Monday, 7 March 2011

Why won't those wacky vegans eat cheese?

"Ok," people say to vegans, "I get the idea behind not eating meat.  But dairy?  How on earth can you give up cheese?"

This post details the ethical problems with dairy, and the powerful industry that's painting milk across the upper lips of teen idols and pouring it into our cereal bowls.  While I think that there is a plethora of scientifically sound reasons to give up dairy for health reasons, I'll talk about those in a different post.

I can hear you rolling your eyes.  And I can hear you thinking, "milk is a natural food.  Cows give it to us naturally.  They need to be milked; farmers are doing them a favour.  And cheese is awesome." I can hear you, because these thoughts are all things I thought myself before I discovered the truth behind the cheese.

Natural, eh?  We are the only species on earth that drinks the breast milk of another species, and the only species that continues to drink this breast milk past infancy.  Doesn't that sound kind of...icky?  And certainly not natural.  Lactose intolerance is often referred to as some kind of disease or condition, but in fact, we stop producing the enzyme that our body needs to properly digest milk around the age of 18, because we aren't supposed to be drinking it anymore. If you are lactose intolerant, you don't have a special medical condition, your body is just behaving the way it should.

When I was a LO vegetarian, I thought that cows needed to be milked, or else they would be in physical pain.  Someone told me this once, (probably one of my parents, I don't really remember), and I just believed them.  And I think most people are told this pleasant fiction at some point or another, and most people just accept it as fact.  Why does the cow need to be milked?  That part we don't really think too hard about.  Cows are just milk machines, right?

We don't think too hard about why cows need to be milked, because the idea that cows produce milk for no reason is a load of bull.  Cows don't constantly produce a never ending stream of milk just waiting to be turned into your next pint of Ben and Jerry's.  They are artificially impregnated 90 days after they give birth, every time that they give birth, so that they can be constantly milked with the use of an artificial insemination instrument called a rape rack. Think of the stress that a human female body undergoes from just one pregnancy, and now imagine that she is forced to undergo this every year, with no time to recover, and no choice.

This photo comes from Blaikiewell Animal Sanctuary
Dairy cows are fed Bovine Grown Hormone (BGH), a synthetic hormone developed to produce more milk, and through a combination of messing around with their genetics and intensive production technology they produce 100lb of milk a day, which is ten times more than they would normally produce with a natural pregnancy.  A dairy cow is often forced to produce so much milk that her swollen udder will drag on the floor.

After about 3-6 years of this unnatural cycle, the cows are spent.  Normally a cow would live to about 25 years of age, but in the dairy industry when a cow stops producing milk, she is sold for meat and sent for slaughter.  The dairy industry props up the meat industry in a very real way.

A dairy cow is hooked up to a milking machine several times a day.  The constant stress of this unnatural cycle will put her at risk for numerous health problems, including Bovine Leukemia Virus, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, and Johne's disease (which is like the human Crohn's disease).  This milking machine will suck her udders dry and often transmit bacterial infections to her, such as the very painful infection of the udders called mastitis.

Do you like drinking pus?  Good.  Because thanks to mastitis, a condition from which 30% of all British dairy cows suffer, pus is in your milk.  Under governmental regulations 400 million pus cells are allowed into every litre of milk.  If this disgusts you for your sake, think of the cow that has to put up with having her swollen, infected udder sucked dry several times a day, every day of her life, until she is sent to slaughter. 

The dairy industry, like any profitable industry, is a business.  Businesses are after money, and the welfare of cows will never be more important in a dairy farm than the financial bottom line.  Therefore, cows will always be treated as machines, not living, sentient beings.  In one type of milking system, cows are confined to windowless sheds and chained by the neck for the duration of their lives.  In another, they are crowded into outdoor enclosures where they must continuously stand or lie on feces and urine caked soil.  Their painful medical problems often go unnoticed and untended; the cows simply suffer through infections, illnesses, and injuries.  Investigators have documented that animals who are so sick or injured that they are unable to walk or even stand are routinely beaten, dragged, or pushed with bulldozers in attempts to move them to slaughter.
I am by no means a maternal person, but the part of the dairy industry that affects me the most is the manipulated of the relationship between mother cows and their calves.  The bond between a mother and child is undoubtedly one of the most sacred, primitive, and natural in our society, and as egocentric as our species can be, we all recognise that we as humans do not have a monopoly on this bond.  We know that this bond exists between all mothers and their offspring, regardless of species.

So if cows are continuously impregnated, what happens to their calves?  The calves produced by these pregnancies are taken away from their mothers immediately after birth.  The females will be used as dairy cows.  The males will be kept in unthinkable conditions for a few weeks, and then sold for veal meat or other beef.  Mother cows, normally docile, will fight against their calves being taken away from them, and will search and call out for their children for days after they are taken away.  The painful image of mother cows frantically calling out for their children affects me and stays with me the most, possibly because in the end, it would be better for her really to not know what happened to her child.

So, I don't think that milk is a natural food.  I don't think that cows give it to us freely.  And I don't think that farmers are doing them a favour.

