Has American Become Savvy about Dairy?

Demand for non-dairy products increases

Downed cow
A downed cow is dragged to slaughter. Farm Sanctuary

In a stunning and unexpected happy turn of events, two major national brands have introduced dairy-free alternatives to their product lines. Bailey’s Irish Cream, verboten to vegans, now offers the key ingredient for an Irish car bomb for vegans who mark St. Patrick’s Day with real Irish liqueur, should they be so inclined, and I am. Almande, a liqueur made with almond milk and “a touch of vanilla” is a sweet, creamy and, dairy free alternative to Bailey’s iconic Irish Cream.

It’s about time. Because I make no secret of my Irish heritage and pride, I have been the recipient of bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream for years, creating an impressive collection of expensive spirits I can’t enjoy. I can’t even re-gift it because I don’t want to encourage dairy consumption. Now my friends and family have me eagerly anticipating a bottle of Almande to celebrate birthdays, Christmas or the publishing of this article.

Ice cream, intolerable to those with lactate phobia and vegans alike, has also been sidestepped. In fact, when I visited Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont last fall, I missed out on the best part of the tour, tasting the products. But now that the company is offering dairy-free ice cream, perhaps I can return and demand the free samples I never got to enjoy. Recognizing the market for dairy-free products, Ben & Jerry’s offers four fabulous flavors from which to choose.

Good news for my cravings for chocolate, bad news for my waistline.  Chunky Monkey is at the top of my list the next time I visit a Whole Foods.

Non-vegans, including carnivores and vegetarians, innocently posit the question “What’s the problem with dairy? They don’t kill the animals to get the milk, right?” Intelligence notwithstanding, these otherwise shrewd people have bought into the fairy tale of “happy cows” because they want to believe in order to keep their inertia about their food habits intact.

Yeah, sure, dairy cows are not killed for their milk, at least not right away. But there is a fate worse than death, and the dairy industry is inherently and incredibly cruel. Farm Sanctuary, an organization whose mission it is to “To protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living,” offers an educational brochure entitle The Truth Behind Dairy elucidating the issue.

Some of punishing and abusive practices inherent on dairy farms defy comprehension and one wonders how any human being can justify them. For example, calves are not allowed to nurse for long. The farmers affix a spiked ring to the calf’s nose to prevent nursing. Surely a psychopath designed this painful, confusing and frustrating tool of torture and others, in a display of twisted wisdom, approved it.

In order to produce milk, mammals lactate. In order to lactate, one must be pregnant. Dairy cows are impregnated up to six times in their short lifetimes. The female calves are kept and raised to be dairy cows. The males suffer a reprehensible fate. Male calves are slaughtered for veal. The soft, pink flesh intrinsic in veal is the result of calves being slaughtered at only a few hours or days old.

The really unlucky ones are chained in veal crates for about twenty weeks. They cannot move and are fed an iron-free diet so their meat stays pink. The production of veal is so atrocious that even some carnivores who routinely order steaks at restaurants eschew veal. Dairy cows with a normal life expectancy of 20 years are considered spent by the dairy industry at around age five, and sent to slaughter to be turned into McMeat.  

Approximately a half million of these cows are “downers” who suffer unimaginable pain, emotional trauma and butchery for 4D meat. Four-D refers to dead, dying, diseased or disabled. Cows often suffer broken limbs, fainting spells, weakness and other conditions that prevent them from walking to slaughter so they are tossed aside while an assessment of their condition is made.

Sometimes downed cows suffer for hours or even days before being shoved by a bulldozer, lifted by a forklift, or tormented with electric prods and other devices to induce them to walk on their own to the abattoir. The treatment of downed cows is so abhorrent that in 2009 President Obama signed legislation to force more humane care for downed cows, prompting Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to release a statement published by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union saying “This rule is designed to enhance consumer confidence and humane handling standards and will provide clear guidance that non-ambulatory cattle will not be allowed to enter the human food supply. It is a step forward for both food safety and the standards for humane treatment of animals.”

Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States expressed satisfaction saying the Bush administration virtually ignored the issue. “Finally, the federal government is putting a stop to the inhumane and reckless practice of dragging and otherwise abusing downer cows in order to slaughter them for human consumption,” said Pacelle.

These practices are insulting far beyond the abject cruelty. In symbolism and spirituality, cows are the epitome of fertility and motherhood. In an article published in the Huffington Post, Jimmy Pierce, spokesperson for The Vegan Society writes that “Dairy Cows Are Mothers Too” and discusses the myth about dairy and human health as well as the suffering dairy cows endure, saying that cows “… feel sadness, loss and grief every bit as much as love, joy and togetherness with as strong a desire to protect and care for their offspring as you or I.”

According to research conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, cows are sentient beings.  In an interview with Caryn Hartglass, moderator of “All About Food,” Marc Beckoff, University of Colorado Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, discusses outcomes of scientific research into the emotional lives of animals and states that animals have “mirror neurons” much like humans do. This means they can empathize with the feelings of other animals they see. The sad conclusion is that not only can cows anticipate and become terrified of impending slaughter, they comprehend the fear, pain and emotion of the animals being slaughtered in front of them.

Vegans and those who truly want to avoid contributing to the suffering of animals, regardless of species, must avoid dairy in order to get the slaughterhouse out of their kitchens and diets. Nowadays, with all the dairy alternatives, like Ben & Jerry’s and Bailey’s offerings, it’s easier than ever to enjoy dairy without the cruelty. A side benefit, of course, is that a diet that doesn’t include dairy is much healthier than one that does. Humans are the only species that steals and consumes the milk of another mammal. When you really think about it, it’s a pretty perverse practice.