The Biotic Woman: Reclaiming “Cow”

Brittany Shoot
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cowness.jpgIf you're reading the Bitch blog, chances are you've decided that you aren't too terribly offended by the b-word. But what about the c-word? In contemplating the state of modern environmental issues and food politics, I'm thinking that it might be time to reclaim the big C—cow. We human animals have more in common with our bovine friends than we think, and I for one think it's kind of cool to be compared to a cow, an unusually sturdy but gentle animal. I'm not a religious person, but as many folks know, there's an argument for cattle respect there too. What's not to like about any of those things?

In modern factory farming, there are all sorts of reasons to be offended on behalf of cows. The environmental degradation caused by large-scale farming deserves its own post, if not series of articles, and gives the livestock that we breed a very bad name. Widespread bovine growth hormone use has far-reaching effects for both animals and humans. Mothers and babies—hens and their chicks, cows and their calves—are regularly and prematurely separated in most animal production facilities. Sick or injured animals are sometimes left to languish without care for days or weeks. But in thinking about reclaiming the word cow—and animal abuse on the whole—as a feminist issue, I've started to wonder if it isn't the practice of forced artificial insemination—the process that enables most of our dairy milk production—that will most resonate.

It's tough to find a feminist who does not, in some way, crave reproductive justice. We're quick to decry our barbaric history of forced sterilization of women of color. Almost every woman I know, even if they never intend on having an abortion, wants it to remain legal and available. Everyone has some sort of opinion on Octomom Nadya Suleman. So why do we blindly accept that in order to consume dairy products, we participate in an exploitative system of forced pregnancy? Because another species is the target rather than human females?

Imagine my surprise that last week, ABC's World News Tonight and Nightline both ran feature exposes on the dairy industry. While the actual information revealed is horrifying, I'm always pleased to see supposedly "fringe" issues like animal welfare (dare I say animal rights?) considered by a mainstream news outlet. Both pieces featured dairy farming footage from Mercy for Animals, and for the sake of reducing our own human trauma, I'm not embedding the video here. I'm not someone who needs to watch more horrific footage of animal abuse; I'm convinced of my own truth and avoid graphic imagery in the interest of caring for my own empathic photographic mind. On the other hand, if you've never seen footage of cattle abuse or need to be reminded of the barbarism of factory farming, you can follow the link to watch the videos. Watch for the man elbow-deep in the cow, impregnating her. Or just think about that sentence for a while.

As Ryan of The Veg Blog said, "These dairy cows are not naturally pregnant and happily giving their milk to us. We're raping them, confining them, and then stealing the milk meant for their offspring, all so we can have our next hit of cheese."

And because I do my best to have solidarity with humans and non-human animals alike, I'm trying to reclaim "cow," along with other gendered animal nicknames. Just because the cows are here because of us doesn't give us the right to use and abuse them.

Further reading:

Farm Kind by Harold Brown, a former dairy farmer turned animal rights activist

Making Farms Friendlier: Watchdogs Expose Myth Behind "Humane" Food Labeling by Michelle Chen, The WIP

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Wait, sorry I think I got

Wait, sorry I think I got confused there somewhere when you started talking about artificial insemination. Are you saying that it's wrong to do that? Because I have thought about that for myself, I didn't quite understand the connection made there....
Other than that I absolutely loved this and in fact ALL the Biotic Woman posts, it is so interesting and it makes it so much more easy and accesible.

Just to clarify

She was talking about <i>forced</i> artificial insemination i.e. parallells with human rape and lack of reproductive rights etc. Hopefully that clears things up for you.

Thank you for this post, I can't tell you the number of people I have heard argue with me for hours that they are SURE that cows do not need to be pregnant in order to produce milk, that they can magically create milk without any reproduction involved whatsoever, which apparently comes with our own personal flying saucers and/or hoverboards of the future. You know we have crap sex ed in this country (and science education) when people have no concept that <i>mammals give birth, and that's why they lactate</i>!!!

I think also the concept of forcibly having your baby taken away immediately after birth (to slaughter or crated confinement where no room to turn around and living in their own filth) would also resonate from a reproductive choice perspective...<i>homo sapiens</i> aren't the only animals with maternal and community bonds.

Of course,

Of course, I am also shocked at the people who assume you need a rooster for hens to lay eggs. Trust me, you don't need a rooster for eggs. For chicks, yes. Eggs, no.

Indeed, Anon, I did mean

Indeed, Anon, I did mean <i>forced</i> AI. AI that involves choice and consent is another matter entirely. I'm sorry for that oversight.

Thanks Marcy!

Marcy, I used to make that same argument. You're absolutely correct. It's pretty telling of high school sex ed and bio classes—not to mention the influence of big ag in our schools—that we come out thinking cows just randomly lactate. I don't remember now when that clicked for me, but it's startling and deeply humbling to know I went around as a vegetarian for <i>years</i> completely talking out of my ass about the dairy industry. I'm not taking issue with folks who make a different choice from my own, but our choices have to be fully informed.