Ethical Eats

Vegan Blueberry Pancakes

Tomorrow is Pancake Tuesday, and don't think that vegans have to opt out of it!  Here is a dairy free, egg free recipe for delicious blueberry pancakes.  Please note these are in the style of the fluffier Canadian pancakes, rather than the more crepe-like British pancakes.  Blueberries aren't in season right now, so look in the freezer section of your local store for frozen berries.  Of course you can substitute any kind of berries you like, or take them out completely if you have something against fiber and phytonutrients.  Double the recipe for a family.

1 cup plain flour (or 1/2 cup plain flour and 1/2 cup whole-wheat)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup soy milk
2.5 Tablespoons canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil)
1/2 cup thawed blueberries

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Stir in soy milk and oil, and mix until just combined (lumps are ok). Gently fold in the blueberries.

Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat, and add a small amount of oil.  I use a 1/4 cup measure to spoon out the batter into the frying pan.  Cook about 2-3 minutes on each side, bubbles will form on the top side.  Flip, and cook 2 minutes on the other side.  Don't worry if the fist pancake looks a little funky, the first pancake in any batch of pancakes you will ever make is usually a "throwaway" pancake.  Except I throw it away by eating it while the others are cooking.

Top with more fresh fruit, maple syrup, non-dairy margarine, brown rice syrup, jam (preferably sugar free), or applesauce.

Butler, Justine, White Lies, Bristol: Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation, 2006.  Available at
Farm Animal Welfare Council, "Report on the Welfare of Dairy Cattle," LFAC, 1997.  Available at
Farm Sanctuary, The Welfare of Cattle in Dairy Production, NY: Farm Sanctuary, 2006.  Available at
Vernelli, Toni, The Dark Side of Dairy: A report on the UK Dairy Industry, Bristol: Viva!, 2005.  Available at


  1. I actually gave up dairy before I gave up meat. I had stomach problems and cutting out milk, cheese, cream etc really helped. I embarked on a gradual cut down on meat and fish in the years after that, for both ethical and environmental reasons, to the point that I'm probably what most people would consider a vegan - though I rarely use the term myself.

    Have to admit though, I do miss cheese.

  2. Congrats on your near veganism!

    Cheese was the thing I was most reluctant to give up myself, but Colleen Patrick Goudreau's podcast helped me to understand that what I'm looking for is that combination of fat and salt, and if I replicate that with guacamole, or hummus, or something nut-based, I don't miss the cheese.

  3. Hey there! Thank so much for this post, this was very informative! I never knew the actual reasons behind the vegan decision not to eat cheese.

  4. Nice post. I recently became a vegetarian, but I have still been eating dairy; obviously there are good reasons to stop.

  5. We're the only animal that drinks milk from another because we are the only animal capable of doing so. My cat certainly doesn't mind drinking another species milk. Stop spreading fear under the guise of helping your fellow man.

    1. Just because you are capable of drinking another animal's breast milk doesn't mean it is ethical or natural. I'm capable of killing a person and drinking their blood; that doesn't mean it's ethical. I'm also capable of drinking my own pee, it doesn't mean it's natural.
      If your mother was lactating Patrick, would you drink her breast milk? Sure would be more natural than drinking another species milk.
      Oh, and my dog eats poo, my cat eats mice; what your pet eats has nothing to do with it. People love to say they have the right to eat meat because they are the smartest, yet in the same sentence say if animals do it so do I cause I'm an animal.

  6. Patrick, I will try my very best! But I make no promises.

  7. Patrick if people want to do something then they will do it, regardless of fear. Look at how much FEAR is being injected into society about smoking yet so many people still choose to do it. I understand this is slightly different by the principle is still there.
    Blogger, never doubt what you believe in or what you are saying. And

  8. I'm giving your post to my in-laws to read. I'm vegan and they disagree with but understand giving up meat. But dairy? Nothing's the matter with dairy, who would give up cheese?
    Now I have a well-written article to show them rather then me keeping trying to explain that calves die to produce milk. Thanks!
    I find being vegan easy, after watching the documentary Earthlings, I haven't eaten an animal product since (2 years). The only thing hard about being vegan is dealing with people's rude comments. It's like the day I chose to stop eating animal products, I was suddenly judging every meat eater. Um, no haha my husband still loves meat, but he also enjoys vegan meals for variety so his diet ended up being 70% vegan anyways.

    1. Thanks! I hope it helps with your in-laws. Families can be the hardest, I think.

      I agree with you...the reactions you get from some people are the real trial of being vegan. Giving up cheese is nothing compared to people heaping their defensiveness onto you!

  9. What I don’t understand is why food industries have to put milk into EVERYTHING, even the things that don't need it. I'm lactose intolerant and i bought "vegan" flapjacks the other day; I had my symptoms of having eaten lactose and i didn't understand why. On looking into what ingredients were used to make them there was milk... I was quite upset by this because they're supposed to be vegan and they contained milk; so, my question is: are those flapjacks actually vegan?