The Problem With Vegetarianism

Why I stopped being vegetarian

When you buy milk and eggs, you’re buying from a farmer who raises their animals with an expiration date; they aren’t his friends, they’re his machines, and if they stop working, they get disassembled and thrown away.

Unfortunately, though, I was still a killer. Every morning, I’d start my day with some scrambled eggs on toast, washed down with a glass of chocolate milk. This seemed like a harmless breakfast. Of course, I knew that there were bad farmers who mistreated their cows and hens — but I also knew that the dairy and eggs I ate came with a bunch of labels promising that these farmers were really nice guys. The cows strolled across rolling plains with their families to their heart’s content and produced enough milk that they felt grateful whenever the farmer milked them. The chickens lived outdoors frolicking and foraging in the grass, laying eggs wherever they pleased, as their gentle farmer followed them around picking up the eggs to put in a carton and mail to me. In my delusions, my milk came from a bucolic paradise, and my eggs came from the Portlandia chickens.

I regularly speak to vegetarians who would rather eat dirt than eat veal, but the baby cow doesn’t care whether they are getting shot in the face for steak or cheese, and their mother will cry just as loudly either way.

Similarly, faulty products get disposed of. One of the faults a product can have in the dairy and egg industries is being male. Male chickens can’t lay eggs, and male cows can’t produce milk; this means they are mere byproducts in the industry’s efforts to make more females. For this reason, farmers murder them the moment they are born: Male chicks are ground up alive in a blender, male cows are either sold for veal or killed within hours of birth. Mother cows will cry for their missing babies, sometimes so loudly that their vocal cords tear. I regularly speak to vegetarians who would rather eat dirt than eat veal, but the baby cow doesn’t care whether they are getting shot in the face for steak or cheese, and their mother will cry just as loudly either way. And these atrocities happen at every farm: If you think your farmer is different, ask them where all the male chickens are, or why there are more cows than bulls.

Dairy and eggs torture and kill animals just as surely and deliberately as the meat industry, often in greater quantities and worse ways.

Then, there is the less quantifiable matter of cruelty. If I woke up tomorrow in the body of a cow, after I finished cursing the heavens, I would start praying I was destined to become beef. Life in the beef industry is abysmal, but the alternative is among the worst our planet has to offer. Dairy cows spend their lives trapped in a revolving door of forced insemination, pregnancy, and child separation. Imagine going through all the physical pain of pregnancy and birth, followed by the emotional agony of losing one’s offspring, and going through all this again and again until they shoot you. Their bodies are the most cruelly contorted of any being: We have used drugs and artificial selection to balloon their udders to such obscene sizes that they can barely walk, and the repeated pregnancy and birthing of enormous calves adds to this strain on their lower body, often rendering them unable to stand. (The industry “solves” this problem by shackling their ankles together.) To quote Gary Francione, one of the most prominent animal rights theorists in history: “There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk than in a pound of steak.”

Written by

Writer | Vegan | Host of Species Podcast

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