I don't think about milk, butter, ghee, cheese, etc. the same way
I think about meat and eggs. In fact I feel that cows are sacred
animals that create sattvic foods--not just for baby cows, but for
us. I have lived most of my life through my intuition, and though
most people would not feel this is a valid way of living, I find
that the only time I make mistakes is when I don't listen to myself--
but nothing about dairy makes me feel that I am violating natural
law by eating it, as I do with all other animal products. I've been
a vegetarian since 1975.
If the cows are treated with kindness and
respect, I'm sincerely interested in understanding whether you feel
dairy products would be okay. I'm referring only to organic dairy
products that come from farms that are run the way you and I would
want them to be run.
I asked (a leading animal rights philosopher)
the same question, but he became so angry that there was no room
I ask you this because I feel a deep connection
I respect people who follow their intuition. If our culture had
more respect for intuitive and emotional intelligence we’d all be
the better for it.
Would dairy products be okay if the cows were treated well? This
is something of a hypothetical question, because the reality today
is so tragically different. I don’t want us to forget that virtually
all American dairy products come from cows who are treated horrendously.
My primary concern is with the commercial dairy industry, the folks
who inject genetically engineered BGH into cows that have already
been bred to give 20 times more milk than they naturally would,
the folks who spend hundreds of millions of dollars telling you
that you need their products to keep your bones healthy, when in
fact there are far better sources of calcium and the other minerals
your bones need. (Green leafy vegetables, for example, provide calcium
that is far more bio-available than dairy products.)
The organic dairy industry isn't, I'm sad to say, as much better
as you or I would want. The Colorado organic milk company, Horizon,
refers to itself as the "Horizon family of companies."
The word "family" connotes pastoral family farms, but
the truth here is quite different. Horizon is a $127 million corporation
that controls 70% of the retail market in organic dairy products
in the United States. Many Horizon milk products are now "ultrapasteurized,"
a process the cartons present as a boon to the consumer (it greatly
extends the "use by" date), but which is really done to
allow the company to ship its milk all over the country. Hence "organic"
milk in the US today is rarely locally produced.
There is evidence that "ultra-pasteurization," a very
high-heat process, alters substances in the milk and creates milk
that is less nutritious than conventionally pasteurized milk. So,
ironically, the consumer buying organic milk today in the United
States is getting a product that may actually be worse on at least
two counts than conventional milk. It may well have been ultra-pasteurized,
and it has probably been shipped long distances, making it environmentally
more damaging. On the other hand, it won't be from cows treated
with bovine growth hormone, and most likely won't contain pesticide
The dairy industry would like consumers to believe that their cows
are happy and well treated. This is why, in 2001, the California
Milk Advisory Board initiated a widespread advertising campaign
featuring "Happy Cow" commercials. The ads show healthy,
cheerful cows who enjoy plenty of green grass, sunlight, and space,
along with the slogans, "Happy cows make great cheese,"
and "Great cheese comes from happy cows - Happy cows come from
California." In response, the animal protection organization,
Last Chance For Animals, asked the California Attorney General's
Office for an injunction against the California Milk Advisory Board
for false advertising. The group is seeking a public retraction,
and criminal penalties against the company. In contacting the Attorney
General, the animal protection group presented photographs of actual
cows taken at California dairy farms which are members of and fund
the California Milk Advisory Board. These photos show cows knee
deep in mud, feces and urine, and unable to graze - a far and painful
cry from the "happy cows" displayed in the ads.
Is organic milk any different? You and I would hope that organic
milk would come from well-treated cows that actually graze on grass.
Horizon Dairies goes to tremendous lengths to present consumers
with images of Horizon cows as happy. The company's logo is a cow
leaping with glee. The company's newsletter is called The Happy
Cow Herald. And the Horizon Education Center in Maryland is home
to an enormous maze covering over 7 acres of land and 3.5 miles
of trail, that depicts the company's Happy Cow logo.
But the truth is, once again, quite different from the PR. Cows
at Horizon's dairies rarely if ever eat a blade of grass. They spend
their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating organic grains,
and tethered to milking machines three times a day.
Dairy products are sometimes touted as good sources of the important
Omega-3 essential fatty acids. But Horizon products, like all milk,
butter, and cheese from grain-fed cows, have far less of these essential
nutrients than dairy products from pastured animals.
There's another problem with trying to produce dairy products in
an "ideal" situation What would happen to the calves? Cows only
lactate for a certain amount of time after giving birth. To keep
producing milk, they've got to become pregnant again. So dairy cows
give birth to quite a few calves over the course of time. In commercial
practice, the calves are taken away at birth, the males destined
via a hideously cruel process to become veal, and the females for
milk production. What would you do with the males? It's always been
a problem for those wanting dairy products but not wanting to kill
Yet another issue is the breeds. Today's Holsteins have been bred
relentlessly and exclusively for maximum production. They bear little
resemblance to the Guernseys and Jerseys of yesteryear. The sattvic
(holy and pure) milk that the ayurvedic texts refer to certainly
did not come from animals resembling the Holsteins that today make
up almost all of the US dairy herd.
I appreciate your question, but I'm afraid that it isn't so simple
to produce dairy products in our culture today in a manner that
"you and I would want." In traditional India, the cows roamed free
and were milked by hand. The males were castrated (this turns a
bull into a steer), and then used to plow the fields. The animals
were revered. Their manure sweetened the soil, and was also dried
and used as a cooking fuel, and even a building material. The animals
were part of the ecosystem, part of the culture, part of the spirituality,
and part of people's families. It can be painful to grasp how far
we have strayed from a harmonious, credible, and sustainable relationship
with these beautiful creatures.