Meat and milk
What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over. As food production becomes divorced from our sight and understanding, our choices are evermore made by what we’re presented with at the point of purchase, freed from any hint of backstory if it contains unpleasantness (and swarming with back-story when it suits).
Ironically, our current foodism allows us to imagine that we’re in tune with our food production. But being on good terms with the tattooed artisanal baker round the corner is not the same as knowing how grain pesticides are affecting ground-water. Dairy eating versus meat eating is a fantastic example of how out-of-sight-out-ofmind operates.
Vegetarians who avoid meat for ethical, environmental or health reasons are often not aware that you might as well just eat them both or avoid them both. The end product on the supermarket shelf doesn’t hint at it, but they’re simply two sides of the same coin.
The lives of both beef and dairy animals are grim — dairy cows just have slightly longer grim lives. A feedlot diet makes medication necessary to control and prevent disease. Apart from the usual diseases brought on by an acid-forming grain diet, dairy cows may also endure mastitis, infection and inflammation of the udders.
It’s not about meat versus dairy. It’s about the nitty gritty details of both, the stuff the eye does not see
Whether feedlot or pastured, dairy cows must keep having calves if they’re to keep producing milk. After giving birth, cows are separated from their calves in different ways, and the particular farm or feedlot you’re sourcing from will determine (to the extent we can guess) how traumatic a process that is for both parties. Generally, smaller dairies who know their cows are inclined to manage this process more gently. There are many complicated reasons why this separation is almost unavoidable, involving let-down reflexes, iodine on udders, milking routines and more.
A few tiny dairies keep the cows with their calves and share the milk, but they’re rare. Cows are usually kept as milk and calf producers for around five years, before being used for their meat. Any male calves they give birth to are usually destined for beef, veal or breeding. If you eat dairy, you just need to be cool with all this.
As for waste, feedlots — whether dairy- or beef-orientated — produce manure which contains more E.coli than pastured manure and is hugely energy-intensive to transport and get rid of. Some figures put the emissions on feedlot dairy at almost 50% more than pastured dairy. None of it’s pretty, but bottom line it’s not about meat versus dairy. It’s about the nitty gritty details of both, the stuff the eye does not see.