I grew up on the Canadian prairies. As early as the first grade, we had milk day. Such a joyful day! One took a form home to their parents and they filled out what sort of milk one would receive. Chocolate milk? White milk? One carton? Two cartons? Mmm - what joy.
As the milk cart rolled in, each student would receive a bag full of colourful trinkets and stickers along with their carton of fresh milk. One such sticker could be seen on many a car bumper: I <3 Alberta Beef. Milk is great for you! Beef is delicious! Let us be strong and healthy, together.
You learn about what is right for you in great detail. Milk is a part of the food pyramid, you see? Right next to the beef, the green vegetables, and the wheat – all the things we eat. If you eat all of these things then you will have strong bones and teeth. You do not want your teeth to fall out, do you? You want to be strong and have muscles, right boys? Then you should wash your protein rich steak down with an ice cold glass of milk.
You learn about the cow. You get a sticker of a cow. He is smiling. One sits atop your pencil. He is not a steak yet. This cow is wearing sunglasses.
You learn that the cows love to give us milk. The farmer takes a pail, sits next to the cow, pats her gently on the shoulder, and 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.
In the first grade, you would not know what to make of artificial insemination. You would not know whether or not the antibodies and hormones within cows milk were suitable for your consumption. Do I have the same nutritional needs of a baby animal which has four stomachs and will weigh well over a tonne? If the cows have a baby, what happens to the baby? If I drink its milk, what does it drink? You have none these questions. You have but one important one: Chocolate milk or white milk? Mmm - what joy.
Machines milk cows. Machines impregnate cows. People take calves from their mothers, sometimes sticking their heads into bars to prevent any growth of muscle mass. Without muscles or tension in the body, you can render meat of unprecedented tenderness. Those unlucky baby cows turn into veal. But you just know that veal is fancy. If you do well, if you make lots of money, then you can afford to eat veal.
Or the calves could become new milk cows, kept healthy through antibiotic treatment, living out a fraction of their life span. Perhaps they will grow to one day produce little veals of their own. The end result is the same. That delicious slice of red meat, right there in that red square in the food pyramid, the pyramid around which you should plan all the meals that you eat. Take your milk, dear children, take your pyramids and your stickers - we will teach you what is right for you.
The myth of the friendly farmer is a compelling story. We are taught to believe that our needs are filled without cost. We are taught that if there were cost, then it is justifiable because that is what we need to survive. When we look through this story, we see the tentacles of the free market. Milk day is to sell beef and milk to children.
We buy deep into these myths. 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 be frail and breakable. If we do not eat meat, we do not fit into the template. We will not have enough protein to be strong athletes or intelligent students. We have scaled unimaginable horror and torment to fulfill these myths. The myths keep the money flowing.
Once you are aware of the depths of the myth and you understand the picture of industrialized agriculture, you might concede: I can not dispute the unpleasantness. But they are just animals. We need to eat them to survive. I care not for the “feelings” of a fish, cow, chicken, or pig. I am not even convinced of the existence of those feelings. I buy organic, local, free range, grass fed; I eat how I eat and I like it.
A position of this nature is one of deep and temporary selfishness and privilege. Not only does it assert the dominance of human wellbeing over that of other lifeforms, it marginalizes the vast environmental and spiritual cost.
We will need to produce more animals for more meat. More land for more animals who need more feed. More feed requires more wild land to become farmland. Farmland needs more water. We are already too far gone. We can not afford growth. The means to assure such requires the continued success of the Western ideologies of wanton consumption. The success of these ideologies and the wellbeing of the planet are inversely proportional. Meat comes at a devastating environmental cost.
The environmental cost is nothing to that of the spiritual. A mother cow will not cry out the name of its calve as it is taken from her. 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 has been clipped will not cry tears as it is pumped full of steroids and fed until its legs break. An animal can not tell you why it is suffering. The heart - the rightness - breaks and the spirit is tormented all the same. An animal suffers.
And we consume this suffering. A life - a creature, an offspring, a living being - experiences travesty and then you place it within you. We think to use this animal as a fuel. We think to consume only its flavours, proteins, and fats. Yet we consume much more. Many still sit and wonder, why does depression plague me so? Why do anxious thoughts run throughout my mind?
Why do I feel so scared and unwell? 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. This torment - the screaming in the dark corners of your mind - are the cries of their spirits. For as long as you perpetuate their misery, they will be a part of you.