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Dairy: White Lies

Dairy: White Lies

By Pax Ahimsa Gethen

 

What if I told you that a substance that more than half of the world’s human population cannot digest properly was being marketed as necessary for human health?

What if I told you that the more people consumed this substance, the sicker they became?

What if I told you that people who became sick from eating this substance were told they had a “disorder” that needed to be fixed, rather than counseled to eat different foods that did not sicken them?

That substance, friends, is baby calf food — otherwise known as milk.

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   The only rightful recipient of cow’s milk. This calf, Harvey, was rescued from a dairy farm by  PreetiRang Sanctuary .

The only rightful recipient of cow’s milk. This calf, Harvey, was rescued from a dairy farm by PreetiRang Sanctuary.

A white person who doesn’t have many non-white friends or acquaintances might find it difficult to understand or believe that lactose intolerance is a natural condition; but in fact, the majority of people on Earth—most of whom are people of color—lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning from their mother’s breast milk. Those who have retained this ability are primarily of Northern European descent. As Andrea Freeman pointed out in the study The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk: Food Oppression and the USDA, “It would be therefore more appropriate to label people who retain the enzyme as ‘lactose persistent,’ instead of pathologizing the lack of the enzyme.” So strong is the dairy lobby’s power to make people believe that it is normal to drink the milk of another species that a study actually promoted gene therapy to treat the "disease" of lactose intolerance.

This pathologizing has led to the marketing of pills and expensive lactose-reduced milk to people of color, who are disproportionately low-income. My mother, who is black, has this milk on her cereal every morning. She can afford it now, but it would have been cost-prohibitive in the low-income community where she grew up. I tried to convince her to use non-dairy milk instead. I also explained to her that she didn't need cow's milk for the calcium, since there is plenty of calcium in green vegetables, including the broccoli that she often has for dinner. She joked, “No baby nursed at a broccoli breast.”

My grandmother also believed that she needed dairy products for the calcium, and ate ice cream at bedtime every night for quite some time. She became ill and gained a lot of weight, which most people would attribute to the sugar; but sugar, while certainly not a health food, is far less a contributor to obesity, diabetes and other health conditions than animal fat. The scapegoating of sugar has led to the introduction of regressive taxes such as the soda taxes recently proposed in the San Francisco Bay Area (the measure in San Francisco failed, while the one in Berkeley passed). These tax proposals specifically exempted milk products.

Wayne Hsiung’s excellent series on performing whiteness made me think about how pressured people of color are to fit in when it comes to eating foods that hurt our bodies. Before I went fully vegan, I once stayed in a hotel room where they put the traditional chocolate mints on the pillows. A Chinese friend came to visit, and I offered him one of these mints. He took out a tablet, apologetically explaining that he needed to take this before he could eat the mint — which contained dairy. I felt terrible about both encouraging him to eat something that I already felt conflicted about eating myself, and his obvious sense of obligation to accept the offered food. I lamented that he felt he had to take a drug that would enable him to eat it, rather than simply refuse it.

It isn’t only people of color that feel the pressure to conform. I once had a white coworker with a toddler who had ear infections so severe that he opted to have shunts put in the child’s ears. I asked my friend if he had tried giving the child non-dairy milk, as cow's milk can be a cause of childhood ear infections. He said yes, for a while; but he didn’t want the boy to be different from the other children. I was horrified that he would subject a child to a surgical operation rather than have him drink a different beverage that didn’t hurt him. Being child-free by choice, however, I didn’t want to risk offense by offering parenting advice.

While I never suffered severe distress from eating dairy products, my own childhood was marked by very frequent colds; I missed up to twenty days of school per year. I grew up in the 1970s, where the “four food groups” taught me that milk was an essential food. In elementary school, I sold tickets to students to exchange for pints of milk at the cafeteria; every child was expected to drink it. They still are. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been doing a good job trying to get kids and adults more mindful of healthy food choices, but his campaign to remove flavored milk from schools is more scapegoating of sugar while leaving untouched and un-criticized a substance that no human child needs.

Study after study has shown that consumption of cow’s milk does not help reduce bone fractures and may otherwise be detrimental to health; yet we still insist that baby calf food, consumed by no other non-bovine species, should be consumed by humans. Even the doctor who wrote the New York Times article referenced in this paragraph concludes “...almost everything is perfectly good in moderation, milk included. What else would you put on cereal?”

Why is it that Westerners and those who adopt Western diets think pouring a white liquid over a bowl of dried, sweetened grains is a normal way to start the day? A traditional Japanese breakfast includes steamed rice and miso soup. A traditional Costa Rican breakfast contains rice and beans. Cooked dishes are certainly more labor-intensive than cereal and milk; but for those who cannot access dairy substitutes, fruit juice is another option. Apple juice poured over cold cereal is surprisingly delicious. Fresh fruit alone is also a great breakfast choice.

