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It inevitably happens when having the vegan discussion with someone who isn’t: Yes, but I could never give up cheese. Because cheese is addictive and notionally doesn’t require slaughtering something, it seems to get a pass. People who otherwise genuinely care about the well-being of animals simply throw up their hands, bow in submission to the dairy mold and call it a day, problem resolved. And, what about what’s actually going on with the animals? Well, that topic too often seems off-limits, “judgmental” of those who wish to continue eating cheese.

However, recognizing animal exploitation and seeing an industry, a product, for what it is isn’t the same thing as judging someone, is it? This isn’t about whether or not you, personally, should eat cheese. It’s not about the equally debatable health benefits of cheese and dairy products. It’s not to say whether or not the dairy farmer is of good or bad character. It is simply an account of why eating cheese is indirectly an act of animal cruelty.

What Defines Cruel?

To be rather judicial about it, “animal cruelty’ has no set definition, as different animals are afforded different rights, each state and country deciding its own limitations as to what constitutes the mistreatment of an animal or, more so, species of animal. Thus, it seems we must in some way reach a shared definition, which will likely be difficult when melding the opinions of animal rights activists and sport hunters in the same debate.

So, how then do we proceed? A general consensus, for hunters, farmers and activists alike, is that no animal should be forced to unduly suffer, regardless if its ultimate fate is to be minced into hamburger meat. And, if it must suffer, as in the case of a cow sent to slaughter, a fish on a hook or an elk in the crosshairs, it should be done as quickly and painlessly as humanly possible. Most people agree on this. It would be sadistic to act any other way.

Well, the idea then would be to examine the life of a dairy cow — the source of the cheese — and see how it measures up.

Where Do Cows Live?

On factory farms, where most of the world’s milk comes from, dairy cows live lives of confinement as opposed to the open pastures that are the animals’ natural habitat.

How the Dairy Industry Has Unnaturally Altered the Life of Cows

How Much Milk Do They Produce?

They are expected to produce up to ten times the amount of milk they’d normally, which exhausts their bodies and creates biological oddities like lactating far beyond their capacity, so much so they can’t walk properly.

The amount of energy used to create this abundance of milk makes dairy cows more susceptible to diseases, which is only aided by their confinement and lack of healthy exercise.

How the Dairy Industry Has Unnaturally Altered the Life of Cows

But, What Happens to the Calves?

Still, they are unremittingly, artificially, and forcefully impregnated so that the milk faucet never dries, and their calves are taken away on the day of the birth, never to be in contact with the mother again*.

A normal calf would stay with a mother for up to a year. In this case, a young male calf usually becomes low-grade veal, the bulk of its short life spent in a wooden crate, whereas a female is put in line to replace the mother, first impregnated at around thirteen months.


What Happens When Cow’s Stop Producing Milk?

Ultimately, the typical dairy cow gives out at about four or five years of age, though in good conditions they’d live to be twenty. Now “spent,” they are finally sent to slaughter, at which time about 40 percent are lame after years of standing on a concrete floor.

How the Dairy Industry Has Unnaturally Altered the Life of Cows

There Have to be SOME Exceptions … Right?

This is how it is for most dairy cows, at least the ones stocking our supermarket shelves. All of this happens so that we, people, can take that milk — intended for the artificially conceived calf that has been forcibly separated from its mother who is then over-milked to produce beyond healthy capabilities — and make cheese.

Thus, it would seem eating cheese is an indirect act of animal cruelty.

Generally, people don’t necessarily feel great about what happens to these dairy cows, and such a stark examination of the life of normal factory farmed dairy cow will inspire a series of hypotheticals, like …

But if we don’t milk cows, they feel pain: Only if their natural systems have been abused and mutated, their nursing children taken away but simulated by human intervention to keep the cow producing milk in an unnatural way, will a cow experience some unworldly discomfort from an overstuffed utter. Just look at the way lactation and weaning happens for every other milk-producing mammal.

But if I buy only organic: The mass-production of milk, be it organic or not, still uses the same system. And, in fact, organic production simply means the cows are not given the antibiotics to keep them somewhat healthier in these conditions. In short, organic milk products are more for the consumer’s state of mind — marketing — than really looking out for the animals, which still undergo the factory farmed experience.

