I want to tread carefully here in attempting to shed more light on a durable and damaging myth. It is the myth that vegetarianism and veganism are similar. I often hear people talk about vegetarians and vegans in the same breath, as though they’re almost one and the same, with only trifling differences. I even hear the terms occasionally used interchangeably. While neither vegetarians nor vegans eat meat, that’s typically where the similarity ends. Beyond that, they’re worlds apart in terms of ethics and their impact on the environment. I didn’t educate myself on this until relatively recently — it’s not an easy reality to face — but the myth of humane animal milk, eggs and flesh is one of the most persistent and successful lies told by the animal exploitation industries.
I’ve tried various diets, from pescatarian to vegetarian to vegan. While I’m now fully vegan for ethical reasons, as well as for the environment and my health, I’ve spent far more years of my life consuming animal flesh and animal secretions than not doing so. I grew up in a small agricultural town in a home with very little means. My dad grew up on a farm, milking cows and taking eggs from the chickens, all for his family’s own consumption. I believe he slaughtered chickens, as well; I know he was at least present because he told stories about what he saw. Growing up on a rural farm, I doubt he or his family ever met a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. I don’t think it would have occurred to them to not turn animals into units of production and consume them and their secretions.
In his excellent book, The World Peace Diet, Will Tuttle, PhD has the following to say about the world we’re born into:
“None of us ever consciously and freely chose to eat animals. We have all inherited this from our culture and upbringing. Going into the baby food department of any grocery store today, we see it immediately: beef-flavored baby food, chicken, veal, and lamb baby food, and even cheese lasagna baby food. Well-meaning parents, grandparents, friends, and neighbors have forced the flesh and secretions of animals upon us from before we can remember. As infants, we have no idea what “veal,” “turkey,” “egg,” or “beef” actually are, or where they come from. We don’t know what horror is visited upon helpless creatures in order to create the easily available concoctions being spooned into our little teething mouths. We find out slowly, and by the time we do, the cruelty and perversity involved seem natural and normal to us…” Will Tuttle PhD. The World Peace Diet (pp. 10-11). Lantern Books. Kindle Edition (2008-01-29)
When I ate a vegegarian diet for six months or so, I consumed only organic, free range eggs and organic milk, yogurt and cheese from “happy” cows. I believed that by doing this and removing animal flesh from my diet, I was no longer participating in the exploitation, torture and killing of animals. I now know that, in fact, I was simply buying into the endless and highly effective propaganda put out by the animal exploitation and killing industries and the government agencies and officials they own.
The truth is that, even on the smallest of dairy and poultry farms, even so-called free-range chickens, cows, goats and their offspring suffer horrible cruelty, lead miserable lives and die early and often painful deaths.
Even those with the best of intentions who have given up meat for ethical reasons may continue to unknowingly participate in the horrific treatment of cows and poultry by consuming dairy and eggs.
The following is a summary of a presentation on the realities of dairy from HumaneMyth.org:
In order to maintain uninterrupted milk production, cows are forced year after year to go through an endless cycle of pregnancy and birth, only to have their calves immediately taken from them. Cows and calves cry out for each other as they are separated.
All forms of dairy farming involve forcibly impregnating cows. This involves a person inserting his arm far into the cow’s rectum in order to position the uterus, and then forcing an instrument into her vagina. The restraining apparatus used is commonly called a “rape rack.”
Half of all calves born are male. Of no use in milk production, they are sent to veal-producing operations or directly to auctions where they are sold and slaughtered when they are just a few days old. Male calves used for veal production suffer a crude castration process and are killed after 4 months spent in small crates or pens.
After just 4 to 6 years, dairy cows are “spent” from being forced to continuously produce milk. Often weak and ill, they endure transport to auction and slaughter, both of which are traumatic for these gentle animals. If allowed to exist free of exploitation and slaughter, cows can live 25 years or more.
What about cage-free, happy chickens?
Hens used for egg production come from hatcheries, where male chicks (none of which can lay eggs) are killed immediately after hatching. Each year, hundreds of millions of these vulnerable beings are suffocated or ground up alive to produce fertilizer or feed.
Chickens used to produce eggs, including eggs labeled “cage-free,” have their beaks forcibly mutilated to minimize the damage they cause each other when crowded together.
At all farms, large-scale and small-scale, laying hens are killed when their production declines, typically within two years, as feeding these worn-out individuals cuts directly into profits. Often the bodies of “spent” hens are so ravaged that no one will buy them, and they are ground into fertilizer or just sent to a landfill.
If allowed to live free of exploitation and slaughter, chickens can live ten years or more. They protect, feed, and nurture their young, just like other animals.
Worth noting here is the fact that a common condition of “spent” hens is a prolapsed uterus, where the incredibly painful result of unnaturally high volume of egg production results in the uterus collapsing into their vaginas.
I know that being vegetarian is more difficult than being an omnivore in our society. And that being vegetarian is easier than being vegan. But if you’re looking to avoid participating in animal cruelty, exploitation and killing — not to mention dramatically reduce your contribution to global warming — a vegan diet is the only way to go.