The most important aspect in changing my palate and diet from vegetarian to vegan was learning more about the egg industry and dairy industry. Just like the footage above that came out recently from the Iowa hatchery where male chicks were being ground up alive, these industries have inherent violence. In this instance, the company in question, Hy-Line North America, noted that “instantaneous euthanasia” is a standard practice supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community. What is “instantaneous euthanasia”? The practice of killing living male chicks in a grinder.
Within the egg industry male chicks are useless, because those chickens are bred to be smaller than ones used for meat, and of course, males don’t lay eggs. For that reason, millions of male chicks (estimates are around 200 million a year in the United States alone) are killed yearly by grinding or being thrown into dumpsters, still alive and then crushed by other chicks on top of them. When asked about the incident at the Hy-Line North America plant, a spokesperson for the United Egg Producers, Mitch Head said, “There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens. If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we’re happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need.”
As for the egg laying chickens themselves, most live in cages stacked on top of each other with little to no access to the outdoors in spaces so small they can’t spread a wing. After the chickens are weak, sick, and/or not producing, they’re slaughtered. Often these are the chickens whose bodies end up in pot pies and soups. Egg laying chickens are killed when their production declines, regardless of if they are cage-free, free range, organic, or whatever other marketing term is the darling of the day. For a business to be profitable, it only makes sense to kill those animals who aren’t producing.
Most dairy cows spend their lives in dry lots. They are impregnated over and over again, have their babies taken from them again and again, and then when their bodies are worn out, they are slaughtered. This is true even if the farms are organic. Organic doesn’t protect the animals. It only means that their feed isn’t pesticide-laden.
In animal agriculture where profit is king, we cannot expect the lives of the animals to win out over dollars and cents. It would not be profitable to keep a cow around after her body is weak from years of having babies and giving more milk than she’d naturally produce. While it might be nice to think that after years of hard service she goes off to live a life relaxing in the sweet grass and laying in the sun, it’s sadly just not accurate.
Furthermore, because of a very powerful dairy industry, when most of us think “calcium,” we think milk, particularly cows’ milk. Ironically, researchers have found that the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis—including the US and Scandinavian countries—are also the places where people consume the most cows’ milk.
Cows’ milk, like humans’ milk, is produced to help babies grow from small to big in a short span of time. Just as a human baby reaches a point where she doesn’t drink her mother’s milk, when cows are past the age of weaning they get their minerals and nutrients from solid foods. We’re the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and we’re the only species that drinks milk past the age of weaning. If we don’t drink the milk of our own species after we’re past the age of weaning, why should we continue drinking the milk of another mammal?
So what’s the take away? Consider where grown cows get their calcium. Grass. Calcium is a mineral, and so they go to the place where minerals are found, the earth. We can go to the earth for our calcium too in the form of plant foods like collard greens, kale, Swiss chard, beans, rhubarb, okra, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, seeds, and almonds.
When we see violence in the world we may feel disheartened, but don’t underestimate what we can do. We have the power to make other choices, and that’s a beautiful thing.
*Photos courtesy of Farm Sanctuary
“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them . . . Life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” –Gabriel Garcia Marquez