Today I was sauntering around downtown Santa Barbara enjoying the sun and searching for a nice place to settle. I rolled into a cute, little hipster cafe in order to obtain a much needed caffeine boost. On their menu I noticed a particular dairy was mentioned at the bottom: Straus Family Creamery.
Flashback. Four days ago I was driving along the Pacific Ocean on the winding roads of Point Reyes National Seashore. I admired the green fields filled with wildflowers and searched for the rare tule elk. Cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, DEER!, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow… Unfortunately no elk were observed on this day. Point Reyes is littered with dairies and numerous cows can be seen grazing in the rolling hills that make up much of the landscape. When I drove past one particular dairy, Straus Family Creamery, my breath was taken away.
Rows upon rows of white crates lined the entrance of Straus Family Creamery. Each crate contained one calf. I was shocked. How could they keep calves in such conditions? There is very little space for the cows to even move! Happy cows are supposed to come from California! Is this their version of happiness? I assumed it was veal production in action, but upon further research this was the standard treatment for all calves on the dairy.
One individual wrote about their experience as they visited the Straus Family Creamery: “Across from the pregnant cows were hutches of baby cows. All the cows on Straus’s farm are born and raised here. It is a closed herd… no outside animals are brought in. Sadly, the babies are removed from the mothers at birth and kept in individual pens separate from each other. They are bottle-fed by humans and never have a chance to suckle from their mothers. Why? So that each calf is ensured a standard diet without competition or possible contagion from others. It’s a fact of life of the dairy business. Each of these calves takes nine months to gestate, just like human babies, and the dairy farmer wants to be certain that the investment will pay off and that the cows will be as physically healthy as possible.”
The quest for higher profits seems to drive much that is ill in this world and it made me reflect on the words of the Wu-Tang Clan, “Cash Rules Everything Thing Around Me. CREAM! Get the money. Dolla, dolla bill ya’ll…”
“What about the male calves? Some of them are kept on the farm for breeding purposes. Most, however, are auctioned off and will become meat. When asked if any of them will become veal, our guide Kristin told us that veal is not raised in this area and it would be very unlikely that a veal rancher would come all the way from the Central Valley to buy calves from Straus. And while many of the boys will will probably be bought by organic meat farmers, that is not guaranteed.” Business as usual for the Straus Family Creamery.
Shortly after I witnessed the calves in crates, I drove by a cow with a newborn. She was attentive and alert as she licked her baby. I can only imagine the pain she would feel when her baby would soon be taken away. My heart aches for all the cows who lose their children because our society has a palette preference for dairy products. Remember, this scene was witnessed at an organic, family-owned dairy who takes pride in the treatment of their animals. It’s insane the way our society subjugates animals, even if it is considered in the most “humane” of ways. Whether the milk comes from an organic dairy or a factory farm, where milk is procured in the most disgusting and heinous of ways, most people still knowingly choose to buy and ingest cow’s milk.
So why do it then? Whether for health or for taste, people consume a ton of dairy and most have not ever thought twice about it. It is true that some people just do not care about animal welfare or that the situation described above is enough “humane” treatment to justify their consumption of milk products. However, maybe ethical arguments are not convincing enough to get people to stop. What about the environment? In order to combat California’s worst drought in recorded history, Governor Gerry Brown told us that we need to make sacrifices in order to conserve water. Yet he made no mention of how agriculture is exempt from his executive order and how Californians could in fact eat less animal products in order to save water. Wait, what? 47% of California’s water is used for meat and dairy production. Clearly this information is a good enough reason to go slow on the extra serving of sour cream… right?
Perhaps you are wondering, “Did he at least see any elk?” No! Because it turns out that the National Park Service has admitted that more than 250 tule elk died inside the fenced elk preserve at Point Reyes National Seashore! The culprit? Likely due to lack of access to year-round water. *screams*
The tule elk is a native and endemic species of California and there were once 500,000 in the state, but due to the impacts from cattle ranching and over-hunting there are now only 4,300 left in California and less than 500 in Point Reyes National Seashore. To this day the elk are increasingly being threatened with extinction and according to the Center For Biological Diversity, “Cattle ranchers who enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing leases on public lands within the national seashore are lobbying the Park Service to remove or fence out the free-roaming elk from ranching areas, because elk are eating grass they believe should be reserved solely for their cattle.”
It gets worse. “For there are 13 cows for every elk in Point Reyes. One-quarter of the national seashore is devoted to commercial cattle operations, with grazing on nearly 18,000 acres under 39 leases. Ten ranching families were paid $19.6 million by the public from 1963 to 1978 for the purchase of ranch lands added to Point Reyes National Seashore. Many of those same families still enjoy heavily subsidized grazing lease rates within the park, paying one-half to one-third the cost they would pay for non-federal grazing land in Marin.” Clearly, some animals are more equal than other animals.
As I write this article I have to stop, breathe, and try to control the frustration that I feel over this situation.
So, Cognitive Dissonance as defined by Webster’s as the “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” For example, you love to smoke cigarettes while being fully aware they are harmful to you. As an ex-smoker, I understand that it is a dangerous thing, this conflict, for it allows us to behave quite poorly without any real immediate repercussion. Cognitive dissonance is the reason many individuals choose to consume animal products. For example, we know animals die for us, but we don’t have pick up the blade, and therefore we take that burger with EXTRA bacon please! Lastly, if knowledge truly comes with responsibility (thanks Uncle Ben), then it begs me to ask this question:
With the knowledge that the Californian meat and dairy industry is responsible for stealing children away from their mothers, contributing to California’s worst drought in recorded history, and is killing threatened and endangered native wildlife, do you still think drinking milk is the right thing to do?
The answer came to me long ago, but I was reminded when I saw this sticker on a door in Point Reyes Station, California. It seems pretty obvious to me. If you truly care about animal welfare, the environment, and successful wildlife conservation efforts then make the change today and go vegan.