You're Welcome, Brittany

Hey I had to learn stages of veganism, i.e. how silk & wool were made, and honey & beeswax products in general. And that was WITH being well-read and eager to find these things out. Although once the internet became such a factor in everyday research, this was a lot easier. When I was growing up it wasn't there, at least for non-academic uses.

And I truly think Big Ag and Fast Food buying out our school system is a biiiig reason for this particular lack of education/nutrition. When everything is pre-wrapped with a logo, you don't think about where it comes from, or you have the kindergarten-era image of happy frolicking cows a la those damn dairy ads from Cali.

Does anyone else remember Four Food Groups sticker bingo in school? I'm talking Reagan-era, aka ketchup is a vegetable man. (Even as a kid, I knew that it was a non-health-food sauce made from fruit, but I digress.) We used to get them as rewards for buying school lunch instead of bringing in something (which would probably be healthier - ugh, lunch room chow mein and vague meat products). We'd get a sticker and have to put it in the right Food Group Box and see when we got Bingo. Except it was all about steak and milk and eggs and even had sweets on it. Nowhere was beans, as I recall. And none of the other kids knew there were non-animal sources for protein ("Meat Group") and calcium ("Dairy Group"). Growing up eating veg more and more in elementary school and beyond, that was a constant confrontation with my peers. ("IF YOU DON'T EAT MEAT, YOU DIE!!!" said girls eating Twinkies for lunch.)

p.s. At some point I'd love to hear about how it is for you being vegan and into AR in Denmark. Says the Danish-American :)

I got some crap in for being veg in school also

My peers were okay with it as we got older because it had been a choice I'd made for so long. But it was tricky to navigate the school cafeteria, and I admittedly subsisted on some vegetarian-ish junk food for a long time because my parents wouldn't cook for me/didn't teach me to cook. By the time I was old enough to have done a lot of that stuff for myself and could have taught myself to cook, I was working 30 hour weeks at a restaurant while in high school. You can imagine cooking wasn't at the top of my priority list :)

Living in Denmark and being vegan is not an excellent experience, but it did teach me one very important thing: how to cook, finally! I was able to get by in Boston (where I lived previously) as a rather dismal cook because there was so much vegan food available in restaurants and in the supermarkets (and it was affordable for me at the time). Here, it not only doesn't exist; it isn't very affordable when it does. Two very dear friends gave me an indispensable cookbook before I moved away, and it's completely changed my life. I now have a small shelf of cookbooks and am pretty good at whipping up cheap, healthy food.

Animal rights tend to be pretty overlooked in Denmark in general, and the culture is simply different when it comes to things like wearing fur (extremely popular) and misconceptions about vegetarianism (most self-proclaimed vegetarians here eat fish). I rarely meet anyone who even knows what a vegan is. To my knowledge, there isn't a single farmed animal sanctuary in the whole country. When I first arrived, I got involved with a group doing fur protests in front of clothing stores (which actually work! businesses hate the negative attention—which is another cultural thing about embarrassment and keeping a low profile—so they tend to agree to stop selling fur very quickly). But the language barrier was a pretty big problem—both when attempting to hand out fliers and when trying to converse with fellow protesters—and at some point, I just wasn't on the mailing list anymore. [shrug] There's not a lot of love lost between me and Denmark in general, so I decided I'd stick to doing what I do best: writing and educating myself until I move home again.

the sad thing is

most of the north american "vegetarians" I've met eat fish & seafood and will not hear of doing otherwise. vegan is a more consistent definition, in my experience, partly because it is a stronger and therefore more self-defined community.

I try to explain the only reason most people think fish & seafood aren't meat is that the Catholic church said it was okay to eat on Fridays when you couldn't eat meat, but that was decided waaaay before science got involved in classifying the animal kingdom.

Lack of Ed

Agreeing on the lack of good education issue -

I used to work at a residential program for teenagers with addictions/abuse histories and would bring in my own veggie food to eat (they said my spinach looked like their baby's diaper), but through having informative conversations with the kids I learned that some didn't even know that pepperoni came from an animal, let alone from a pig.

I just thought that was so telling.....

So put your money where your mouth is...

The all mighty dollar rules all. Don't like something, don't support it. Yes vegans have the most impact in the animal food/product/use industry, but just because you aren't fully vegan or vegetarian doesn't mean you aren't doing anything. If you still want to eat eggs, check out local, small farms in your area that can supply them cruelty free. If you have some land, how about giving a few hens a good home. Find alternatives...

The current animal welfare act enforced by the USDA, APHIS, and the Animal Care agency does not protect: birds, rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus bred for use in research, and horses not used for research purposes and other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry used for or intended for use as food or fiber, or livestock or poultry used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management or production....
etc etc...

So all the animals used for food production (to be consumed by humans or other animals, ie pet food) can be treated extremely inhumanely without breaking any laws. Pretty sick huh?

Please remember to buy smart and know that you are making a difference, even by doing a few little things differently.

*steps off soap box*

cruelty-free is a crock

it's just a term used to charge more money for cruelty-based "food".

The industry is well aware of this and fights even small "welfare" attempts at changing that.

Cage-free and "free-range" still means so many chickens living in their own filts, being crunched underfoot and smacked against walls and the male checks suffocated in bags or shredded ALIVE. And having beaks seared off with no pain killer, and being shoved together so tightly they can't move much less dust-bathe and socialize as the birds would do.

