Why Dairy Isn’t “Normal”

Yesterday I was sat at dinner with my family. I turned vegan while at university in January, so, while I’d warned well in advance of my return, my family are having to adjust relatively quickly to my new lifestyle. I have, in fairness, offered to buy my own food, to cook or help do so, to eat occasionally (admittedly, begrudgingly) ovolactovegetarian foods (those including egg and/or dairy) if there is nothing else to reduce the strain on my family trying to care for me.

Thankfully, they are, on the whole, supportive of the whole ‘vegan’ thing, despite it being somewhat alien. I’m the first vegan in my house, though three of the six were vegetarian beforehand (myself included), so the learning curve is sharp for everyone and I’m still in the throes of figuring out how to ‘do’ veganism ‘properly’ — which foods I like, where to find them, what different things contain, how to balance my lifestyle and diet, and so forth.

My family, too, are figuring out how to deal with the vegan suddenly in their midst, and while this is going well on the whole, there are certain occasions where something is said or done that rattles me up the wrong way.

One of those was calling dairy cheese “normal”.

“Normal”, I believe, has two related yet distinct meanings. These are something along the lines of that which is most common and that which should be expected.

Yes, dairy cheese is, unfortunately, “normal” by the first definition of the word. Despite the constant, forced impregnation of a dairy cow throughout her life, imposed on her with the use of a tool called “the rape rack”; despite her calves being necessarily taken away from her regardless of the hormonal, instinctive mother-calf bond that does untold emotional, psychological damage to both in order to milk the dairy cow of the lactations she produces for her own child, of her own species; despite the calves being killed immediately if they’re male, or else fattened up on high-calorie diets for 8 months so they’re killed while still obese babies; despite all of this — dairy cheese is the most common cheese we eat.

Does dairy cheese satisfy the second meaning of “normal”? The “normal” we reference when talking about “normalising” certain behaviours in everyday parlance? Should we expect humans to drink cows’ milk?

No. Not for a second would we think this a legitimate thing to expect if we weren’t brought up in a society that did this to cows — and to humans.

Let’s take the zoological perspective and re-frame the narrative with not humans and cows but with chimpanzees and camels (an entirely arbitrary choice — a primate we can relate to, and a large hoofed mammal). Imagine then we stumbled across a troop of chimpanzees that kept a caravan of camels. These camels the chimps would tie down, reach one arm inside the anus to hold the cervix in place, reach the other arm, holding bull-camel semen, through the vagina, impregnate the camel, hold it captive for months while pregnant, immediately remove the baby camel from the mother at birth (slaughtering any unneeded males), milk the camel for all it’s worth… and then do the same thing over and over again. Until the mother is too old to be of any use, at which point she is killed and eaten.

Are you repulsed by what you just heard about this hypothetical troop of chimpanzees? Scale that up from a few dozen chimps and camels to a few billion of each. Industrialise it. Make the chimpanzees destroy their forest homes around them so they’ve got space for more camels for more milk and more cheese. All the while, give these chimps the option to not do that to camels by making sure there are plenty of other food choices that give them the same nutritional benefit.

Then replace the chimps with humans, the camels with cows, and you’ve got the dairy industry.

Is this behaviour what we expect when we walk out into nature? Animals kill other animals, sure. They need to: lions, for example, are obligate carnivores and can’t eat anything other than meat. Humans and other primates are omnivores, generalists; we are species that ate meat opportunistically and when possible in our evolutionary past, but a species that no longer needs to do so. No other animals in nature systematically abuse, torture, maim, keep hostage, or traumatise animals when they don’t need to. We do.

By the way, while we might have pathetic little canines for (debatably) eating meat, we aren’t a species that evolved to eat dairy, given that 75% of the human species is lactose intolerant. This isn’t surprising when you realise that mother cows are trying to produce half-tonne kids as quickly as possible and so feed them a concoction suited to precisely this purpose. Humans aren’t baby cows. We don’t need cow milk, and our bodies are trying to tell us that because 3 in 4 people reading this article won’t be able to digest lactose properly if at all.

So let’s stop normalising the dairy industry. What we do to them isn’t normal. Even if it was, I’d still push against it as anti-slavery and pro-women’s rights campaigners pushed against the normality of slavery and lack of female power in their own times.

Calling dairy cheese “normal” might be statistically correct, but where morality and biology is concerned, it’s a hell of a long way off.

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