You are what you eat
I grew up on the Canadian prairies. As early as the first grade, we had milk day. Each student took a form to their parents and filled out which flavour of milk they would receive the following week. Chocolate milk? White milk? One carton? Two cartons?
Next week arrived and the milk cart visited each student. It delivered fresh, cold milk and a bag full of colourful trinkets and stickers. The most famous sticker is plastered on car bumpers throughout the city: I <3 Alberta Beef. Milk is great for you! Beef is delicious! Let us be strong and healthy, together.
Throughout milk delivery, I learned what is right for me in great detail. Milk is a part of the food pyramid. It lives right next to the beef, the green vegetables and the wheat – all the things we eat and that just so happen to grow in our province. If I eat all of these things then I will have strong bones and teeth. I don’t want my teeth to fall out! I want to be strong and have muscles. Then I should wash my protein rich steak down with an ice cold glass of milk.
I learned about the cow. I got a sticker of a cow. Or two, or three, or four – as many as I wanted. I loved that the cow smiled. She sat atop my pencil, not yet a delicious steak. She wore sunglasses.
I learned that the cow loves to give me her milk. The farmer takes a pail, sits next to her, pats her gently on the shoulder, then squeezes her utters to exhume the milky, teeth-and-bone fortifying liquid. And the beef? Cows get old, you see, and we do not want to be wasteful – … so we eat them. The circle of life.
In the first grade, I wouldn’t know what to make of artificial insemination. I wouldn’t know whether or not the antibodies and hormones within cows milk were suitable for my consumption. I wouldn’t be curious as to whether or not I have the same nutritional needs of a baby animal which has four stomachs and will weigh well over a tonne.
I would never stop to question that if the cow has a baby, what happens to the baby? Or if I drink the mother’s milk, then what does her calf drink? I don’t have these questions. There is only one question that concerns me: chocolate milk or white milk? I want the chocolate!
I didn’t learn that machines milk cows and that machines impregnate cows. I didn’t learn that people take calves from their mothers after birth, sometimes sticking their heads into bars to prevent any growth of muscle mass. Without muscles in the body, a baby calf will render meat of delightful tenderness. Those sweet, tender calves turn into fancy veal. I know that if I do well, if I make lots of money, then I can afford to eat veal.
But the calves might not even become veal. They might become new milk cows, clinging to life through antibiotic treatments and steroids, living out a fraction of their life span in confined torment.
Either way, the end result is the same: the delicious slice of red meat in the red square of the standard issue food pyramid. Children, take your milk carton and your food pyramid and your stickers and your erasers and don’t ask us these questions.
The myth of the friendly farmer is compelling. We are taught to believe that our needs are filled without cost. We are taught that any cost is justifiable because it is what we need to do to survive. We buy deep into this myth.
We believe that meat and milk are dietary staples without which we become weak and waifish. We are scared into thinking that without milk we will become frail and breakable. We are made to feel that if we don’t eat meat and drink milk, we’ll fail.
A position of this nature is one of deep ignorance and temporary selfishness. Not only does it assert the dominance of human wellbeing over that of other lifeforms, it marginalizes the vast environmental and spiritual cost. It normalizes the needless torture and enslavement of other beings for our own benefit.
It will be the end of us. More meat means more land for more animals who need more feed, and more feed requires even more wild land to become farmland. That farmland needs more water and we are already too far goneto continue to scale this nightmare. Meat comes at a devastating environmental cost and we can no longer afford to pay it. But the environmental cost is nothing to that of the spiritual.
A mother cow will not cry out the name of her calf as it is taken from her in a language we can understand. A pig, wading through its own refuse, does not pontificate whether it was meant for bigger and better things. A chicken whose beak has been stubbed and talons have been clipped will not cry tears as it is pumped full of steroids and fed until its legs break. An animal cannot tell you why it is suffering, but the heart - the rightness, the goodness, the love - breaks and the spirit is tormented all the same. The animal suffers.
And then we consume this suffering. A life - a creature, an offspring, a living being - experiences travesty and then we place it within us for energy and sustenance. We think to use this animal as a fuel. We think to consume only his or her flavours, proteins and fats. Yet we receive much more.
Many sit and wonder: why do I feel unwell? Why do depression and anxiety plague me so? I eat my meat, I live my life, I make good choices – but something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong. I must numb this pain. I feel trapped. I feel dirty. I feel sick. Something is wrong. I hurt. Where are my children? Why do we all suffer?
This torment - this screaming in the dark corners of your mind - are the cries of these spirits. For as long as you perpetuate their misery, they will be a part of you.