When you live as an ethical vegan, your frame of reference is a bit different than the status quo. Let me give you an example. What do you think of when you hear the phrase Adopt A Cow? If you’re like me, you probably think of one of the many farm sanctuaries who rescue and advocate for animals destined for the food supply. Perhaps you even send a monthly contribution to one of these sanctuaries, having adopted a particular cow.
I hate to be the one to tell you, but there’s a much different use for the Adopt A Cow idea, and it’s all thanks to dairy-based cheese.
Recently, NPR’s The Salt ran a story entitled “Italian Cheese Lovers Find Their Bovine Match Through ‘Adopt A Cow’.” Small farmers in the Italian Alps, who make their cheeses by hand, can’t afford to export their product. And so, for an “adoption” fee, dairy-based cheese aficionados can come meet their very own cow and purchase their very own cheese.
Here’s how it works: With my adoption fee of 60 euros, I get an assortment of aged and soft cheeses made from Mery’s milk. She produces some four gallons a day.
How wonderful for everyone involved! Except, you know, Mery’s calf, who is not mentioned in NPR’s piece (to no one’s surprise). When are baby cows ever mentioned when discussing dairy products? How old were you when you drew the conclusion that without baby cows, there would be no milk? Did that conclusion lead you to the next question: What happens to the baby cows?
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I’ll admit: in my three decades of drinking milk and eating cheese, it didn’t occur to me to question how we came by it. Isn’t that the crux of our issue as humans: a sense of entitlement, nurtured from childhood?
Skimming some of the reader comments, I see someone mention Mery’s calf and how Mery’s milk is for that calf. And then, an unsurprising opinion – Mery’s calf does not need four whole gallons of milk each day. Well, then, of course we should take the surplus! Of course. Let’s not forget: Mery – and her calf – are human property, and therefore, anything they produce is also human property. Let’s ignore the fact that a mother’s milk is nutritionally comprised of everything needed to turn a baby into a healthy adult – whatever species is involved. But hey – if a human being believes that a bovine calf does not need four gallons of milk to grown into a large cow, well then, sorry, Mery’s calf – you’re on a diet. We want cheese, dammit!
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Something else that struck me about this story was said by the woman who came up with this concept: “Our traditions were dying, so I came up with Adopt a Cow.”
It really does go back to that one idea, doesn’t it? Tradition is a powerful concept in our society. Our holidays are wrapped up in rituals. Our family gatherings are often around the dinner table, with recipes passed down generations. There is comfort in tradition, in answering, “Why?” with, “Because we’ve always done in this way.”
But that’s not really a good answer, is it? There should be reason behind the ritual, and we should then critically think about whether said ritual is still valid. Humans have traditionally oppressed and enslaved others for centuries; that’s certainly not a good reason to continue doing so. And, no – I’m not saying that all of our traditions are that extreme. I’m not even saying all of our traditions are unwarranted. What I am saying is that we need to ask ourselves why we do what we do, and whether others are negatively affected because of it. If a human or non-human animal is exploited, hurt, or killed in the process of our fulfilling our traditions, then we need to seriously reconsider those traditions.
RELATED READING: Tradition is Not a Good Reason to Exploit Animals
So, back to this Adopt A Cow program. Is there potential for someone to visit their “perfect match” cow, look into her eyes, and realize that her milk is not ours for the taking? I hope so. I hope that something wonderful can come from it. But I am a pessimist – I don’t think the chance of someone visiting a cow for the purpose of securing cheese and coming out of it swearing off dairy is very likely.
This is why we must keep talking about the news we read, the comments we overhear, the traditions we carry and the advertising we are asked to take in and abide by. We have to keep talking about it all – because when we do, someone is listening. And that someone might just help us change the world – for Mery, the Italian dairy cow, and for millions of animals like her.
What do you think of the new “Adopt-a-Cow” program? Let me know in the comments.