Do animals have feelings or merely instincts? This is a question that I've read or heard over and over again in the arguments for the ethical treatment of animals. That question was, without a doubt, answered for me over the last six months. I board at a biodynamic farm during week days. Over the course of my time on this farm, where goats, chickens and cows are raised for milk and eggs, I've had the privilege to witness the births of several baby goats and recently a Jersey bull. When I moved to the farm, I was not a full vegetarian. I had been from the time I was 20 until I was 30. I've not been a full vegetarian since then, but because of my experiences with these animals, up close and personal, I decided that I could only be a vegan. The reason? The mother and offspring connection. Over the years, during my time as a "conscientious omnivore," I watched documentaries pertaining to the treatment of factory farmed animals and decided that I would only eat meat, eggs, yogurts and milk which came from organic farms, or even better, grass-fed, free range, local organic farms. It was in this way that I convinced myself that consuming these foods was indeed ethical and compassionate. But living with animals on a day to day basis, watching how mother and offspring bond with each other, and further, how much each of these beings cries out during the milking process, my heart and mind were forever changed. I could no longer be a part of this cycle of abuse. No matter how the animals are loved and treated, even on a small, responsible farm as the one on which I live, we are putting them into a state of undue duress when we insert ourselves into their life experience in such a violent manner. A mother goat and her young spend hours nuzzling and cuddling in the spring sun. The mother cow and her young bull hang out in the meadow. But since the farmers need the milk from the mother cow or goat, they have to tie the young one to a tree nearby so that he won't drink it all. Sure, he's fed with the milk briefly each day, but much of the time he's pulling at the rope around his neck and calling to his mother, who is also tethered. It's heartbreaking. Then there is the horrible fact that if there are too many males born, and by too many I mean more than one, the farmers send the males off to be slaughtered for their own table. So, this spring, when three baby boy goats were born, the bottom line was that they would never make it to their first birthday. This is the reality for most goat farms which raise goats primarily for their milk. The only way I can reconcile my heart is to spend time with the goats and cows, observing the beauty of what cannot simply be instinct, but how expressive they are in their feelings towards each other. Ultimately, there is an abundance of plant-based foods that are tasty, nutritious, and accessible to us. There is no reason, no matter how "responsibly" they are raised and treated, to eat animals or their byproducts.
Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)