Monday, February 13, 2012

Even if it Didn't Wear Away the Stone

City Pages, the Twin Cities' "alternative" weekly newspaper, recently ran an article about "herd retirement;" the practice of killing a whole bunch of cows for the sole purpose of driving up the price of milk.

Milk Money is the name of the article (at least in the print edition, it is). The subtitle/blurb for the story is, "A half-million cows were worth more dead than alive, and now we're all paying the price."

You can imagine my feelings about this story, and I could pull a bunch of quotes and point out how horribly speciesist they are, but I'm not going to. I'm going somewhere else with this. 

Stories like this, of the animal exploitation machine killing hundreds of thousands of individuals not because of demand for the "products" extracted from them, but for the reason of increasing the price of the products extracted from those individuals who are not killed (at least not until they are "spent") ... well they just depress the hell out of me. 

Yes, of course, it's depressing because of the individuals who were killed. It shouldn't be forgotten though that all of them will eventually be killed for money anyway ... they're all eventually "worth more dead than alive." These cows who are the victims of "herd retirement" are killed a few years earlier than they would be on the average diary farm. The natural life span of a cow is 20-25 years; cows who are exploited for their milk are killed at around 5-7 years of age. 

And, "herd retirement?"  Golly, death sounds downright pleasant when you call it a retirement! Will the retired cows get to play chess in the park?

Ah ... but I digress. My point here is that stories like this depress me for the obvious reasons, but also because they give me this nagging feeling that being vegan doesn't make the impact that it should. 

Some animal rights advocates will say that by being vegan, they're "saving animals." I don't make a habit of saying this. If anything, when viewed from an economical/utilitarian point of view, I see being vegan as a way to reduce the demand for animal products, thus causing less animals to be brought into existence just so they can be tortured and killed for their products. Vegans don't save animals simply by not buying animal products. Some vegans save animals by adopting them from shelters. Others save animals by breaking into farms and taking them. But no vegans save lives by buying Daiya or Gardein products.

All animals who exist on farms right now will be killed. They won't be spared by you going vegan. But hopefully by going vegan, you reduce demand and less animals will have to live lives of hell. Less mother cows will have their calves taken from them so that humans can steal their milk. Less chickens will have to live on farms where they are controlled and confined so that humans can consume their eggs. Less ... ah, you get the point. 

But a story like this, where hundreds of thousands (500,000 between 2003 and 2010) of thinking, feeling individuals are slaughtered simply to increase the price of their sisters' milk ... well a story like this can cause a vegan to feel that his actions aren't really making that "reduced demand" impact. 

But that's not true. And it's a defeatist way of thinking. Of course, on a macro level, one single vegan makes little to no impact. But a bunch of micro levels put together equals a macro level. So yeah, I'm just one person. And maybe my individual actions don't do much. But my individual actions put together with the actions of the approximately three million other vegans in the United States (that's like the population of Iowa, folks), well, that's at least a drop in the bucket.

"The fall of dropping water wears away the stone."
I vote in elections. Given the electoral college, corporate money, the two-party system and various other factors that diminish representative democracy, why do I vote? I vote because I believe in participating in democracy. And while my vote might not count by itself, my vote together with a bunch of other people's votes COUNTS!

Sorry, I try to avoid caps lock as a rule. It just seemed appropriate there. 

This post thus far has focused on the economic/utilitarian case for veganism. I feel that I should state here that I actually see veganism as being more than voting with my dollars. I see it as an expression of fairness. Even if I was sure that my actions had zero effect on animal agribusiness ... even if I knew for a fact that my actions didn't influence anyone else's actions and nobody reassessed their relationship to animals because of me ... I'd still be vegan. 

I used to eat animals. I considered them things to be used for food, clothing and entertainment. A little over nine years ago, I changed my mind. They aren't my food. They aren't my clothing. They aren't here for my entertainment. It would be great if every dollar I spent on vegan products translated to an equal amount of money taken away from those who exploit animals. The fact that that's not the case can be a bummer, but I'm not going to let it get me down for long.