Some days I wonder why I even bother with plans; I mean, I know full well that things never go quite as I predict. Here I am, only one post in and I’ve already fallen behind on my vegan Q & A. (Weakly shrugs in complete surrender while at the same time knowing I will never stop planning…)
In my defense, I’ve had a second question in mind (for weeks now), and I’ve been working on drafting a post (for weeks now), but then…so much interference. First there’s a product I’m testing before I can rave about it, and then new info keeps demanding to be included. So instead of trying to force the post before it’s ready, it just seems wise to choose another topic. I settled on a popular one, not only because it’s a perfectly valid question, but also a hugely important one: I can understand the meat, but what about milk and eggs?
For someone who makes the deliberate choice not to eat animals, the vegetarian route is easily understood (even if not easily condoned). And regardless of whether or not you agree with the vegetarian stance, it’s still usually ethically clear why a person would choose that lifestyle. If I eat a burger, I’m eating a cow; there’s no two ways around it. But at first glance, where exactly is the problem with eating an egg? Or drinking a glass of milk? Or indulging in a cheesy pizza? There’s no (obvious) death involved, so the vegan view starts to seem more than a little bit extreme and often more than a little bit unnecessary. And here “we” are, just making trouble. Again.
But what if I told you that if I were forced to choose between drinking a glass of milk and eating a pork chop, I’d go with the pork chop every time? And for someone who hasn’t eaten animals in over a decade, that’s saying a lot. Since I seem moderately intelligent, you probably figure there must be a reason, right? (Just nod yes, and we can all pretend you agree with the moderately intelligent part.)
A Vegan Life
Back when I first became a vegetarian in 2007, I really had no idea what a vegan even was. In fact, I thought it was just the slightest variation on the whole vegetarian theme. But the more I read and the more I learned, the more it became clear that it’s a whole different ball game altogether, especially if you’re opting for a vegan life.
Owing to my insatiable need to always have all the facts, I blindly dove into documentaries as a source of info without really being aware of what I was getting myself into. And all of a sudden, instead of just an abstract idea about what was going on in the animal industry, I now had visuals. (Which I definitely wasn’t prepared for.) Heartbreaking images that I can’t un-see no matter how hard I try, and trust me, I’ve tried. And faced with that unquestionable evidence, the merits and necessity of a vegan lifestyle became obvious to me, and I finally understood the distinction.
What Did I Learn?
It’s true, eating that egg and drinking that milk doesn’t have to mean death, but the sad fact is that it does. Every single time, it does. Our demand for more (as-much-as-we-want more) means that as soon as an animal becomes less productive, it’s no longer serving its “purpose.” And what other alternative is there besides disposing of the financial loss and starting fresh? Letting these animals live out the rest of their natural lifespans isn’t really a feasible option. We don’t have the resources to feed them, and we don’t have the space to house them, so what choice are we left with?
You guessed it–we’re left with slaughter.
And while the suffering of the animal in the meat industry is over in a relatively short (life)span, those in the dairy and egg industry linger for much, much longer. And then? Their fate is exactly the same: We kill them. And then we eat them. Suddenly, things aren’t quite so black and white anymore.
A little bit of info is necessary here to explain my position, but no worries, I won’t go graphic. And I won’t go deep. The reason why is twofold: If I dig into the harsh realities (which are really hard to take), I’ll likely lose most everyone except for those already vegan. And then what would even be the point of this entire post? Secondly, I can’t handle it. Seriously, confirming facts for this was hard enough, and I had to stop watching the documentaries years ago. So as a matter of self-preservation, I’ll only give you a brief overview; I’ll leave the telling (and showing) of the horror stories to others who’re obviously made of much tougher stuff than I.
A “Beef” Cow
A beef cow is generally sent to slaughter before two years of age, and a veal calf? Ugh. Maybe those babies make it to four months old. Maybe. The lives of the beef cow on the feedlot are bad–rampant respiratory problems and infections mean tons of antibiotics, which in turn cause more health problems (for both cow and human alike). The diet fed to these cows isn’t a natural one (for the species), nor is it designed for proper nutrition. It’s sole purpose is to fatten up these animals as quickly as possible, no matter the repercussions. And yes, there are tons of repercussions.
The conditions are cramped, muddy, and dirty. The cows lack freedom and space and grass. Truly, they lack a life. To those that would argue that these living arrangements are perfectly fine, and even humane, I always wonder what they would say if their beloved Fido were to be kept in the same conditions–for the rest of his life. I have a feeling the perspective might change.
A “Dairy” Cow
While the story of the beef cow is one of physical and mental hardships, I feel that the ladies in the dairy industry have it even worse. Not only is their health compromised (frequent mastitis is one example), but they’re trapped in a cycle of repeated emotional strain. In order to keep the milk supply constant, the cow is bred yearly, which might not seem like that big of a deal. Until you factor in the consequence (a.k.a. the baby), who would only deplete that precious milk supply if left to freely nurse, as nature intended.
This problem is “solved” by selling the baby boys for beef or veal (i.e. slaughter), and the baby girls will often replace their mamas, who’ll burn out long before their time (also by eventual slaughter). But in either case, they’re removed from the mother cow quickly after birth. Year after year. And even if you don’t believe that animals have feelings, they still have instincts. Instincts that, in the wild, would have them defending their babies at all costs. Do they cry and bellow and scream? Yes. Do they hunt down their newborn babies? Yes. Do they chase down the trucks carrying them away? Yes. And as a mama myself, I can’t even begin to imagine that repeated cycle of pain.
