I have remained a strong proponent of breastfeeding over the years. But recently something happened that made me wonder if my advocacy has been too limited and prejudiced. It began when I read a book that was set as my son’s freshman reading when he was admitted to Duke University— Eating Animals, by Jonathan Foer. This book led me to question whether it is right to be taking the mother’s milk that belongs to another baby — in this case, a calf.
Dairy cows do not make milk for humans — they make milk to feed their own babies. A female only makes milk when she has a baby — whether it is a human female or a bovine female. In the dairy industry, female cows are forcibly impregnated so that they will lactate when their calves are born. So in this process, the baby calf is a by-product of the dairy industry. But to the mother cow, her calf is everything. To the calf, the mother is the center of the universe. They want to be together, just like we want to be with our babies.
But because the industry does not need the calves, especially the male calves, they are separated from their mothers and killed immediately, or confined alone for a few more months to be killed for veal. The calf is given formula so that his mother’s milk can be sold in supermarkets.
Over some months, I began to figure out that what I was doing when I ate yogurt, cheese or ice cream was taking the milk that belongs to other babies. I had been fixated with my own nursing relationship with my babies, but I did not spend a moment’s thought on other nursing relationships that I was disrupting every day when I ate my meals.
Soon after I read that book, I became a vegan and an advocate for animal rights. The animals whose bodies and secretions that we eat, be they cows or pigs or chickens, feel emotions as strongly as we do, and perhaps they feel them even more strongly. They feel the strong bonds of family; they become attached and love each other. I am grateful for my children for allowing me to understand this, and I look forward to the day when all nonhuman families are given the respect they deserve.