6 reasons to go daIry-free thIs mother’s day
by KIm Korona
There are many reasons to go dairy-free this Mother’s Day. Take it from Kristina, a mom, and educator who explained,
Although I became vegan before I became a mother, having my own babies quickly crystallized how barbaric and cruel it is to take the milk that a mother makes for her own baby’s survival. Being vegan is an act of solidarity with mothers everywhere – a way to honor the miracle of life and to celebrate compassion and love. (1)
Below are just six of the many reasons to commit to going dairy-free this Mother’s Day, demonstrating your support to mothers who work hard every day to create a kind, equitable, and rejuvenated world where their children can thrive.
reason #1: anImals are IndIvIduals: patrIck the steer
When I was newly vegan, I interned at a farm animal sanctuary. Farm animal sanctuaries rescue farm animals from mistreatment and abuse and provide them with a safe place to live, veterinary services, and love.
My internship was life-changing, with experiences that I’ll never forget. One of the memories that sticks with me the most is meeting Patrick. The agricultural industry referred to Patrick as a “puller calf.” During childbirth, his mother was having a difficult labor and, because she was used to producing milk for the farm, she was considered more valuable than the calf. The owners of the farm used a tool called a “puller” to tear the calf out of the mother and then flung him against a wall. The mother was in distress during the birth, but instead of trying to find a way to protect her and safely deliver her baby, the farm owner opted to use a crude method to rip the baby out of her. Patrick lay helpless on the ground and was left to perish. One of the farmworkers who witnessed the whole incident could not bear to leave this innocent newborn to die. The farmworker brought the calf to the sanctuary where he was nursed back to health. From the trauma his body sustained after he was born, his bones did not fully develop, and he experienced physical disabilities throughout his life. However, the sanctuary provided him with exceptional care and did all they could to relieve Patrick from any pain. He was a very gentle steer, who was extremely friendly to sanctuary visitors, and an amazing ambassador for all cows, steers, and calves. As Mother’s Day approaches, I remember what Patrick went through and how he never had the chance to know his mother.
Kim Korona and Patrick
As Dana, a mother, and educator, expressed,
I am grateful that I could give birth to and raise my own child without fear of my body or my milk being used to satisfy the desires of others or of my baby being taken away from me so that her body could in turn be used and abused. I choose not to consume dairy products because doing so supports the systemic commodification of certain bodies, both human and nonhuman, for the benefit and profit of other humans. (2)
reason #2: “daIry” cows and theIr calves are always separated
As Jeri, a mom and VegMichigan board member said,
When I realized that cow mamas bond with their babies much the same way we as human mamas bond with our babies, and that baby calves are forcibly taken from their mamas, I didn’t want to take part in that cruel system and I quit dairy. (3)
Calves separated from their mothers
Maryann, who volunteers with VegMichigan’s new Traverse City location, explained that she grew up in the country, not far from her grandparents’ home. Her dad would take her there often and their dairy farm was what most people would consider an idyllic farm. It was a beautiful place, with rolling green hills and a stream running through, with around 30–40 cows. Her dziadzia, as she affectionately called her Polish grandpa, would sing to the cows to call them in from the pasture to “milk them.” As a young child, she didn’t realize why the newborn calves were not kept with their mothers but were put in a separate part of the barn. The male calves were likely raised and sold for veal because they would never produce milk, or grow big enough or fast enough to be of value to the “beef” industry. The female calves would be kept and become part of the herd, eventually replacing the cows whose milk production was decreasing. All the calves showed signs of anxiety and distress. When Maryann would visit them, they would grab for her hand and try to suckle her fingers, clearly seeking to nurse from their mothers. They were instead fed formula from a bucket. A bull on the property spent much of his life in a stall, with a ring through his nose, and constrained to a wall. His whole purpose was to breed with the cows during breeding season (on most farms today cows are artificially inseminated which has an additional level of ethical concerns).