If one of these dairy cows were allowed to live out her full lifespan, she would have about twenty years of living ahead of her. But the unrelenting strain of pregnancy, milking, illness, and constant loss shortens her existence by roughly seventy-five percent. And at around five years of age, when the milk supply begins to dwindle and she’s no longer deemed useful, she’ll be sent off to slaughter just as brother beef cow was. With the same cruel transport and the same terrifying death.
The “Meat” Hen
The story is exactly the same for the meat hen versus the laying hen. The conditions that the meat hens are kept in are beyond-words bad. Atrocious, even. Believe it or not, I’m trying really hard to refrain from my typical expressive means of writing in this post (I do love my adjectives and adverbs). This is me, exercising restraint, and making a valiant attempt to keep a subject that affects me so deeply as neutral as possible. But sometimes only atrocious will do.
Some of the most disturbing images in my mind are those of chickens in the meat industry. They’re treated as less than nothing; their environment is filthy and so cramped that they can and often do trample each other to death. Having no access to the sunshine or fresh air or grass (no matter what that label says) means that it’s truly a blessing that they’re only forced to live for a mere two months before their time is up. Two months from birth to plate.
The laying hens are no better off; worse even, in my opinion. Their living quarters are different but definitely no better, and if you do a search of a spent battery hen, the images are truly heartbreaking. Their lifespans range from one to three years, depending on how well they’re producing eggs. And once again, the end result is exactly the same as that of their “meaty” brothers–they all end up on a plate somewhere, having lived a life shortened by up to ninety percent. (Our oldest chicken friend here at Follow Us Home lived to be a ripe twelve years old. Some hens have been known to live even longer.)
Not the Babies
But when it comes to layer hens, there’s even more to the story. In order to meet the demand for egg-producing hens (both commercially and for smaller backyard farmers), many, many eggs are hatched each year. Immediately after hatching, the newborn chicks are sexed and, of course, only half of these end up being “useful” females. The females are thus spared, thanks to their egg-laying abilities, and the males? Ground up alive–literally. Or tossed, still breathing, into garbage bags to be slowly crushed to death. In the US, this number reaches into the hundreds of millions each year. Seriously, is there any way to make that neutral?
Things get a little bit more hazy when you factor in all of the small “hobby” farms scattered across the lands. Let’s (generously) assume that all of these hens get to live out their full lives–birth to a natural death. Many of them are loved and cherished and cared for. They’re not merely “chickens,” they’re pets. Or even better, they’re friends.
And I’ll even take it a step further and assume there’s no rooster fertilizing the eggs. From the outside, it becomes really hard to see where the conflict lies in consuming those eggs. They house no babies, and the chickens are healthy, happy, and protected. Sometimes, enormously loved. Problem? There is no problem.
Not My Body, Not My Egg
Until you factor in the fact that those eggs aren’t mine. They were never mine. Our feathered friends didn’t ask to be brought to my home, and if they could safely free range they wouldn’t even need me to feed them for much of the year. Those eggs were created in their bodies, and 100% of the effort involved in birthing them goes to the hen. The same applies to the dairy cow and her milk: the milk belongs to that cow, and it belongs to the baby she birthed. In what way can I claim ownership and rights? In my mind, I can’t.
This way of thinking isn’t quite as black and white as the dairy cow who inevitably ends up at the slaughterhouse, because morals and ethics vary from person to person. I hesitated to even include it because I think it will be less understood. But in the end, it’s important to me and it’s the foundation for not only my choices, but many other (ethical) vegans as well. And even if not fully accepted, it still gives insight into the no-milk-no-eggs perspective. If something comes from my body, it’s mine. The same applies to the chicken, the cow, the sheep, the honeybee, the…honestly? The same applies to every-being.
To Sum It All Up
In a nutshell, vegans don’t eat milk or eggs because to do so means the death of an animal. It means the acceptance and condoning of cruel and inhumane treatment. It means pain and suffering and heartbreak. The death may not be immediate, but it is inevitable. So whether or not I eat a burger or drink a milkshake, I’m killing a cow. Whether or not I eat a drumstick or scramble an egg (or purchase from a hatchery), I’m killing a chicken. And while ownership rights might not always be agreed on, there’s no gray area when it comes to being alive or being dead.
And that, my friends, is my personal answer to the but what about milk and eggs question (wipes sweat from brow). This series isn’t an easy one for me to tackle, (I’ve now seen additional images I can’t erase), but I’m going to continue nonetheless. I hope it helps to shed some light on what can sometimes be a mystifying question.
Wishing everyone a happy week. Love & Blessings ~ Melinda
We’re just getting started, but please visit here for more in our Vegan Q & A series. New question and answers coming soon! And, of course, if there’s a specific question you’d like me to address, please leave it below.
If you’re braver than I and searching for the facts, here’s a list of documentaries commonly recommended by vegans. Please note, I have not watched most of them and viewer discretion is strongly advised. (I’ve been warned that Earthlings is particularly graphic.) Also, feel free to visit our Recipes page for some tasty vegan fare–more treats coming soon!