This post is a departure from my usual format in which I write about plant-based cuisine, share recipes and nutrition/health information. I wrote this after reading an article about a dairy farm located relatively close to my home in Massachusetts.
A mother’s experience, 20+ years ago, Singapore (where two of my three daughters were born):
Our newborn is up again. It’s 3:00 am. My husband and I lie quietly for a few moments willing our daughter back to sleep. But her cries are persistent. Who knows if she’s hungry, wet, cold or simply distressed and looking for comfort. Regardless, we’ve reached our limit; there’s only so long one can ignore an infant baby’s cries. My husband makes his way to the nursery, returns with our daughter, and lays her beside me. Her whimpers subside. She begins to nurse. At that moment there is no more peaceful sound than the blissful rhythm of our baby sucking.
A mother’s experience, three years ago, Sunshine Dairy Farm, Newbury, MA:
The calf is born. Cold and disoriented her mother nestles close to provide warmth; she guides her baby’s mouth towards her udders. The calf suckles and then falls asleep by her mother. Mother and child remain this way, comforted, nurtured by each other’s presence. The calf awakes and drinks more of the colostrum or “early milk”. This milk is rich in antibodies, essential for the health and growth of the baby calf, but not fit for human consumption. Within 24 hours the calf has done its job and her mother’s udders fill with milk. This, humans can consume and is therefore valuable.
The calf must not drink the profits. A farm hand waits until mother and baby are sleeping. He lifts the calf to its feet, puts her in a cart and wheels her away. This calf, like all the others on this farm, is separated permanently from her mother, never to see her again.
Neighbors awake. They hear strange noises. They are clearly coming from creatures in distress. Between midnight and 7 a.m., the police receive at least four calls. Officers are dispatched to the dairy farm to investigate the source of the eerie troubling sound. Assurances are given that all is well.
This is just business as usual. The cow and calf’s time together has ended, but maternal-child bonds are not easily broken. The separation causes extreme anxiety and suffering. Bellows emanate from the mother cow lamenting the separation from her baby. Gates will be checked to ensure the cow is securely penned. It is not uncommon for a mother to trek for miles in search of her calf. Artificial insemination, pregnancy, birth, and then separation is an essential part of the commercial milk production cycle. Lactation will not occur otherwise.
Haunted by this knowledge, I no longer consume dairy milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream or cheese. Dairy products are suffused with the suffering of a mother and child, separated and unable to soothe one another. I hear the cries and I cannot ignore them.
Read an article about the noises coming from Sunshine Dairy Farm here.
Read about the health risks associated with dairy consumption here.
Listen to Victoria Moran speaking with Dr. Neal Barnard about the health risks associated with cheese consumption here (starting at 22:00).
Check out Dr. Neal Barnard’s book The Cheese Trap.
The Plantrician Project is a great resource for learning about dairy and the calcium myth.
This Beantown Kitchen blog post offers simple steps for living without cheese.