If 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.
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