Arielle Listokin
what we practice is what we become

A Glass Full of Suffering

Got Milk? Examining cruelty in the name of religion.

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I’d never really thought much about it, and you probably haven’t either, but cows don’t just have an unending supply of milk. They have milk the same way that you and I do…well, if you are a woman, that is. They have a baby. After around nine months, a pregnant cow gives birth to a calf, and her udders fill with milk so that she can feed her offspring. But her baby isn’t around. At dairy farms, calves are torn away from their moms within 24 hours of birth so that you and I can enjoy their milk instead.

There are no happy cows grazing in the pasture, nursing their calves and then willingly giving of their extra breast milk for the pleasure of the consumer. That’s just a marketing myth. Think rape racks, artificial insemination, antibiotics, and cramped stalls that prevent cows from moving – that’s what’s really going on behind the iron gates where they produce the milk that we turn into cheesecakes and blintzes for Shavuot. Dairy cows are forced into a near-permanent state of pregnancy/lactation, all in order to satisfy our insatiable appetite for dairy products.

Shavuot has become the dairy holiday, so it’s an apt time to think about the cruelty we are condoning, sometimes, even, in the name of religion. Many of us were raised on the teaching that man was and is the pinnacle of God’s creation and that nature is somehow there to serve us. But this notion is flawed and in desperate need of re-examination. The fact that Hashem gave us the laws of kashrut does not grant us the right to dominate and torture other sentient beings. And certainly, it is not a mitzvah, even on Shavuos.

Every glass of milk that we drink and every container of cottage cheese that we eat contains the suffering of an innocent animal. Our blind pursuit of so-called progress has resulted in one of the greatest crimes of human history – the torture of animals, tza’ar ba’alei chayim – on an unimaginable scale.

Dairy farms are actually factory farms, industrialized warehouses rife with animal abuse and cruelty where cows live and die on the production line. Each and every dairy item that you see on the supermarket shelves is the product of factory farming. Yes, even goat’s cheese. Yes, even the expensive, specialty items. When we purchase those items, we are complicit in that crime, myself included.

In our culture of mass consumption and destruction, many of us eat dairy at every meal – it’s yogurt for breakfast, Greek salad for lunch, cheese sticks for a “healthy” snack, and omelets with gevinah levanah for dinner. It’s both gluttonous and ecologically unsustainable.

Shavuot has become the occasion on which we celebrate dairy, unwittingly indoctrinating our children into the dual-falsehood that dairy foods are both healthy and somehow natural. But this is just a sham, created by dairy companies around the world who are, quite literally, milking both the public and the government.

In an ultimate twist of fate, that which we destroy is actually destroying us. Dairy consumption contributes to all of our number one killers – obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The growth hormones in dairy are linked to early puberty as well as breast, cervical and prostate cancers. To add insult to injury, it turns out that milk isn’t a good source of vitamin D or calcium either.

The only way forward is back – a return to our roots, both literally and figuratively. Shavuot shines a light on our problem but also offers the solution in the form of Chag Habikurim (the first fruits) and Chag Hakatzir (the wheat harvest). The past contains the prescription for the present – a return to fresh fruits and whole grains and a diet that respects both animals and the earth.

This Shavuot, let’s try to do better. Let’s thank Hashem for the gift of our Torah by living in harmony with nature, honoring our bodies, and revering the divine spark inside all living beings.

About the Author
Arielle Listokin (New York to Jerusalem, 2005) is a freelance writer.
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