But if I buy only from small, independent farms: Agreed this seems and is a less abusive proposition, thus is a commendable effort on both the producers’ and consumers’ part. Nevertheless, to some degree, some amount of these things will have to happen in order for a cow to give enough milk to make commercial products, even on a small scale level such as the local farmer’s market. Cows, though now genetically engineered to produce more milk, are not biologically supposed to give people milk this way.

But if I don’t have dairy, I won’t have (fill in the nutrient): First of all, we can get whatever nutrient of concern without dairy, and millions of people do so daily. Calcium or protein a concern? Here are some better options for both calcium and protein that don’t come from cows or other animals. Secondly, needing something for our own health doesn’t change the fact of how we get our cheese. Wanting to get vitamins and minerals is perfectly acceptable, but they don’t have to come from dairy-cow cheese products.

What Can We Do?

The problem is that, while these statements sound damning, bitter towards the cheese eater and the dairy farmer, even the small ones, facts are not judgment, they are not condemnation but they are not fictional either. Sometimes, truths are not easy to process, and sometimes they may just beg that we give up some of our favorite things, or at least acknowledge what it takes to acquire them.

Knowing what you do about the facts of how the dairy industry works, it is up to you to reconsider if you really can’t live without cheese. We’re pretty confident that you can, physiologically speaking, continue to exist sans cheddar. But if you are looking for an alternative to fill that cheese void, check out these recipes.

In-text image source: Jo-Anne McArthur

Lead Image Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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0 comments on “Explain Like I’m 5: Why Is Eating Cheese Cruel to Cows?”

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Kelly Detrought
3 Years Ago

This is extreme false information from a person with no background whatsoever in the dairy industry. The only way I can assert an effort to the poor minds of the confused mass of city folks such as the author is the Explain Like You\'re Five. Most cows or calves spend their days through free-choice paddock areas. In other words, there is an open building with suitable feed, bedding, bedding areas, pack, and water, but the cattle are free to wander between the barn and a pasture for exersize/grazing. Buildings to house cattle are rarely completed without bedding pack or rubber matts to leaven the concussive force of walking that can result in lamness in cows of 10 years or older. Cows are animals that are valued on their reproductive traits; not so far from the idea that human models are valued on their physic. Therefore, the ability to reproduce is a gift that dairy farmers use to the cows advantage. Through selective breeding, the dairy farmer can improve the overall future of both the cow and calf by ensuring their body comes from a lineage that has lifetime merit. Calves are indeed taken away at birth. Raised by their mother, the calves face a higher mortality and morbidity rate of a 20% when human raised calves in the usa, the mortality rate is 6%. Yes, most bull calves are sold for low-grade veal, but they do not spend their lives in a wooden crate. What good would that do? How would farmers profit? They wouldn\'t, and that\'s why calves are treated the same way as their female counterparts: with reverence of the future. They are all raised in the proper environment to ensure their quality of health stays high. Dairy cows produce the same amount of milk that they would if their calves were left to suckle on them. In fact, they are fed supplemented feed that apeals to their everyday management needs. Most cows live to 15 years of age; 20 is a far stretch that even \'naturally raised\' cows could probably never achieve. Lastly, the average cow is worth $2500, do you really think that dairy farmers can afford to abuse their animals at that price? Everyone knows, that a happier cow is a healthier cow is a more productive cow. Milk is a beverage made from one of the most respected and important industires in the world. Drink it; it\'s an abuse-free drink that\'s good for you.

16 Sep 2017

I grew up on dairy farms milking cows etc and regradless of what type of situation it is,what is important is that

1)cows are impregnated by humans with the sperm of masturbated bulls or by bulls in an enclosure controlled by humans so it is NOT nature.These animals know no independance.

2) Cows and bull calves are slaughtered.All animals are sentients beings who do not want to be exploited and murdered.Slaughterhouses are hell on earth.

3) milk and dairy products are unnecessary and unhealthy for humans.