She can still recall hearing the cries of a grieving mother cow who was separated from her calf and bellowed for so long that her voice eventually became hoarse. Maryann remembers asking why the cow was crying, and not receiving an answer from her dad. Now a mother herself, Maryann said, “I know what that cow was feeling because I can see no greater grief than forcibly being separated from one’s child.” Decades later Maryann can still hear the mother cow crying out in her mind. Maryann has been vegan for the past several years and is dedicating her life to making people more aware of what happens to farm animals, and in particular dairy cows, because of her personal experience. The main message that Maryann wants to share with others this Mother’s Day is,
Please do not accept the information that we have been fed from the media and corporations about the dairy industry. Learn what really is happening to cows and their calves. Go to a source that is going to tell you the truth and find out for yourself. (4)
We also want to name and hold space for mothers and children who have been separated at the border, because of war, and for a myriad of other reasons causing pain and suffering to families. We hope that all mothers and children who have been separated for these reasons can be reunited.
reason #3: chIldren are beIng exploIted
Every parent/caregiver wants to keep their children safe and to be able to provide for their wellbeing. However, the animal agricultural industry wants to make as much profit as possible. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) is a contractor for some of the largest animal agriculture companies, such as JBS and Cargill, and they hired children to clean slaughterhouses. The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that several large meat processing plants in the United States employed over 100 children ages 13–17 who worked with caustic chemicals, cleaning dangerous equipment, and some suffered from burns and other injuries. (5) These young people were working long hours through the night, sometimes from 11pm–5am, and then attending school that morning. (6)
Marc Perrone, the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, called out PSSI in an Associated Press article saying,
Paying a simple fine is not enough, their entire business model relies on the exploitation of workers, vicious union-busting tactics, and the violation of human rights. (7)
Even though the information has not been released, it is suspected that many of these children are likely migrant child laborers, possibly trafficked into child labor or living in the United States without their parents, fleeing into this country for survival. Some lawmakers have suggested rolling back child protection laws, which is currently what made the exploitation of these children illegal. There are racial biases in these discussions as the majority of the children working in these dangerous conditions are children of color. (8)
While these are meat plants, these companies process “spent cows” (cows who were used for dairy and are then killed for meat when they can no longer produce any more milk because their bodies are so badly broken).
If you are concerned about children’s rights and workers’ rights, consider supporting small, local, plant-based farmers instead. Visit a farmer’s market or join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) if they are accessible to you and it is something that you can afford.
reason #4: daIry Is forced on kIds In schools
Every parent/caregiver wants their child to be healthy. However, the federally funded National School Lunch Program (NSLP) mandates that every child takes a carton of milk, regardless if they want it. The government argues that it provides essential nutrients that children need. This is not only a false narrative, it is especially harmful to students of color. In an article by The Hill last year, they reported that,
Twenty-eight civil rights and health care groups announced [that] they have requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) address “dietary racism” in national school lunch programs… According to the civil rights and health groups, 80 percent of Black and Latino people, more than 90 percent of Asians, and more than 80 percent of Indigenous Americans are lactose intolerant, compared to 15 percent of White people. (9)
When children of color are forced to take cow’s milk, they either suffer digestive issues while trying to learn, or they simply do not drink the milk. With no other option, they are missing out on a part of their meal. The civil rights groups are demanding that a healthier option of non-dairy milk be offered to students and that they should be able to choose what they want to drink.
Currently, the only way that students can be exempt from taking cow’s milk is if they have a written note, and some schools require that the note is from a doctor, which many parents cannot easily secure, and is an over-the-top demand for such a pervasive condition. (10)
In a letter to the federal government, the civil rights organizations wrote, “Black, Native American, Asian and Latino kids are being punished for their race and heritage.” (11)
Let’s be honest about why this cow’s milk requirement exists in the first place. The dairy farm owners are getting subsidized by the government to provide their products to schools. If students are given another option that they prefer, and that is better for their health, the dairy industry will lose profits. They are lobbying to keep this requirement in the program because they make money from it, regardless of the negative health impact it has on children, and statistically speaking affecting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) young people the most. (12)
For Mother’s Day, boycott dairy and support parents who do not want their children to be forced to drink something that is not “doing their body good.” Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives to say that you support the civil rights groups who are asking for a non-dairy milk option to be provided as part of the NSLP.
