You all know I’m a vegetarian for environmental reasons, but you’ve probably figured out I’m also all for animal rights and compassion. Just search my blog under the tag ‘veg*nism’. To be fair, I don’t necessarily believe this means having one strict, stringent set of rules that apply universally to all. I’m not that kind of thinker in any arena of my life. For example, I believe you could eat a compassionate diet that included chicken eggs, if the chickens lived as your lovely little pets and the eggs were a by-product. However, I don’t think it’s possible to compassionately eat eggs if they were produced in a battery run.
I’ve been an aspiring vegan for ages – I use soy milk rather than dairy, but haven’t kicked most of the other dairy products yet. In fact, I feel I’ve been slipping. I used to be stringently anti-(dairy)yoghurt and over the last few months it has crept back into my diet after years without it. I can’t even claim that it happened without my knowing it, because I did know it, and I deliberately chose to not think about it. I have real trouble seeing a time for me without dairy cheese and I think I just got to a point where I was like… ‘Why bother? I’m not a real vegan anyway.’ I kinda gave up for a bit.
Well, that’s just slack and not cool and all ‘head in the sand’ style.
I guess the yoghurt thing has been lurking in my mind after all though, because as part of my dreaming on about living on an eco-friendly property with my strawbale house and rescue animals, I started to wonder about keeping a cow or two. I knew there’d be egg-laying chickens (dunno if I’d eat the eggs cos I don’t really like eggs anymore, but regardless), and I started wondering if it would be possible to eat compassionate dairy. Unlike eggs, milk production is stimulated by pregnancy, but I wondered if it would be possible for a cow to have a baby once a year, and to rear it naturally at the same time as me taking just a wee bit of milk for my own devices. I wouldn’t even use it to drink – just for stuff like cheese – so I really would need such a tiny bit. After some research I discovered this was possible, although very few people do it as it’s a bit of a chore to get the milk with a frisky calf around and you end up with less milk.
I started to wonder what would happen to the cows though. I’m not into artificial breeding – all my pets are desexed, there are enough unwanted animals in the world – so it seemed I would be artificially increasing the herd. I mean, the alternative is to kill them off and I wasn’t thinking of doing that. Er, no. Vegetarian herd-culler, I think not. I thought maybe each cow could have just one baby so really all they did was replace themselves, like Zero Population Growth (ZPG), which I’ve talked about before in human terms. I figured male calves would just luck out and get to hang around getting fat and happy, and the females would have one baby each. If a boy calf was born then lucky for his mum, she’d get to have a second one after all.
Then I started to think that I must be a bit naive, and all this seemed like hard work and I knew I was really not grasping all the complexities. Plus the Internet seemed so adamant you should separate the cow and calf ASAP for the calf’s protection (immunity etc). This didn’t seem so natural to me. Then there was the question of whether they could live on grass alone or if they need supplementary food (ultimately – grass is possible, if there is enough of it year round). And how to milk them. Are those milking machines really humane?
So I kept reading.
Then I came across Edgar’s Mission, and a little story by Shirley the calf. Now I think I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and give up milk entirely.
Hansel - one of the newest 'bobby' calves at Edgar's Mission; his life now saved.
Go have a read, and take your tissues. Go have a read of Sadie’s story too, if you are a glutton for punishment.
I know it’s sentimental, and from a human perspective and probably cows don’t think that way really cos they’re cows and don’t have the kind of higher cognitive functions we humans do – but another thing I learned in my research tonight (and on other nights) is that they do have feelings and they do think. Maybe not like us, but they do. Those baby cows miss their mummies and the mummies miss them. Separating them buggers up their health, they don’t socialise quite right, the boys are unceremoniously killed, the girls raised as lactation machines and ultimately, when it comes right down to it, it’s mean!
Rosa - another calf (now a cow) from Edgar's Mission.
So. My plan is to give it all up, one thing at a time down the list below. I know I’ve tried to do this before, ages ago, but I didn’t have a list, and unlike giving up meat and eggs which I wasn’t that big on in the first place, getting past milk and yoghurt were so daunting that I kinda burned out before I got anywhere else. This time, I’ve already started, so it will be easier I hope. There’s a bit of me that wonders ‘why bother, not many other people are doing this, what difference will it make?’, but I’ve unexpectedly read about the story of the old man with the starfish (or little girl, depending on the version) about five times in relation to this very decision tonight, so maybe the compassionate zen God of the universe is trying to tell me something. Besides, that never stopped me making a stand before. Every little bit counts, right?
Most items have replacements, although lots of those things I eat more of now that I will of the replacements, cos I just don’t like the substitutes as much (such as ice-cream – soy icecream just doesn’t really do it for me), or eating that much soy isn’t good for anyone. The first two should be easy as I’ve mostly done them, and the third I just have to remember. Plus, for the fourth, I was eating too much ice-cream so I already gave it up for the month… now I just need to keep going.
- Milk = non-dairy milk (eg: soy, oat, chickpea or almond, as rice milk isn’t good for me and hemp milk is NASTY – sorry hemp-lovers)
- Sour Cream = avocado, guacamole etc
- Yoghurt = non-dairy yoghurt (eg: soy)
- Ice-cream = non-dairy ice-cream (eg: soy, coconut etc, and sorbets like Weis yum yum yum)
- Butter = non-dairy margarine, oil
- Custard = non-dairy custard (eg: homemade soy)
- Cream = some soy substitute for cooking, otherwise probably nothing
- Chocolate = non-dairy chocolate (eg: dark chocolate, soy chocolate etc)
- Cheese = depends on the type of cheese (eg: tofu for paneer, tofutti better than cream cheese for cream cheese, no idea what for haloumi, ricotta or feta, maybe I’ll try some of the Uncheese Cookbook attempts for melty cheese cos I dislike all the commercial fake cheeses).
Cheese is definitely going to be the tough one. Like, real tough. I eat cheese in a lot of meals, and Yankee Elv loves it and probably won’t want to give it up (which is entirely her choice, of course – no pressure!!). All the rest I’ve lived without for certain periods in my life before, but cheese has always been a constant friend. However… I’m thinking of Shirley and Sadie and all the other cows like them. It’s time to bite the bullet and make a real commitment.
Interestingly enough, this hasn’t solved my question about whether it’s possible to consume compassionate dairy. Maybe it will be something I look into again one day. However, maybe when the time comes that it would be feasible for me to do that, I won’t be interested in eating dairy anymore anyway. After all, regardless of compassionate reasons, not consuming dairy is better for the environment and my health too.
Edgar Alan Pig (the first rescue and namesake of Edgar's Mission) with a little lambie friend, enjoying the sunshine together.
Edgar’s Mission is a farm animal sanctuary in Victoria. I wish it was closer so I could go there and have a look myself! Next time I’m in Victoria with access to a car, I’ll be there, for sure. I’m wildly envious of the owner, Pam, and would love to know how she manages to live on, run and fund the place. The idea of doing something similar is not unfamiliar to me – hence the thoughts about my eco-friendly rescue farm that started this whole thing off. I’ve become a Facebook fan. Go check out the Facebook page, and especially the photos in the Around the Farm album; some are just beautiful. The photos in this post are taken from the page.