Dairy Farms: A vegan protest

Jessica Corsi 23 May 2014

My journey into veganism began on a summer day at a dairy farm in Massachusetts. I was 18, and I had been dabbling in vegetarianism for a while, introduced to it by high school friends who shared their food and thoughts with me and took me to the most amazing restaurants, like Greek and Ethiopian, that served food far more flavourful than the standard meat-heavy American fare I was used to.

These friends all had different reasons for becoming vegetarian: animal rights, the environment, health, and the working conditions of those that labour in slaughter houses. Between the discourse and the delicious food it didn't take long before I felt the same, and I transitioned to vegetarianism myself. But I was still a dairy addict, and I couldn't imagine my life without it. All that changed when I visited a small, local dairy farm.

I walked my dog out to meet the cows and the farmer. The youngest cows were chained by their feet to an igloo shelter, separate from one another, surrounded by hay. They were terrified of my dog, and ran to the end of their chain to get as far away from him as they could, which is how I noticed how short the space they had to walk in was, and how quickly the chain caught them. I also noticed that they were crying, and hanging their heads. Unexpectedly, the dairy farmer approached, and pulled a baby cow towards me so that I could view it. I felt terrible for it. I asked him why they were all crying.  "Oh, because I get them from their mothers when they are three days old. They cry and cry and cry…eventually they stop"

Sick to my stomach at the misery of these tiny beings, I walked to the large pen where the fully grown dairy cows were kept. They were corralled together without any space to move, and loud music was played all day long as it helped stimulate constant milk production. I couldn't figure out how they even had space to turn around in their pen. Unprompted, one of them walked to the fence, and licked my hand with her giant tongue. I decided right then to give up dairy. This farm was supposedly one of the best – local, small, individually owned and not a factory farm. Everything was out in the open, and the animals were not explicitly abused; for example, they were not beaten as many animals used for meat or other products frequently are. But it still felt like a place of unnecessary misery, and I didn't want to be a part of that anymore.

I've since learned that this small farm shut down, and the farmer moved from Massachusetts to Colorado to join a true factory farm. I've also since learned how to easily cook myself delicious and healthful vegan meals – Italian, Indian, pan-Asian, California crunchy, you name it – on a daily basis, how to eat vegan even when traveling (easier in some places than others), how responsive colleges at Cambridge are to friendly requests to provide vegan meals – at King's we've succeeded in attaining vegan meals almost all of the time in our buttery – and also how good I feel, physically and morally, when I manage to stick to a vegan diet. Moreover, veganism reduces my individual contribution to the massive environmental damage caused by animal industries, and when I choose vegan, and not just vegetarian, meals, I help to reduce the slaughter of male cows and chickens; they are not useful to egg and milk production, so will be killed regardless of whether their female counterparts are kept alive to produce. 

I'm not going to pretend that being vegan is always easy. It's always easy if I can cook, and I love cooking. If you're interested in adding vegan meals to your diet, I highly recommend starting with vegan cookbooks or blogs; you'll find a plethora of easy, cheap, and healthy options including meat, dairy, and egg substitutes. I started with my favourite foods and substitutes for the old version, before expanding out. So, if you're a lasagne or biscuit addict, rest assured there are vegan options out there. If I'm eating at college, in a big city like New York, or even at my CamYoga studio, vegan food abounds: other times, vegan options are sparse, and I become a momentary vegetarian again. Despite remaining a bit flexible in that regard, as it helps me stay vegan most of the time, veganism is a journey that I'm happy to still be on.