I had the privilege of working with filmmaker Kelly Guerin and Photographer/Investigator Jo-Anne McArthur on a short film about the dairy industry. It’s funny that so many of us grow up drinking milk without connecting the dots that it’s actually a cow’s breastmilk intended for her newborn. And have you ever really considered what veal parmesan is?
Here’s what I said in the film:
I’m a mother. Twice I’ve endured the challenges of pregnancy, labour, and birth. My slippery, sweet-smelling babies were gently put into my arms, to my breast, and there they stayed. The love of motherhood is an aching, sobering, anxious love. Our worst fear is to lose a child; even the sound of our child crying can send us to despair.
We inflict this nightmare onto cows again and again. The mothers bawl for their babies, fight for them, even sometimes try to hide them. The farmers don’t deny it.
Then as if something from a horror film, we eat the bodies of these sweet babies. They become veal, maybe dusted with parmesan–the coagulated milk from their mothers. They should be drinking the milk; instead we coat their body parts in it. Later we eat the bodies of the mothers too, in the form of cheap hamburgers.
In some ways the family run dairy farms are even more disturbing. How can any parent, how can any mother who has birthed and nursed her babies, how can anyone who has felt the breathtaking hormonal love of parenthood, put someone through the deliberate loss of her babies?
We call it milk but really it’s cow’s milk, mother’s milk, intended for a baby somewhere who wants nothing more than to nurse his own mother for that very milk. We steal it with machines, package it neatly into glossy cartons with the lies of happy cows frolicking in fields. Meanwhile, the formula-fed babies are isolated and sickly, suckling at anything they can reach their tiny mouths to, desperate for the comfort and nutrition from their own mothers.
The grieving mothers are still lactating when they’re artificially inseminated again just a few short months after birthing their babies. The cows are restrained while someone plunges an arm shoulder-deep into their bodies, past their cervixes, and squeezes semen into their uteruses.
All of this is… for what? Cow’s milk. Yogurt. Cheese. A fleeting and replaceable bite of food. With so many non-dairy options available, it’s hard to understand why we would force these gentle mothers and helpless babies to endure all of this pain, this psychological torment and physical deprivation.
We could so easily end all of it. We just have to eat something else. We just have to decide that no bite of dairy is worth breaking the bond between mother and baby.. no bite of dairy is worth quieting that voice in each of us that tells us, you know this is wrong.
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