To Be A Feminist is to Be A Vegan

When visiting a self-proclaimed feminist (non-vegan) friend’s home, she offered me cow’s milk with my tea. At that moment I made the profound connection that we can not truly be a feminist while consuming dairy (or any animal products). A feminist could not participate in the commodification and exploitation of the reproductive system of sisters of another species. For this reason, I wrote this article for vegans to share with non-vegan feminists.

While driving to town, I noticed a cow; right in the corner of her fenced-in paddock. She was gazing over the driveway that separated her from an enclosed pasture with 3 calves. They were in the corner of their fenced-in separate pasture, staring at the cow. It left me deeply disturbed. The industry practice of separating a mother from her newborn baby is heart wrenching. If nature was allowed to take its course, calves would suckle from their mothers from several months to a year. Both mother and calf are traumatized and bellow loudly after their forced separation. They respond to each other’s calls by moving toward the sound, with calves able to distinguish their mother’s calls within 24 hours of birth. If given the option, mother cows and their offspring would stay together for life. Often I sit back and ponder in disbelief our culture’s uncivilized ways and what people choose to fund.

Bobby calves; the unwanted male calves from the dairy industry as well as ‘veal’ are byproducts of the dairy industry. The “dairy cow” is killed to be eaten when she is no longer producing. In New Zealand, the beef industry survives largely due to the dairy industry. (Worldwide, the economic success of slaughterhouses and dairy farms are directly linked to the sale of leather goods. According to a U.S. department of Agriculture report, animals’ skins represent the most economically important byproduct of the meatpacking industry.) It’s hard to imagine a human being taking a crying baby from his/her mother shortly after birth and then 2 days later herding the scared infant onto a truck and taking it to get its throat slit. (In some countries they are shot at birth.) This is the fate of calves born to dairy cows in New Zealand, both on organic and non-organic farms.

There is perhaps more suffering in milk, cheese and egg consumption than meat consumption, therefore choosing to be vegetarian (for ethical reasons) is not logical. Abstaining from ALL animal products is the ethical stance that gives basic minimal respect due to sentient beings. The dairy cow; riddled with pain as a result of her exploitation, sexually abused, and killed to be eaten typically at around 5 years of her otherwise 20- 25 year lifespan, epitomizes a culture of dominating those physically weaker than ourselves. Talk about taking advantage of someone’s good nature! The species that humans enslave for “food” are peaceful and gentle; something to emulate, not to exploit.

Both genders suffer under institutionalized exploitation or animal farming; however the females of the species often experience more prolonged abuses. Female pigs are imprisoned in stalls that are not big enough for them to turn around. They are kept like this for the duration of their lives, impregnated repeatedly. After giving birth, they nurse their babies confined in gestation crates. “Battery” hens are forced to repeatedly produce eggs until they are too exhausted and then they’re slaughtered. Female breeding dogs in puppy mills have two litters a year. They will live their entire lives in cages, forced to breed as frequently as possible. Dogs that can no longer breed are killed. Breeding rabbits farmed for their pelts, are kept for up to 3 years, and usually give birth twice a year. The dairy industry is literally built on the control of the reproductive systems of female nonhumans. This must be recognized as a feminist issue because it parallels the feminist movement’s struggle for women to have control of their own bodies and reproductive systems. Incidentally, bulls are sexually abused also. They are sometimes semen donors. I saw a photo online of a bull in a contraption, being forced to supply his goods for the ‘artificial insemination’ industry. This is all a part of dairy consumption; pretty perverted; as is all animal use.

Katrina Fox, editor of The Scavenger, also became aware that dairy consumption is a feminist issue. The following is an excerpt from an article she wrote: “Recently I attended the first feminist conference in Sydney, Australia for 15 years. During the course of the weekend, a jam-packed program featured a diverse range of panel discussions and workshops… But while progress had been made on some fronts, there was one area that had fallen off the agenda and indeed, it seems, feminist consciousness, and that is speciesism: the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership. Nowhere was this more obvious than the catering, which included a stall selling meat pies, including veal, an abundance of dairy milk for tea and coffee and a conference dinner that was held at a non-vegetarian restaurant. All in all, it added up to an epic F for Fail. Failure, that is, to see the intersectionality between various forms of oppression – in this case, between female humans and non-humans….Farmed animals feel pain, fear, loss, grief. By consuming their bodies and excretions we give our approval to them being tortured and abused. As feminists we must hold ourselves to ethical standards that align with, and are considerate of, the struggles of others, including non-humans, otherwise we are no better than the patriarchy that seeks to dominate and oppress us as women.”

I’ve never had a child, and yet still I feel deeply troubled about the reproductive system of any species of female being perceived as nothing more than an economic resource. The animal farming industry has done quite a job of advertising images of ‘happy cows’ gladly giving us their milk and covering up the offensive practices in dairy production. All forms of dairy farming involve forcibly impregnating cows. The industry term for the restraining piece of equipment used to artificially inseminate cows and pigs is referred to as a “rape rack”. In artificial insemination, the inseminator invades the cow by putting his/her arm up their rectum, to push on the cervix, while inseminating the cow with the other hand.