This is not just the poultry industry warping "cruelty free" and "free range", it is the norm for all farm species. Because it's profit-driven and they don't give a flying fuck and know they've done enough PR that people will assume they're buying their food straight from jolly Old MacDonald himself.

Here's more info:

"Organic" meat, eggs and dairy are no better for the just means they don't get medical treatments because that would be adding in 'drugs" to the system. Same for antibiotics, which even though overused are still needed for certain livestock illnesses.

<i>It's just a label to make sure people feel guilt-free enough to pay more for something "humane", that's all!</i>

Also, vegans and AR activists are way more likely than average to be taking in chickens (assuming they aren't urban dwellers) and animal rescues in general. Don't assume that we're hypocrites who aren't doing enough, usually we're using most of our income and time because others <i>won't</i>.

Case in point, where I volunteer & donate to...a farm animal sanctuary in Blairstown NJ:

Debbie & Steve are good people, as are the rest of the volunteers. And they do nothing BUT work their asses off and use whatever land and spare change they can find to take in farm animals and cat/dog rescues too.

And frankly as per your "advice", we're simply being consistent about NOT 'supporting' something and therefore NOT consuming or 'buying' it! Hence the going vegan part, sheesh.

Being on the activist side and not into following the status quo of exploitation has made most vegans I know very into fighting against <i>human</i> rights abuses, for the rights of children, and working in several groups at once - feminist, anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-homophobia and so forth. It's bullshit that someone can't work on more than one front since they all end up overlapping anyways.

I also hate the irony of hearing that people in rescue work and who are vegan/Animal Rights activists should just "shut up and do something" because they're usually being told it by people who sit on their ass and don't want to take their own advice. They want to shut somebody else up who IS doing some good, so that they don't feel guilty about doing enough themselves. For example, sparing at least 90-100 animals per year from torture and murder, as well as saving the planet from the main cause of its current climate change and pollution:


"Small, local farms" can be just as cruel to their animals. Case in point, the newest rescues at "for the animals" sanctuary, the calf Amy & the infertile dairy cow Hope:

To quote sanctuary supporter & vegan Donna, who said it so well:

"Just months ago Debbie and Steve rescued a darling weeks-old calf named Amy and a beautiful 3 year old cow named Hope. Both would have been killed if Deb and Steve hadn't intervened.

When she arrived at Deb and Steve's, Amy was starving and so skinny you could see her ribs. She spent the entire six hour truck ride home licking the back of Steve's head, so grateful was she to be rescued from Hell. When you meet Amy, you can clearly see where her horns were cruelly burnt off on either side of her head, without anesthesia, just as many of us witnessed on the recent Nightline segment about multiple forms of horrific dairy cow abuse at Willet Dairy in upstate NY.

Hope was destined for slaughter since she was infertile and obviously of no use to the farmer. Unfortunately, Hope remains so traumatized by repeated crude and painful attempts to inseminate her, that Debbie - an experienced registered nurse - has been unable to administer much needed antibiotic injections. In an attempt to flee what Hope perceives as yet another painful and intrusive experience, she recently broke through a fence at Deb and Steve's farm as Debbie tried to treat her.

<b>By the way, Amy and Hope were not taken from huge industrial dairy farms like Willet Dairy. They were found on the kind of farms most dairy cheese and milk eaters still like to believe treat their animals with kindness, compassion and respect. Such rationalizations are used as vehicles to continue consuming dairy without guilt.</b>"

Ok ok ok, oi vey...I never

Ok ok ok, oi vey...I never should have started that post with "put your money where your mouth is." I used to get my eggs from a friend of my mothers who had a small farm with a few hens, they were pets roaming free around the property. POOF, cruelty free, farm fresh, local eggs!
Unfortunately, there are animals being abused everywhere, and not everyone can volunteer, or do the wonderful things that deb and steve have done. All I was saying is that if you aren't going to give up meat, or fish, or eggs, be a smart consumer. Don't purchase con agra foods, find a local vegan/veg restaurant and give them a chance. One person can't change the world, but small actions by many, especially when it comes to the all mighty dollar, make a difference. Consumers drive the market, if the demand for certain products goes down, they spend millions to know why, and now what the consumer wants (and will tolerate).
I believe in ANIMAL WELFARE. I support animal welfare. But there are other ways to help animals other than rescuing or volunteering. Most of society (unfortunately), won't do either, but they can make a difference with where they spend their money.

oh yeah...a few more things!

I also want to let you know that I know all about farm sanctuary and the work they do, I am working in an animal welfare field, I did not call you a hypocrite, I know the meat and fish are one in the same, I've been a veggie for almost 18 years, and I'm on your side. I'm glad you're out there! My initial comment wasn't directed towards anyone for the cause, such as was more towards the people that tell us that the actions of one person aren't going to save the world. Shame on them, you and I alone save around 200 animals a year just by our diet.

This is why you should never

This is why you should never own any of the bulldog breeds. They are all forced insemination and born of C-section because of the structure of the dog. They would not exist with out human intervention.

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