Saturday, June 4, 2011

How Now, Brown Cow?

NOTE: I’ve tried to design this blog in such a way that you can see what you are comfortable seeing. Thus the videos to the right are organized in such a way that you are not “tricked” into seeing a video you are not ready to handle yet. The inspiring ones are --  to me anyway -- inspiring. The intense ones are indeed intense and only you know if you can handle them at this point. I don’t say that in a patronizing way. Rather, I avoided these issues for most of my life because I was afraid of what I would see and learn. Which is a pity, because had I walked in the water slowly at my own pace, I would have been swimming in an animal-friendly waters a long time ago instead of being scared I’d get purposely splashed with icy cold water by someone yelling “Come on in, the water’s great!” (Don’t you hate that? I usually end up loving the water temperature once I’m in it, but I HATE being splashed before I’m ready to dunk myself under.) I hope that metaphor makes sense.

Anyhow, please know that I will not try to “splash” you, particularly since I know many people are exploring this for the first time. My goal is to be respectful to you and your own journey while putting information out there. What I’m going to describe below is what happens in the dairy industry, but I’m attempting to do it in a way that is “handle-able.” There’s definitely more in-depth information out there about the abuses going on, and I’m sure you’ll seek them out if you want to know more, or you can watch some of the “intense” videos.

So a lot of people sort-of get vegetarianism , but veganism?  I’ll admit, I used to think a plant-based diet very strange and extreme, not to mention unhealthy. My motto was always “everything in moderation.” All vegans are kind of sickly looking (not getting enough protein and iron of course) and angry, right? I can’t even remember where I got that idea, but it was planted firmly in my head for some reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most vegans, in fact, have what is termed “the vegan glow” and are generally a very happy, healthy, energetic and peaceful bunch. Except when we – I – play Scrabble or Boggle. Then watch out.

One thing I love about getting older is that I am constantly surprised. I think when we’re young, we think we’ll finish our schooling and then we’ll pretty much have it together and know what we need to know. But life giggles at us  -- or sometimes shakes her head sadly --  and kindly says, “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, sweetie...” So, just as I did in so many ways in my twenties and thirties, I entered a huge learning curve yet again and found myself on a happy new plane of life that was honestly (and I’m not trying to sound all born-again on you) blissful. I felt like I could finally exhale.

So why give up milk and cheese? (I’ll talk about eggs another day.) I liked cheese, milk, cream, half-and-half, yoghurt, and butter and could not fathom giving them up. Life without butter? No thanks! (I'll explain on another day why we perceive dairy as being so difficult to give up. Ends up a lot of us are literally addicted to it. Fascinating stuff.)

It ended up that there are so many, many reasons to give up dairy, but the main reason for me was the animals. I learned what happened to them and did not want to have any part in what was going on, once I knew.

Cows that are milked are kept constantly pregnant. This is the only way to get them to produce milk.  They are continually milked and their udders, as one would expect, get raw and infected. (Believe it or not, there’s quite a bit of pus in milk because of their infected udders. How gross is that?) But that’s not the bad part.(Again, I'll go easy on you, so fear not!)

When the babies are born, they have 24 hours to be with their mothers to get the colostrum from her milk, which will help their immune systems. This is not done out of kindness to the cow and her baby, but to try to keep as many of the babies alive for the next phase. Then the baby is taken from the cow. What would you do if your baby were taken from you right after it was born? The cow react the same way a human mother would act. People who have witnessed this have said that the calls of the cows trying to get to their babies is more excruciating to hear than the sounds of animals slaughtered. Then she is impregnated again (painful) and the cycle starts again. After about 5 years, her milk production begins to wane and her body starts to break down. Her own bones are leached of calcium to do the constant “nursing” to the machines. At this point, she is "spent" and is sent off (there are videos showing them being dragged by ropes, they are so weakened) to slaughter, a horrific death. A healthy cow can normally live to about 25 years of age. Most of our hamburger comes from spent dairy cows.