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   Vegan pizza: A treat, not a food group.

Vegan pizza: A treat, not a food group.

Cheese is another food that Americans, including many vegans who promote non-dairy cheeses, seem to think is a necessary food group. Why is a congealed glob of fat considered a normal thing to eat? The fat and salt appeal to our primitive taste buds, and the casomorphins in dairy have addictive properties, to be sure. Even lactose-intolerant people can often eat cheese and other cultured milk products.

I believe vegans do both human and non-human animals a disservice by focusing on “vegan cheeses”. Someone who cannot find or afford non-dairy cheeses should not feel that is an impediment to going vegan. Someone who doesn’t like the taste of non-dairy cheeses should not feel that is an excuse to continue exploiting animals. The production of dairy—including on so-called "humane farms"—involves slavery, rape, theft, and murder. No food should taste good enough to overlook the impact on the victims of animal agriculture.

Marketing milk to humans as a wholesome, nutritious food is racism and child abuse. Our children suffer avoidable ailments and indoctrination into a lifetime of unhealthy choices that perpetuate violence against animals. Their children — the calves and kids born to cows and goats in the dairy industry — suffer loss of their mothers, loss of their food, and loss of their lives. Ounce for ounce, consuming dairy is just as cruel as eating flesh, if not more so. Don’t buy the animal industry’s white lies.

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)

Portrait Banners

Portrait Banners

We have just started making a series of banners for our (and your!) actions, that feature dignified portraits of nonhumans, of various species of people who are exploited by humans for a variety of purposes.

Why make a series with “dignified,” portrait-like photos that have no indication of the violence? It's a similar motivation to the "Someone, Not Something" images we make and share on our Facebook page, and the placards we printed for our Stories of Liberation action: We want to challenge speciesism and demonstrate these beings' personhoods. In nonhuman advocacy, we habitually see images of these animals being victimized, and we think we should also be showing them how they should be, to share a story of how things could be. We also think it is important to contrast the prevalence of images of "what is" with such images of "what could be" in order to not normalize images of their subjugation, which may reinforce notions of the human-supremacy hierarchy if no alternative vision is posed. Further, in our confrontation of speciesism, we want to very clearly signal our own respect for these beings, to encourage other humans to do the same, by sharing representations of them as they want to be -- by showing images of animals who are not (at least in the moment of the photo) being subjugated and degraded.

I (Kelly here) also think of it like this: We humans who use photographs of ourselves typically want to present ourselves to others as a respectable, unique and personality-rich individuals. So as an exercise in nonspeciesism, if these animals had Facebook pages (just hear me out), judging by the kinds of images that we humans post of ourselves, it seems reasonable to assume that we’d be more likely to see images like these as their profile photos, as opposed to images of the individuals suffering and being dominated and demeaned -- the kind of image we tend to choose to not share of our own selves. Since we know these animals prefer respect and equality to degradation and subjugation, we should present images of them as they want to be seen by those who currently see them otherwise and oppress them because of that perception.

This is not to say that images of the violence are not valuable. (When they are not just a horrifying graphic scene, that is, but images that clearly show the personhood and emotional experience of the victim.) We just want to make sure that we also show these animals as they want to be seen, and as they want to be, could be, and will be at the end of our story. To bring about species equality, we have to make it clear to people that our nonhuman sisters and brothers are people too.

So, here they are! If you follow our Organizing Principles, you are free to use any materials we create. Direct Action Everywhere is YOU!

What a Little Hen's Bloody, Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

by Wayne Hsiung

 

Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.

But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?  

Resoundingly, no.

First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.

Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.

DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.

A hen with a bloody, deformed, and crippled leg due to a band embedded into her by a callous master. 

But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.

At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.

Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.

And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.

And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness. 

With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly

Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence. 

A Roadblock in the Intersection

A Roadblock in the Intersection

I recently wrote to a popular feminist group about the intersection of sexism and speciesism.

Their response was problematic.

The group shares a great deal of analytical material on intersectionality within the humans species, and I was deeply disappointed by their unwillingness to consider the role of a widespread form of discrimination, dominance, and violence in patriarchal culture.

They chose to not critically analyze the status quo's position that might makes right, that sexual exploitation is okay (remember, the dairy industry actually calls it a "rape rack"), that killing someone who does not want to die for profit (power) is acceptable, and that domination is fine in the case of some groups of beings being victimized. Instead, they quite confusingly asserted that speaking up for ALL females is not intersectional, because that would infringe on the cultural norms of some violently dominant beings.

The subjugation of the human female body by the dominant male body will never stop unless we address the subjugation of the nonhuman body by the dominant human body. (Remember too that investigations of dairy farms routinely catch farmers hitting the female cows while calling them "cunt" and "whore" and other misogynist terms of subjugation. And what is a "bitch" but a being who resists the man trying to forcibly use her body for his profit?)