Because she is re-impregnated while still lactating from the previous pregnancy, a “dairy cow” will spend 7 months of each year – pregnant and producing milk. A calf would normally feed 5-6 times a day so that the maximum amount of milk in her udder would be around two liters. But on modern dairy farms a cow is milked twice a day, allowing milk to accumulate in the udder; thus forcing her to carry around 20 liters of milk or more. This greatly enlarged udder leads to lameness in her hind legs and predisposes her to mastitis (a painful udder infection). Her only rest from this appalling existence is during the last 2 months of her pregnancy when she is not milked in preparation for giving birth. Then the awful cycle starts again.

Hobbles and shackles are commonly attached to the hind legs of cows that have suffered damage during “calving”, and would not be able to stand of their own accord. Injured cows are often forced to continue in pain, for 7-8 months, until their milk yield drops (so the farmer won’t lose a large quantity of milk) and then they are killed. Seeing photos of these shackles online conjures up images of slavery and shines a light on the very real fact that bred and farmed animals ARE slaves; owned by human “masters” and treated as if they were lifeless objects. However, the opposite is true. Rather than being ‘property status’ or ‘things’, they are more like persons dressed in a furry coat with many similarities, such as eyes, ears, legs, a nose, a brain, a face, a heart and circulatory system, a nervous system, a digestive system, a respiratory system, a reproductive system, awareness and cognitive abilities, as well as the capacity to feel; to name a few of the similarities we share with nonhuman victims of institutionalized exploitation.

It’s unjust for humans to steal milk that was designed by nature to nourish growing babies. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why anybody would want to drink cow’s milk; perfectly designed for baby calves. Cow’s milk provides the calf with the nutrients to grow to 200 kg in just a year. Cows’ breast milk is much higher in protein than requirements for humans and provides everything calves require for rapid growth. How could anything that was not meant for you by nature, and is so disrespectful to other animals, possibly be healthful for humans? It’s not reasonable.

When we stop consuming dairy products we are rewarded with improved health. The American Dietetic Association reports that breast cancer is most prevalent in countries where women consume high-fat, animal-based diets. Breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in nations (such as China) that follow plant-based diets.(1) Ironically, studies found in medical journals conclude that both breast and ovarian cancer are linked with dairy consumption.(2) Breast cancers have been linked to consumption of dairy products, relating to increases in a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I).(3) Ovarian cancer may also be related to the consumption of dairy products. The milk sugar lactose is broken down in the body into another sugar – galactose. Research suggests that the dairy sugar galactose might be toxic to ovarian cells.(4) In a study conducted in Sweden, consumption of lactose and dairy products was positively linked to ovarian cancer.(5) A similar study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, found that women who consumed more than one glass of milk per day had a 73% greater chance of ovarian cancer than women who drank less than one glass per day.(6)

Humans have no physical need to consume products that are the result of horrific practices such as tail docking, dehorning, branding, rape racks, artificial insemination, induced calving, painful procedures performed without pain relief, embryo transfers and hormone treatments resulting in 3-6 calves instead of the usual single birth, separation of mother from newborn, and killing infants. Even if all these heartless practices were not customary, and attaining milk was carried out with more concern for the animals, even so, we have no moral right to enslave, exploit, or consume the bodies or the bodily secretions of other animals.

The above mentioned industry practices were cited to shine a light on just how immorally humans do act when they have the legal right to own an animal. At this stage, the answer is not to work for bigger cages, but to focus on our goal to bring about a vegan world and the abolition of the entire structure of humans dominating other animals. Directing campaigns at the institutionalized exploiters of animals rarely, if ever, diminishes them, as we’ve seen for decades now. Money is their God; they’ve made that evident. They torture and kill gentle, conscious animals for money. They will stop exploiting and killing only when the public stops paying them to. Educating people as to the many benefits of vegan living is the method that has real potential to achieve rights for nonhuman animals. As a species, we don’t have time any more for incremental steps towards abolishing animal slavery. The way I see it, to be an animal rights activist is to be a vegan. To be an environmentalist is to be a vegan. To be a peace-loving-pacifist is to be a vegan. To be an ethicist is to be a vegan. AND, to be a feminist is to be a vegan.

by M. Butterflies Katz


  1. The China Study, T. Colin Campbell
  2. Studies linking breast and ovarian cancer with dairy consumption:
    • Premenopausal fat intake and risk of breast cancer. J Nat Cancer Inst 2003;95:1079-85.
    • Are imprecise methods obscuring a relation between fat and breast cancer? Lancet 2003;362:212-4.
    • Galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to the risk of ovarian cancer. Lancet 1989;2:66-71.
  3. The insulin-like growth factor system in cancer prevention: potential of dietary intervention strategies.
    • Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14:195-203.
  4. A case-control study of galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to ovarian cancer.
    • Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000;9:95-101.
  5. Milk and lactose intakes and ovarian cancer risk in the Swedish Mammography Cohort. Am J Clin. Nutr 2004;80:1353-7.
  6. Prospective study of diet and ovarian cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 1999;149:21-31.

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