessary to feed a calf. The weight of this excess milk stretches their udders to an unnatural size, causing teat infections and also causes laminitis in many cows.
Laminitis. I don’t think anyone apart from horse lovers can quite understand how excrutiatingly nasty and devastating this condition is. My dear horse Toby died because of laminitis (caused by a condition called cushings similar to diabetes). Seeing him in agonising pain and barely able to walk was one of the worst things I’ve had to go through. So what it was like for him I can barely imagine.
And yet I was personally contributing to cows going through that exact same agony.
This January I took part in my second Veganuary. I hadn’t really intended to stay dairy-free, I didn’t think I could do it. But being vegan for a month was so much easier this time around because I was prepared.
I made delicious recipes and a cheese-free lasagna which tasted as good if not better than normal lasagna. I was content devouring completely vegan dark chocolate. I prefer oat milk to cows’ milk anyway.
I’ve stayed dairy free after Veganuary. I can’t describe myself as vegan, as I still eat eggs (organic, free to roam, pasture fed) and honey. I’m not perfect. However, my conscience feels much lighter. I’m not cheating at it anymore. I’m no longer directly supporting a cruel and destructive industry.
Find out more about what cows go through to give us milk here.