Monday, September 17, 2012

Feminist Vegans and Dairy

From a letter to the editor of Book World (which I initially couldn't find through navigating the Times website, so retyped, and then found the link by a Google search.
Andrew Delbanco [in a review of The Victims' Revolution] classifies as "cant" the statement that "dairy is a feminist issue. Milk comes from a grieving mother."  I wonder which of these facts about dairy production he disputes: (1) mammals produce milk only after giving birth (2) female cows produce milk only if they have recently calved (3) people cannot take the milk if the calf drinks it; (4) dairy farmers therefore remove calves from their mothers within days of birth; (5) both mother and child resist and protest this separation; (6) mothers often bellow and moan for days thereafter; (7) mothers sometimes go to extreme lengths to locate and reunite with their calves; (8) dairy farmers utilize restraints to prevent them from doing so.

Dairy is the product of the exploitation for profit of the reproductive capacities of female bodies.  To consider this a feminist issue is a defensible political position.  Cows share with us the basic brain architecture responsible for emotion.  The idea that mother cows do not grieve when their children are removed from them, and are not grieving still as machines suck the milk from their bodies -- that is cant. 

signed: Patrice Jones
Springfield, VT
The writer is a co-founder of VINE, a feminist animal sanctuary that shelters, among others, survivors of the dairy industry.
The context of the quote referred to is: "A couple of years ago, Bawer [the author of The Victims' Revolution] made a trip home to see what’s happened to the academic world he left behind. He attended a few conferences for women’s studies, black studies, queer studies and Chicano studies, where he heard plenty of cant, as when a participant at a “Fat Studies” conference explained her veganism by declaring: “Dairy is a feminist issue. Milk comes from a grieving mother.”"

Based on my childhood on a small dairy, I would dispute the following:

(2) Cows produce milk for roughly 300 days after calving, not just "recently calved".
(3) Cows produce more milk than any calf could drink. 80 pounds daily in the first month after calving if memory serves, and that figure is probably twice as high now.  We fed our calves about 14 pounds of milk a day, gradually weaning them to hay and grain.  The calf was probably 3 months old, or so. Now if left together, would the calf have continued to suckle? Perhaps, though cows get tired of suckling and are willing and able to use their hooves on their offspring, so I wouldn't expect a prolonged babyhood.
(6) I'd say some cows bellow (never heard a moan) for a couple days, but the majority don't.
(7) We never had any cows go to "extreme lengths" to reunite that I remember.
(8) So we never used any restraints on "grieving cows" which weren't a part of the normal routine--i.e., stanchions to hold them from milking.

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