“Money is the root of all evil.”
That is a phrase I have heard bandied about my entire life, but I am only now truly beginning to appreciate the actual depth of it. What has truly hit me hard recently are the things that I am still learning about the extent of the way animals are allowed to be treated within the food industry, purely for the purposes of turning a profit.
Vegetarianism on ethical grounds has been around so long now that everybody knows about it, and the basic moral question being asked; “Am I comfortable with the idea that something else was killed so that I could eat it?” We’re all grown-ups here, we all know what eating meat entails, but it’s such a normal part of life these days that most of us see that death as an acceptable side effect of being able to have bacon, and steak, and Sunday roast dinners. Besides, it really is more of a hypothetical question, when someone else has actually done the dirty work, and all we have to do is wander into a shop and pay for it.
There are, and always have been, people who have found at some point in their life that the answer to that question is actually no, and I became one of those people earlier this year. I wrote a blog explaining my reasoning here – for me, it had become a very simple choice between dead animals, and living animals.
What I was not prepared for was the horror story that has been unfolding in front of me ever since then.
Due to the fact that a) I am exceptionally lazy and b) I have frequently been very poor in the past, I haven’t really drunk milk since I was at college. I still cooked with it occasionally, because Yorkshire Puddings are the food of the Gods, but given the scarcity with which I used it, I began to think about cutting it out entirely. Reducing reliance on animals seemed like a good way forward, so I started looking more and more into Veganism… and that is when the layers of the seemingly harmless food industry onion really began to start peeling away, to reveal a far more unpleasant core than I was expecting.
We’ve been brought up with this idyllic country farm image, where Daisy the cow grazes in the fields in the glorious sunshine, and comes wandering in to be milked when the farmer calls. A peaceful, calm partnership in the dairy industry. Well, of course that’s what we’ve been presented with, because the truth of what actually drives milk production is fucking horrible.
Logically, I could have pieced the truth together myself if I’d thought about it, but it’s one of those things that you just accept without question because that’s the way it’s always been. Female mammals produce milk in order to feed their young, we all know that. In order to produce milk therefore, the female has to be pregnant, we all know that. What hadn’t really clicked with me is that to keep a cow constantly producing milk means subjecting the cow to repeated pregnancies, which in turn means regularly impregnating her, whether she likes it or not. Starts to get a little bit icky there for me, when you expand that as a concept.
Of course, as a logical outcome of being pregnant, the cow has a baby, we all know that. But hang on a minute, if the baby is drinking the milk, how are we supposed to get any?! Well, her baby gets taken away from her, normally within hours. The mother has the milk sucked out of her while she mourns for her absent calf. As for the babies – if they don’t get killed straight away – they don’t get to drink the milk their own mothers produce for them. No no, that’s for humans of course; the baby cows get to drink a substitute…
What the actual fuck? When did we buy into this? We know what repeatedly losing babies does to a woman, who was the first person to decide that it was OK to do that to cows? And that’s ignoring the fact that cow’s milk isn’t meant for us in the first place.
After milk, I started looking into the Vegan arguments about eggs. Not eating meat was easy for me, but eggs were a different matter – similar to milk, they were pretty key to the things I cooked. So again, I started looking into it, because chickens produce eggs without our intervention, so were does the harm come in?
Hens in battery farms and cages are bad, we all know that. Free range chickens, that’s a much better deal! Chickens can run around outside and have fun in the sun! Well actually, maybe not. Free-range just technically means ‘not in a cage’; they can still be stuffed in a barn with thousands of other chickens. They can still have their beaks cut off so they can’t peck their neighbours. And then there’s the fact that regardless of whether you choose free range eggs from an ethically managed brood, or settle for cheap eggs from caged hens, there are inevitably male chicks that are hatched during the breeding process. They are by their nature surplus to requirements since they don’t produce eggs, so they are separated off and killed. They are either minced up alive, or they are gassed.
...brilliant. No Child Born To Die and all that.
At every turn in the food industry, there is some hidden truth about the treatment of animals that is deeply, deeply unpleasant. But Veganism isn’t just about food, it’s about not using products or clothing that has been linked to animals either. Leather’s easy enough to understand; it’s skin that has been taken off of an animal that has probably been killed for food – we all know that. But what’s wrong with wool? That grows out of sheep regardless, and if we didn’t give them haircuts, they’d end out like that nutter New Zealand sheep that was on the news! Right?
I was interested in the wool piece, because I do quite a bit of knitting. Turns out, that most wool comes from Merino sheep, which have been deliberately bred to a) produce more wool than they naturally would and b) have excess folds of skin, producing more wool per square sheepage. Trouble is, more skin folds = more chance of getting flies doing nasty things in there. So they have developed a practise called mulesing. Mulesing is the removal of strips of skin – without anaesthetic – from the buttocks of sheep, leaving bare raw flesh exposed so that it turns into scar tissue and stops flystrike. Try Google image searching it. On top of that, the wool is sheared off whenever’s convenient for us, and not when would be critical from a temperature perspective for the sheep, plus there are all of the injuries suffered during the shearing process itself.
For fuck’s sake, seriously? Is nothing sacred? I even found out recently that some beer and wine producers use animal products as finings – gelatin and isinglass (fish swim bladders). IT’S BEER. How the fuck are we even shoe-horning the use of animal products into BEER?
As for using animal skins, we have largely accepted that the fur trade is a Bad Thing. You know, they hunt tigers, and club cute baby seals to death and everything. We all know that. However, there’s a 2005 film called Earthlings – which I don’t think I will ever be brave enough to watch – which uses hidden camera footage to show the real activities that happen within industries that use animals for profit. I am quite reliably informed that there is a piece of the film that shows foxes – kept for their fur – being electrocuted IN THE ARSE to preserve the quality of their coat.
What the fuck?? Take an already cruel practise, and then turn the barbarism up to 11?
We have taken what was once a reliance on animals for food and clothing, and turned it into industry. It’s been monetised, consumers demand ‘value for money’, and therefore animals are being wrung for every penny that can be squeezed out of them. It’s out and out exploitation, and animals are treated like commodities, things to use for our own ends in any way that is convenient and cost effective for us. Above and beyond this, when ANY beings are reduced to THINGS in peoples’ minds, that can often come with an inherent cruelty, and bullying behaviour.
Even just taking these few examples, if you substitute humans into the scenario in place of the animals, it would be the plot of an awful and gruesome horror movie. The milk one would be especially twisted… We are talking about Nazi-level evilness, or medieval torture. It would be completely unacceptable – but it’s allowed to happen, because it’s not happening to people, it’s happening to animals.
I am sure there are people who are not concerned about the mistreatment of animals, who perhaps are desensitised. I however am not cool with any of it. I don’t draw distinctions between species’. As far as I am concerned, if it’s not acceptable for one group of living beings on this planet, it’s not acceptable for any.
There’s another element to all of this, beyond the actual animal cruelty. There’s a message about capitalism here, about the focus on making profits, about draining our resources to their limits for financial gains, and about blindly buying and consuming.
I am truly and profoundly sad that it took me this long to get here, and to actually open my eyes.