That is all that matters.Get a new job before you go out of business

13 Jul 2018

You need to do more research. If you think the majority of cows are sitting in lush environments with suitable feed, bedding and rubber mats to stand on you are mistaken big time! You must also believe they read them a nice story and put them to sleep humanly - lol Wake up. Perhaps what you explained does happen somewhere but it\'s very few and far between. They are not valued at all -

3 Years Ago

In Norway, cows live free on big fields. That`s the way they should live! Some even live in the forest.
Personally, I don`t eat red meat or drink milk, but I know the milk we have here comes from local farms and happy cows :)

16 Sep 2017

Doesn\'t matter how the animals are exploited.There are routine practices like branding,dehorning and castration and forced impregnation plus the emotional distress of babies being removed from their mothers and they all end up in a slaughterhouse.Slaughterhouses are hell on earth and no animal wants to go there or be killed anywhere else.There is no such thing as a happy cow unless she is living exploitation free on a vegan sanctuary.Wake up.

3 Years Ago

It\'s hell, for sure. I\'ve always wondered why the word "vegetarian" was ever applied when dairy, eggs, honey is consumed seeing that there is nothing vegatable about dairy, eggs, honey. What to call a person who does not eat flesh, but the other stuff.

28 Jan 2015

Ok, "honey"? Seriously? How is eating honey cruel to bees or any other animal? And "there`s nothing vegetable about honey"? Really?

01 Feb 2015

Honey, answering the comment below, is cruel to bees because they produce it to be eaten by their larvae/babies, not for us. So we are taking it from them and turning them into a factory for our sweet palates, and we have turned them into slave machines. Being Vegan is chosen out of compassion for all living creatures and the suffering we put them through by turning them into commodities for our pleasure is what we seek to ameliorate. If you read John Robbins "Diet for a New America" he discusses factory farming and the like. I cried for 55 pages and knew I could no longer be a partner in this crime due to my ignorance of what went on. It\'s an awakening for sure, and once you lose your ignorance about it, its hard to turn off the suffering. I say this not to disrespect but to choose freely after being awakened to the type of things John talks about in all his books. He was the heir to Baskin Robbins and after visiting the dairy farms, left his inheritance and family fortune to become a vegan and a voice for the animals.

24 Nov 2016

You can\'t say insects suffer without getting into some dodgy territory with regard to your definition of \'suffering\'.

You could use many of the same arguments against harvesting bees\' honey to say it\'s cruel to take the seeds of plants, which are meant to nourish baby plants, or the leaves, which are meant to gather sunlight for the benefit of the plant, not for the benefit of humans.

There are studies to show that insects respond in a manner akin to \'pain\', though it appears to be more of an automatic response, i.e. they lack pain receptors, that bees show \'emotional upset\', though this is unclear. There are also studies to show that plants sing to each other, that they communicate information, that they can sympathetically share in the \'pain\' of neighbouring plants being wrenched out of the ground.

You could go on to say that just as tearing a leaf introduces the pain of separation on the microscopic level as bonds are ripped apart, likewise a piece of tin foil can feel the pain of separation as you tear it to wrap round your head. You cannot ever isolate yourself entirely from suffering, and you have to draw the line somewhere if you want to live, which is to participate in evolution. I think placing it between creatures with pain receptors and creatures without is ethical enough.

Rather than pious isolation, ethical living should be about promoting BALANCE. I am a vegan, but I\'m also aware that my consumption of plant-based foods deprives countless other creatures - from the bacterial level up - of the same, not to mention of their habitats. Imagine how many tiny organisms live on a single cabbage or whatever.

Colleen Carver
3 Years Ago

I have just gone Vegan . (4 weeks) Thank god. I cannot believe I have never given these facts enough or in fact any thought in the past.
Would love to share on my page but don\'t want to sound like a preacher. Well at least I am one more. Thanks One Green planet for your amazing website. I love it. Hopefully my sharing of recipes leads others to this site then they can read all this information for themselves. In fact I\'m going to share this on my page! Namaste.

3 Years Ago

Thank you, so much, for showing people the truth. For the longest time, I was an ethical vegetarian with no idea just how much hell we put them through so that we may steal their babies\' milk.


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