reason #5: daIry has a large eco-footprInt
Parents want their children to inherit a healthy Earth that will sustain them and generations to come. According to Our World In Data (an organization dedicated to making research and information more accessible as a means of educating the public on some of the world’s most pressing problems in an effort to identify effective solutions), dairy milk has a much larger impact on the environment than non-dairy milk.
One World in Data published the results of a study that measured the impact dairy milk has on land use, greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater consumption, and eutrophication (the pollution of ecosystems from excess nutrients) compared to soy, oat, almond, and rice milk. The non-dairy milks consistently had a lower environmental impact compared to dairy milk in each category.
The environmental consequences of the dairy industry and animal agriculture, in general, are becoming catastrophic. People are experiencing more severe weather and storms, hunger from food insecurity, and water insecurity. Some people have already had to leave their homes as climate change refugees. Often the people most affected by the impact of climate change are people of color, in areas that contributed the least to the problem.
Ditch dairy this Mother’s Day to support the health of the planet and the future well-being of young people.
reason #6: enjoy delIcIous vegan chocolates to celebrate the mom(s) In your lIfe
Lastly, go dairy-free this Mother’s Day because you have a delicious, thoughtful gift option to share with the mom(s) in your life that supports compassion and justice.
VegMichigan is partnering with Confections With Convictions, a local chocolate shop that sells fair-trade, organic, locally-sourced treats. When you purchase any of their vegan chocolates between April 1 and May 15 using discount code Veg2023, you’ll receive a 10% discount (while supplies last) and be giving a gift that represents your care for the bond between mother cows and their calves, justice for chocolate laborers (because their fair-trade commitment ensures that workers were not mistreated), new beginnings for the shop’s employees (because they hire young people who are overcoming barriers), and sustainability for the planet. Your purchase will also include this special Happy Mother’s Day card from VegMichigan.
When you purchase vegan chocolates from Confections With Convictions, you can rest assured that you are supporting their convictions and know that you are helping to sustain a socially responsible company doing great work in their community. (13)
From all of us at VegMichigan, enjoy a dairy-free Mother’s Day. People become moms in all different ways and we celebrate each of you for the important role you play in the lives of your children and in society. To those of you who are no longer with your mom, we are sending care to you as well. Have a very happy Mother’s Day, and thank you!
1 – Interview Kristina H. (19 Mar 2023).
2 – Interview Dana M. (20 Mar 2023).
3 – Interview Jeri Schneider (19 Mar 2023).
4 – Interview with Maryann Cacciaglia (23 Mar 2023).
5 – U.S. Department of Labor. More Than 100 Children Illegally Employed In Hazardous Jobs, Federal Investigation Finds; Food Sanitation Contractor Pays $1.5m In Penalties.
6 – U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd/whd20230217-1.
7 – Karnowski, Steve. Meat Plant Cleaning Service Fined $1.5M for Hiring Minors. Associated Press (17 Feb. 2023).
8 – Drier, Hannah. Alone And Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S. (28 Feb. 2023). The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/25/us/unaccompanied-migrant-child-workers-exploitation.html
9 – Dress, Brad. Civil Rights Groups, Including Al Sharpton-Led Organization, Urge USDA to Fix “Dietary Racism” In School Lunch Program. (9 Aug. 2022). The Hill, https://thehill.com/homenews/3594330-civil-rights-groups-including-al-sharpton-led-organization-urge-usda-to-fix-dietary-racism-in-school-lunch-programs/.
10 – Ibid
11 – Ibid
12 – Ibid
13 – Confections with Convictions. (2023). https://confectionswithconvictions.com/pages/our-convictions.