After I give a lecture, the number one comment people make to me is, “I’ve been vegetarian for years, but I just can’t seem to give up dairy!” If this sounds like you, read on.
I always joke that, before becoming vegan, my four food groups were Swiss, Havarti, Cheddar and Chocolate. As soon as I went to college and began making my own food choices, I naturally gravitated to all things dairy – Melted Cheese Hoagies, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Macaroni and Cheese, Fettucine Alfredo, Frozen Yogurt with M&Ms on top… I know how much you love your dairy!
Yet when you face the reality of what dairy cows must go through to produce dairy products, it becomes hard to look yourself in the mirror and still eat them. Many vegetarians explain their dairy consumption by saying, “Well, the cow didn’t have to die to give me this cheese.” However, if you think about it, at least a beef cow has a short life before it is slaughtered in terror; the dairy cow lives about 5 long years of misery and pain in inhumane conditions … and then she is slaughtered in terror. If she had a conscious choice, I expect a dairy cow would prefer to be slaughtered early than to live out her days in such pain.
Others try to justify their dairy consumption by saying, “It’s just a small amount of creamer for my coffee,” or “It’s just a little sprinkling of cheese,” but the fact remains that we vote with our wallets: Every time we choose a small amount of creamer or a little sprinkling of cheese we are directly responsible for the pain and misery of these animals.
Laurelee Blanchard is very familiar with the atrocities that happen in factory farms, dairy farms and egg farms. As the founder of Leilani Farm Sanctuary, she has made it her life’s mission to teach people about farmed animals, and encourage them to start loving the animals and stop eating them. She has kindly provided most of the following information on dairy cows.
Dairy cows on large factory farms are typically housed indoors or on dry feedlots year round and lactating cows are often kept restrained in tie stalls or stanchions. Most dairy calves are removed from their mothers immediately after birth. The males are mainly sold for veal or castrated and raised for beef. “Bob veal” calves are killed as soon as a few days after birth; those used to produce “special-fed veal” are typically kept tethered in individual stalls until they’re slaughtered at about 16 to 20 weeks of age. The female calves are commonly subjected to tail docking, dehorning, and the removal of “extra” teats. Although they don’t reach mature size until at least 4 years old, dairy cows first give birth at about 2 years of age and are continually bred again beginning about 60 days after each birth. Each year, approximately one quarter of the cows who survive the farms are sent to slaughter, most often due to reproductive problems or mastitis. Cows can live more than 20 years; however, they’re usually killed at about 5 years of age, after roughly 2.5 lactations.
If the anti-cruelty laws that protect pets were applied to farmed animals, many of the most routine U.S. farming practices would be illegal in all 50 states. Disregard for farmed animals persists because few people realize the ways in which these individuals are mistreated, and even fewer actually witness the abuse. Once aware, most people are appalled.
I think we don’t want to face the cruelty of the dairy industry because we don’t want to give up our favorite foods. Once you realize that most of those foods are still available to you under new brand names, you will realize what all vegans do: Being vegan is actually easy! Shifting away from dairy products and toward healthier, cruelty-free foods is easy – and tasty – with so many amazing alternatives available today. I defy any skeptic to make a grilled cheese sandwich using Daiya brand cheese with Earth Balance buttery spread, or scoop up a helping of Coconut Bliss Ice Cream for dessert.
Look for these types of vegan products and more at your local health food store. I highly recommend going to a good health food store (as opposed to a national grocery chain with a health food section) and asking the staff there what the best-selling vegan products are. They will be happy to steer you toward the brands that customers and staff rave about.
If you are vegetarian and would like to go vegan, but feel overwhelmed, I offer you a challenge: Commit to being vegan for just 30 days. During that time, you will find vegan dairy substitutes, learn to ask for vegan entrees at restaurants, and learn to pack your own food if you need to. For more assistance, you can look for my book, Vegan in 30 Days, which will step you through the process day by day. Once 30 days has passed, you’ll realize – like the rest of us – that being vegan really is easy! Yes, you can be vegan!