The person I communicated with wrote the following in response to my suggestion that they consider and share this article: "We are unable to post this article, because it does not support our mission of being inclusive and intersectional. We can't be prescriptive about eating, because meat-eating is important to a lot of cultures, and we're a global and intersectional collective."

Right, because nothing any feminist ever does puts the needs of the oppressed before things like "culture"?

And "meat-eating"? You mean "animal-eating." You mean "weaker-being-killing." You mean "speciesism." You mean "violence." You mean "dominance." You mean "subjugation." And you mean "patriarchy." Check that human privilege. Feminists must speak up against ALL oppression.

When we reduce animals to "meat" and talk about how (and "what") people eat, we set up a framing that allows people to perceive our assertion that dominance, violence, and discrimination are unjust as being non-intersectional, because they're not thinking about that dominance, violence, and discrimination. They're locked in their speciesist society's insistence that animals are ours to use.

NO ONE is anyone else's to use.

I hope that all self-indentified feminists will continue to speak up about the intersections of oppression, and further -- as this is the only way we will dismantle misogynist culture -- to come to speak up for all females, and against all subjugation.

And it is our responsibility as advocates of justice to always challenge ourselves, each other, and others to consider and combat the intersections of all oppressions.

-Kelly

Feminism & Liberationism

Feminism & Liberationism

Last weekend, a few of our Organizers led a presentation and engaging discussion on the intersection of sexism and speciesism, and the importance of feminism to the animal liberation movement (and vis versa).

Download a PDF of the presentation and key discussion questions here!

Some of the key points we discussed:

  • Male-dominated sexism results in the subjugation of the nonmale body ("misogyny" or, systematically, "patriarchy") and human-dominated speciesism results in the subjugation of the nonhuman body. Both of these discriminations thrive on the principle of "might makes right." When fully realized, both discriminations render the "inferior" group as the property of the male human animal. Such a structuring of society "... is conceivable only in the context of a worldview in which bodies are things rather than selves” (Pattrice Jones).
  • These discriminations operate through the creation and assumption of false, Otherizing dualisms that deny the existence of gradation, such as: Male/female, white/nonwhite, human/animal (as though a chimpanzee is more closely related to a catfish than a human), reason/emotion, nature/culture. Sexism and speciesism are both products of this separation between two groups where one is elevated by normalizing the devaluation and subjugation of the other. Identifying someone as being "different enough" is used as a justification for treating them without consideration for their needs.

  • When images of nonhuman animals -- who have long been perceived as being inferior -- are applied to female human animals ("bitch"/"chick"/"cow"), women are rendered as being as inferior to men as those other animals are already assumed to be. Since those nonhumans are already perceived as things to use, such identifications imply that men are entitled to exploit women.

  • Woman as a “bitch” carries a misogynist implication which becomes even more clear when taken into consideration the ways in which breeders treat female dogs: Female dogs are not only things to use to attain profit, but are treated with contempt, because they actively fight back against their oppressors, refusing to be passively raped. (Note that the word "bitch" is typically used on women in a position of power -- the term is meant to suggest that the woman does not know her "place" as a subordinate.) Using the demeaning term also implies that how we treat that animal (and so by extension, how that woman being called a "bitch" is treated as a consequence for that non-normative female dominance) is inherently her fault -- the word suggests that she is simply by nature supposed to be raped and used as a machine for profit. This is victim-blaming.

  • As activists, we may feel compelled to "do whatever we can" for the animals, but it is imperative that we think critically about how our actions and behaviors might just counter-productively reinforce an oppressive norm -- thereby perpetuating all oppression, including our main target of speciesism.

  • Sexualizing violence against females human animals in the aim of "selling" the idea that violence against nonhuman animals is wrong is problematic. As is calling a female human who is wearing fur a “hag” or “cunt” (reducing her to her female-specific part and associating that female form with contempt). Wishing violence on her for that action is just as misogynist and problematic, and note that men wearing leather receive no such hateful sentiment, much less the subjugating words or expressions of a desire for violence to put their body in its “place.”

  • When we talk about females (human or not) and when we interact with humans of any sex or gender identity (activist or not), we have a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and behavior may be reinforcing oppressive partiarchal and speciesist norms.

  • As an activist group, we need to be mindful of our behaviors and help each other create and maintain a safe space where activists don’t feel subjugated by an objectifying male-dominated gaze, and where activists are able to express emotional authenticity.

  • As liberationists we also have a responsibility to not frame the animals we speak of with a lens that reinforces their objectification -- we must be careful to not use words and images that brutally reduce those individual someones to objects.

Gateways

Gateways

If we can avoid the pitfalls of single-issue campaigns -- if we can use particular species as gateways, rather than losing our message in them, as black holes -- they can provide immense benefits. We just have to be strategic, smart, and above all, focused on the underlying message: total animal liberation.  

"Humane" Slavery?

"Humane" Slavery?

One of DxE's organizers recently visited a "humane" dairy farm.