It’s been mentioned here before but, if you’re consuming animals, you’re not vegan, period.  If you are taking “baby steps,” and have yet to evolve from your “vegetarianism,” I’m sorry- you’re not a vegan.  The term “veganism” seems to be applied too loosely, too often.  Without a consistent message, who are we- what’s a “vegan?”

Case in point- Lara Adler.

Ms. Adler has written a very detailed post titled, Why doing the right thing sometimes means doing the “wrong” thing, justifying her use of animals.  Lara Adler says she’s a vegan, yet she consumes cream from cow’s milk.  I’ll briefly explain her justification for this:

She can’t do without butter (she uses the analogy that she shouldn’t suffer without butter).  Earth Balance kills orangutans.  The cow cream she buys comes from an organic family farm.

First, I’ll say that Lara appears intelligent, has a good heart, and genuinely wants to do the right thing by the non-humans of the world.  So, I’m a bit surprised at her lack of an effort to apply her vegan philosophy, and a little shocked at her selfishness:

“But how is THAT (cow cream) vegan??” you may be asking. It’s not – not by the traditional sense, but given the options that exist (besides of course, forgoing all butter-like products forever – something which would contribute to more suffering – my own!), it’s the one that’s the most “vegan” to me.

She details how forests are cleared at massive rates to plant palm for oil production- a key ingredient in margarine products such as Earth Balance.  When these forests are destroyed, so are the habitats of many species, including orangutans.  She’s right.  Lets also consider then, how much forest and other types of natural habitat, such as swampland, are destroyed to make way for soy, corn, bananas, coconuts, wheat, oranges, sugar, coffee, cacao, etc.  Are the lives of cows worth less to Adler than those of orangutans?  Vegans are not (normally) speciesists.

Then, she details how she found a dairy called Milk Thistle Farms, which she describes as “a tiny operation,” who, along with Grazin Angus Acres (beef and eggs), “both worked their farms with love, respect for nature, and respect for their animals.”  So I was curious, what does Milk Thistle do with all the male calves born to the milk-producing mothers?  Sell them to Grazin Angus?  We asked via email, and have yet to hear a response.  On June 18th, we sent this email to Milk Thistle Farms:

I was directed to your website in an article about small organic farming and milk production.  I would like to learn more about your operation and have some questions.

I see that your cows are permitted to roam free the entire “growing season.”  I’m not sure what the growing season is, would you be able to elaborate a bit more what that time frame is?  I’d also like to inquire more about the process in which the cows produce milk.  It is my understanding that a cow will only produce milk if she has recently given birth.  Does your farm impregnate the cows on the farm?  If so, what happens if the calves are born male?  Do these animals remain on your farm, or are they shipped somewhere else?

I sincerely appreciate your time in reading and responding to my questions.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions of your own.  I look forward to hearing back from you.  Thank you in advance and please have a good day.

A farm, regardless of who runs it (IE: A “family farm” or a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – “CAFO”), is going to be a business first. The animals lives are secondary next to profit.  I know that seems particularly elementary but it’s important when talking to people who use words like humane, family farm, happy animals, etc.  These are the type of people who rarely recognize (or mention) the reproductive requirement of running a farm.  Simply put, a farmer controls the life cycles ( and breeding cycles) of the animals who reside on the farm.  There will always be consequences for this, usually in the form of unwanted male animals that will need to be “disposed” of.  It really doesn’t matter if you can name all of the cows on the farm, the animals are still being used. And that is utterly antithetical to the core vegan belief that humans have no right to use animals in any way.

And then there’s the whole,”A tiny operation” thing.  According to a NPR piece from 2009, the farm had “60 or so cows,” and was planning to raise $700,000 in order to expand to meet the rising demand for natural and organic milk.  Dante Hesse, owner, “says he could sell even more milk — plus butter and cheese — if he could just build a processing plant right in his barn.”  Nice.  Just as a side, the U.S. legal definition of a family farm does not define the number of animals kept, and simply states that the owner-operator (family) must provide a substantial amount of labor.  Ninety-eight percent (that’s 98) of the farms in the U.S. meet the USDA requirement for “family farms.”

Milk Thistle Farms is obviously trying to run a business and be profitable, and further, is trying to expand and become more profitable- at the expense of non-human (cows) lives.

What do they do with the male calves born to their (presumably) artificially inseminated mothers?

Ms. Adler concludes with this:

The cost of my butter is dear, it’s true, but I look at it as the true cost of food. How on earth could the $3.50 I paid for my margarine represent the real costs associated with it’s production, which of course includes lost habitat, and lost life, not to mention pollution to the water, air, and soil. How much is it really worth then? So while I won’t be buying heavy cream that often, and while I’ll be using the butter I make sparingly, I’ll also do so having full appreciation for how it came to be.

The true costs of all food are many and varied.  We eat natural, we eat local, and we eat vegan to eliminate death and suffering.  Lara asks, “how much is it really worth then”- to buy heavy cream not all that often, to make butter used only sparingly?  Apparently, it’s worth the lives of 60 or so cows that work for Milk Thistle Farm.

And that makes her one spurious vegan.

Author’s note:  Before we are inundated with hate mail talking about how we shouldn’t pit vegans against vegans or how every little bit counts, please know that Lara Adler has invited commentary on her position to use animal products, both in her original article and on twitter.  Regardless of that fact, why should we settle for a watered-down version of what being vegan means?  We shouldn’t. Vegans shouldn’t settle. It’s not about bullying people, making people feel bad for their choices, or kicking people out of a club. It’s about saying, this is what veganism is and what it means- and remain consistent about it. How is anyone (in any situation) going to be taken seriously about their beliefs if they don’t live true to their beliefs? Why would a non-vegan take a vegan seriously if the vegan would eat non-vegan food when they went out to eat simply because “it was easier.”  It is the same thing if you continue to consume animals in any other way (clothing, furniture, etc.)  If you set aside your own beliefs, other people will too.