Sunday, June 20, 2010
I was on Facebook the other day and saw a friend's update that stated:
My son's gem of the week: "Dad, how do cows give their milk? Do they spit?"
I posted a comment on Twiter about how this was sad to me and it became a discussion between me and some of my online friends. Part of the discussion was that many people grow up not learning this information from school biology or health classes or from their parents.
We are a society that is, generally, very far removed from the sources of what we eat. And as the world becomes more and more urban (it's estimated that by 2050, 70% of the world will live in cities) there are few opportunities to connect with the plants and animals that make up what most people eat.
I will readily admit that I was as disconnected as anyone else from what I ate. I grew up in Miami, FL. I never had a garden, never raised animals for food, never visited a farm or cleaned a fish that I caught. Frankly, much of what I've learned about the life cycles of farm animals (aka the animals we eat) I've learned in the past two or so years since we brought our rescued hens, rooster, turkey and goats to come live with us.
Animals are the best teachers.
What still surprises me and makes me sad is that we don't know these things. That we are not taught them and that we have fewer and fewer opportunities to learn.
We live in a a semi-rural and traditionally agricultural area in North Carolina. The town is a mix of people who have lived here for almost 70 years and some newer residents. There are still tobacco fields dotting the area, although those are becoming harder to find. Yet, even in an area where many people have exposure to animals and farms, since we brought home our "outside" animals they've become ambassadors for their relations. And they bring up opportunities to answer questions on how animals would live in a more natural way.
For example, when we brought home Tulip and Petal, the pygmy goats, people asked if we would be utilizing their milk to drink or to make cheese. We answered "No". We will not be taking milk from them because, like cows and other mammals, they only have milk when they have babies who need it to grow. For Tulip to have milk she would have to be bred, impregnated, have babies and then have the babies taken away, for us to then take her milk for our own purposes. This will never, ever happen.
This is what happens on a enormous scale to millions of cows (and on a smaller scale to goats) every day. The dairy cows are impregnated over and over again. Their babies are taken from them right away (males to become veal, females to become more dairy cows or meat) and they're hooked up to industrial milking machines which often injure them. Now I never ate veal on "priciple" but I didn't know or connect the steps between the milk I put on my cereal and the veal calf that I refused to eat. I didn't know that my cereal milk or favorite cheese was contributing just as much to supporting the system as eating veal or a steak.
There are similar questions regarding the eggs that Meg and Gertie lay. People ask how often they lay and we respond that they lay, generally, once a day during the spring, summer and a bit into the fall. That they do lay even without a rooster around because it is their fertility cycle, so they create a egg just like women do, whether it is fertilized or not. We also say that they don't usually lay in the winter because it would be too cold to have chicks hatch during the winter to survive, so they naturally don't lay eggs then... unless they are unnaturally manipulated through lights and temperature, as factory egg farms do.
We also explain how the egg farms work. That, as you could statistically expect, about half of the chicks born on the egg farms are male. These male baby chicks are unwanted so they are thrown, alive, into grinders and either disposed of or fed to the chickens or other animals.
It's hard to fathom and yet, that is what happens and what we support when we buy eggs.
I had no idea about any of these facts just a few years ago. It makes me sad and sick that I was never taught it. I feel that I should have known. I love and was interested in animals. I was very involved in science and biology. I wanted to be a vet. Yet I never connected the dots about how they live, how they are meant to live and how the animal foods I ate came about. Why is that? And why was none of this ever taught any where? Why are we never educated about the animals that live in closest connection to our lives? If I had known these few things I probably would have made the changes I've made years earlier.
When people get to meet our animals they are often entranced (see our little friend above). They engage with them. Love their unique personalities. They want to know more and are amazed by how they live and how they act. They ask to come back to see them and play with them again.
I know how they feel. Because I'm amazed by them every day.
I think if more people where taught the truth about the animals that we use and how their lives are manipulated and twisted for our own ends and for profit that people would not want to support this. I believe that most people are kind and compassionate. That they don't want baby cows ripped from their mothers, they don't want hens to have their beaks sliced off or male chicks ground up alive because they are "trash". That the abundance of fruits, vegetables, beans and grains available to us is more than we could ever tire of.
And that the joy that comes from knowing we are not causing harm with our food choices brings us an immense satisfaction and sense of peace.