So back to the babies. If the baby was born a male, he is destined to be veal. For 16 weeks, he is fed an iron-deficient diet and is not allowed to move. This makes his flesh extra tender. The conditions are more horrific than you can imagine. Then he is killed. If the baby was a female, she is sent off to a small enclosure to see if she survives to adulthood. (Many do not.) If she does, then she becomes a milking cow for about 5 years and then is killed.

So in the end, they are all killed. Did you know that?  I never gave it much thought, though I think I always intuitively knew in my gut there was something amiss but it was much easier to ignore that feeling.  It’s oh-so-easy to ignore because everyone ignores it. It’s like a well-understood and unspoken rule to share our heads sadly and then change the subject.

Further, the veal industry was born from the dairy industry. The dairy industry found a way to make more money and it worked like a charm. So all those times I shuddered when someone had the audacity to order veal? It was my glass of chocolate milk that was the cause of the veal on that person’s plate. Below is a non-intense video by John Robbins (who write Diet for New America and who walked away from his family business, Baskin Robbins) on how Julia Child gave up veal. (Feel free to ignore the DVD advertisement at the end.) So interesting!

So this cycle is the same for all milk, organic milk included. It doesn’t matter how it is labeled. There is no organic kind slaughterhouse. All the animals, organically fed or otherwise, are sent to the same place. I would buy my organic milk every week, thinking I was supporting a real mom and pop farm that treated its cows well. But it’s all business and a business doesn’t survive by putting retired cows out to pasture. It just wouldn't make financial sense.

Aside from all this, there is additional unspeakable cruelty going on towards these cows. Things I literally could not even imagine people doing to animals. Things that kept me shaking for a few days from shock.  Again, I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to know more. (And you are not bad or weak if you don’t want to know. There are some well-known animal activists out there who don’t watch the footage, as they don’t need to watch it. I felt compelled to watch it for my own sake and for the animals’ sake because I knew that that was what it would take to make the reality sink in and I knew in my soul I had to watch it. Once you see what happens, you just don’t go back to your omnivorous ways.)

Apart from the animal cruelty, our bodies not only don’t require milk, they are being damaged from milk. Someone presented it to me this way and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before: we are the only species that not only drinks milk as adults, but drinks the milk of another species. I’ve read figures that have stated that something like 70 to 80 % of humans are “lactose intolerant” and it’s viewed as some disorder. But in fact, it is normal for our bodies to reject milk  after weaning (never mind another species milk), because it is not good for our bodies and our bodies are sending us not-so-subtle messages to quit it.

Humans need calcium; that is a fact. But the calcium in milk (which is given to the cow in supplement form in her feed because she isn’t allowed to get it naturally from the grass) doesn’t help our bones because all the protein in the milk leaches calcium from our bones. You’re thinking “No way. That’s not true,” right? I balked at that fact at first and found it hard to believe. But the famous China Study found that people who consumed no dairy and little to no meat, had no osteoporosis in their population. It just wasn't an issue. Populations who consume dairy and meat have high rates of osteoporosis. I heard the analogy once that drinking milk for calcium is like someone handing you $1000 and then driving off with your brand-new BMW. It seems like you’re getting a good deal at first, but you’re losing big time. The dairy industry has done an amazing job of convincing us that we need milk for calcium. "It does a body good." They have a stellar advertising crew. But, to be blunt, they do not give a crap about our health. They are a business, and if telling us milk will make our bones strong and healthy, so be it.

It ends up that getting calcium as a vegan is super easy. And it doesn’t get leached out of your bones! How great is that?

I knew this was going to be a long entry, but it’s such a huge issue and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Dairy and meat are the main causes for so many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. (There are other causes, of course, such as environment, but science is showing that dairy and meat are the main causes.) There’s a new movie, Forks Over Knives, that illustrates a lot of this. The trailer below (inspiring, not intense) gives you an idea...

And, Bill Clinton decided to give up dairy as an experiment to reverse his heart damage ....

Anyhow, I hope this helps you understand why I and so many others have given up dairy. I haven’t gone into how amazing my body feels now, but I’ll leave that for another day ....

Peaceful Eating! (and drinking!)

PS. If you are in the area, don't forget about the Farm Fest tomorrow! 

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