In my household growing up there were only two beverages in the fridge: orange juice and skim milk. If you didn't want to drink water, these were the only other options. I used to lie about being allergic to oranges, I disliked them so much. So really, my choice was between milk and water. Suffice to say, I drank a shit-ton of milk. With pretty much every meal. Anything richer than skim was gross to me, and had its own 'flavor' that didn't complement food the way skim does. So as I grew into an adult, I added my own beverages to the fridge, but they would come and go--skim milk was the one constant.
I don't enjoy eating desserts without a large glass of milk, particularly anything chocolate. Even now when I'm at my parents' house and we're about to sit down to a meal I'll ask, "Anyone else want a glass of milk?" It's just a comforting, familiar, soothing beverage for me, whereas most of my friends only keep milk in their houses for kids, adding to their coffee, or for cooking purposes; not to mention the ones allergic to dairy altogether. But I will leave the house at 2am if I run out of milk. Not having milk to drink is like having my water shut off. I'm pretty much addicted to it. (As you can imagine, my nails can practically cut glass and I'll probably never suffer from osteoporosis.)
Even though I visited a few dairy farms as a child, I never wondered where my milk came from, or how it was processed. I imagined a bunch of happy dairy cows grazing in fields, each hand-milked by a farmer. Mostly I didn't think about it at all. I didn't want to, I guess. Like most children, I loved animals. I loved our pets of course, but I also adored marine mammals and horses and all-manner of animals-not-generally-eaten (in the United States, at least).
And then I grew up and got pets of my own. Pets I've named, fed, bathed, preventatively medicated, picked up after, groomed, slept next to, and loved. It comes naturally to me to be protective of them and invested in their welfare. The idea of anyone mistreating them fills me with rage. So I sign petitions trying to protect wildlife from poaching and puppy mills from operating and I give money to organizations that care for homeless pets. But I think that--on purpose--I've tried to ignore the welfare of the animals I eat, or whose products I eat. I like meat, I LOVE dairy, I don't want to think too hard about where it comes from. Besides, this is America! I'm sure there are laws the protect them all. Thanks, Upton Sinclair!
But then something happened. I saw Gene Baur on The Daily Show. And what PETA had long-tried to force into my purview with gruesome images and super-sexist advertising, Gene Baur hit home with just talking about farm sanctuaries.
"They're not different from cats and dogs in their desire to be friends with us."Well shit, I thought. So I decided to examine the tip of the iceberg, and that alone made me ready to make serious changes in the way I eat. Things I didn't know:
1) The terms 'cage-free' and 'organic' have zero accountability or bearing in animal welfare. This felt like a total cheat.
2) Like all mammals, cows have to calve in order to produce milk. I'm not sure why I didn't realize this... I assumed that, like chickens and eggs, it was just something dairy cows produced on their own. But because that's not the case, dairy cows are basically kept perpetually pregnant in order to keep up their dairy production. Oh, but it gets worse.
3) Most calves are separated from their mothers within hours of birth, because they create too strong a bond if it's delayed, which causes health risks to the calves. And the male calves of dairy cows are usually sent off to slaughter for veal.There's more, but let's move on. What are my excuses for not eating ethically treated animal products and meat? Money and convenience. The first is obviously more of an issue than the latter. Eating organic is expensive, eating ethically is practically obscene if you live on any kind of tight budget.
I looked up products in my area on certifiedhumane.org. There's only one dairy farm's milk available in my city that showed up on their list, and it's $5.99...a HALF gallon. Plus a $2.50 bottle deposit, which hurts excuse #2. To add insult to injury, two of the half gallons I bought tasted bad, even far from their pull date. Not a great start. I'm used to finding milk even as low as $2.50 a gallon (with a coupon).
So to offset the cost (and the inconvenience) I'm trying to start eating less meat and dairy, in addition to buying from farms with strict animal welfare policies. For now, I'm still eating meat when it's served to me by hosts, or when eating out (there are restaurants that are certified humane in their meat and animal product purchasing). One of the problems with me becoming a full vegan or even just vegetarian is that I don't really like grilled veggies (so I could go full-raw like some people, I guess) and frankly, I've tried non-dairy cheese, and I am willing to spend a bundle on humane cheese before I go down that route. I'm planning to try milk alternatives like coconut, almond, and soy milk, but I don't think any of those are ideal milks for drinking on their own. Whether or not I'll be able to fully wean myself from drinking milk, we'll see.
Basically, I'm going to try to do what I can in my own life. I make all the grocery decisions for my home, and all the decisions when I eat on my own. In addition to signing petitions and voting, I want to make changes as a consumer. I don't buy real fur, but giving up leather will be difficult. Maybe that will be a resolution for 2016... But even just starting small makes me feel lighter. This summer I hope to visit some of the farms I start buying from to check them out for myself, and meet the animals. Hopefully I can continue to love milk, and even more so for being from happy cows.