Milk, Cheese, Butter, and Other Things I’m Going to Miss

You know when you find out something that you really didn’t want to know? At first, you try to avoid hearing it altogether. You turn off the TV, hit the “back” button, change the station… Basically, you do the adult equivalent of covering your ears and saying LA LA LA LA LA until you’re safe. But you’re not really safe. It may take years, but the thing you didn’t want to know is still true and, one way or another, it’s going to find a way into your business.

I have recently re-learned just such a thing. It’s something I first learned almost 9 years ago when, for some unknown reason, I decided to accept an informational pamphlet from a festival booth promoting veganism. Now, I’m not about to start putting down vegans. More power to anyone who seeks out the kind of knowledge I’ve actively tried to avoid, and makes their life choices based on that information. That’s really how we should all live our lives–choosing what we do based on the whole truth. But I knew that I didn’t want to know about CAFOs, the atrocities committed at commercial slaughterhouses, or what price those chickens paid to have such large breasts (hint: it’s not plastic surgery). I’m usually the kind of person who can never get those things out of my mind, and they haunt me.  Due to my own moral dilemmas, I had already quit eating beef and pork years before that–animals I knew I couldn’t look in the eye and kill myself–and I simply don’t like shellfish. I found those restrictions to be inconvenient enough. So I’ll never be sure why I picked up that pamphlet. But I did.

I learned a lot of things from that little pamphlet. More than I expected. But the thing that stuck out to me at the time was the cruelty of the dairy industry. I hate to pass on the kind of information that keeps me up at night, contemplating my place in the universe, but in short: In order to keep producing enough milk, dairy cows are bred every year. Even at organic and “humane” dairies. As soon as the calves are born, they are taken away from their mothers. The calves are used primarily for meat–veal, mostly–and the mothers are put right back on the production line. I don’t want to anthropomorphize these animals for you. But please research how almost any mammal reacts to losing its young. They mourn. Now imagine willfully putting an animal through that year after year after year. Imagine a baby animal, ripped from the care of its mother, not understanding why. Never knowing affection, or what it is to be nurtured.

Or don’t. I’m trying not to. I’m still trying to pretend all this isn’t true. Or that it somehow doesn’t matter.

When I first learned this information, I found it sad and decided I didn’t want to support this industry anymore. However, I knew becoming vegan was a huge leap, so I decided to become a vegetarian first. I gave up chicken and fish, and I was a vegetarian for almost a year. During that time, I got pregnant with my daughter. I was so sick for the first four months that I could barely eat anything, and all of the vegetarian staples I had come to rely on–beans, onions, basically all vegetables–became repulsive to me. Then I started to crave chicken. I hadn’t been a vegetarian long enough to get through that experience on my own, and I didn’t know any vegetarians I could ask for help. So I ate chicken. (For the record, it was delicious. Sorry.) It was the first filling meal I had been able to keep down in almost four months. So I started eating chicken and fish again, and then got caught up in my new life as a mom, and kind of forgot why I had decided to become a vegetarian in the first place.

Over the years I have checked my moral compass on the eating of chicken. I have looked chickens in the eye and decided that, if I was really hungry and there was no one to do it for me, I could kill one and eat it and still look myself in the eye afterward. (I will note that, if my children were hungry, I could kill pretty much anything to feed them. But that’s not the situation we’re in.) I have done my best to purchase meat that I believe has been raised, and I hope slaughtered, humanely, and my standards for this have increased as I’ve learned more about the food industry. But I developed a convenient blind spot when it came to dairy. Until now.

Now, having read again in an unrelated place that cows mourn for their young when they’re taken from them, the knowledge I had run from has come flooding back to me. I tried searching for “humane dairy,” but alas, in order to produce milk, and in a sufficient quantity to be sold as a product, cows must be impregnated and then separated from their new babies within a day of birth. Over. And over. And over again.

At the moment I became reacquainted with this information, I was nursing my infant son. And sure, there are hormones involved in my sudden and strong empathy with these cows. But there is also logic. And I can’t get it out of my head.

So, although it’s not happening today, I can’t see a way around eliminating dairy from my diet. Milk. Yogurt. Butter. Cheese. Ice cream. Some of my very favorite things. Things for which finding an acceptable substitute may prove difficult, if not impossible. This realization comes at a time when I am already gearing up to eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates again. (I swear someday I’ll write about my first 16 months off of sugar, a dietary change that was, incidentally, derailed by my second pregnancy.)

Now comes the research. Planning. Putting together the picture of what my diet, and my life, will look like without these things. I know from my experience giving up sugar that a massive change like this is possible. I also know how deeply challenging it will be. And I know how rewarding it will be when I come out on the other side.

Speak Your Mind