More Organic Mess: Dairy Edition
Breaking News: Earlier this week Rachel Atcheson, Director of Campus Outreach at the Humane League wrote a short personal essay about her visit to an organic dairy farm. I emphasize “short” because she didn’t need to write much given how effective her descriptions and accompanying explanations are. She begins by describing the living conditions and daily activities of the dairy cattle:
The stench from piles of waste was overpowering, and the cows’ legs and hides were caked with feces. A conveyer belt of 75 cows rotated on a milking machine the size of a city intersection. Each cow entered the machine three times a day and had tubes put on her udders to be milked…I saw cows who had the tubes fall off their udders; no one put them back on. I knew what that meant for them: the mother cow would not be milked for another eight hours, effectively condemning her to hours of pain and discomfort from swollen udders.
With this last line she begins to scratch upon a concept that is often overlooked in our daily thougts, the notion of forgetting, not realizing, from the fact that an unmilked udder will cause discomfort and pain for several hours, to the next, potentially more disturbing portion, where she notes our need to re-realize that these cows have all given birth fairly recently (hence…milk), that they are separated from the calves almost immediately, and that said calves are doomed to their own lives of fervent misery.
Many people forget that dairy cows produce milk because they have given birth, just like human moms. The mother cows and calves are separated days after birth. Down the road from the milking station, hundreds of calves were tied to hutches and allowed three feet of rope to move. Another was discarded, dead on the side of the road.
Finally, Atcheson begins her conclusion with the inevitable fates of these animals, stating that:
Each of the 1,000 milk cows on the farm I saw is a mere milk machine for the industry, and their bodies are taxed year after year by an endless cycle of births and milkings. They hung their heads as they walked. I don’t need to be a cow to recognize unmistakable sadness and despair. It hit me that each one would be dead in at most a few years—slaughtered after just a fraction of her normal lifespan. The moment a cow’s body is spent and her milk production begins to decline, she will be rendered into low-grade beef.
I can’t help but find myself moved by her description, “unmistakable sadness and despair,” and worse yet, these cows, visibly miserable, are doomed to a puncuated end. As I’ve iterated in the past (and is visible in my profile), I myself am transitioning to veganism and for me, milks and eggs are by far the hardest things to give up (for years now I’ve gotten them from a very small farm – the chickens, cows, ducks and goats are all pets and are free to roam, which has largely curbed my guilt in the past) but it’s articles like these that, for lack of a better word, “torment” me because there’s simply so much suffering going on all around us in order to stock our stores with conveniences and we so rarely take the time to contemplate what’s sacrificed to make that happen. She concludes beautifully, “our desire to shield our eyes in the face of cruelty, whether to humans or animals, is natural. We’re avoiding discomfort. But when we look away for too long, and hide from reality rather than confront it, we chip away at one of our greatest qualities: our empathy.”
Original article & image source: http://www.gridphilly.com/grid-magazine/2015/7/6/fixing-your-eyes