This is a guest blog that originally appeared at Vegan Bristol.
The recent Bristol Post article titled ‘Two cows to mooove into Bristol Harbourfront’ provided a distinctly one sided account of animal farming, that appears to have been devised to reassure people over their continued exploitation of animals. As such the article became an appeal to a false idea of the dairy industry that at best hid a great deal of the ‘truth’ behind animal farming.
The article itself suggests a number of issues to contend with; first and foremost, what exactly are cows doing at Bristol Harbourfront amongst ‘cafés, bars and boats’? It certainly isn’t their natural habitat, and yet neither would the farm be their natural habitat either, for cows that have been specifically bred to be farmed by humans, there isn’t a natural habitat for these animals. In fact the whole process of animal farming, and the subsequent consumption of milk taken from another species is quite unnatural in itself, as humans are weaned from human milk at a young age, and are not supposed to consume the milk of another species thereafter. The milk mothers produce for their calves is specifically formulated for them to grow quickly, not for humans to consume as part of a ‘balanced’ diet. This goes against the claim in the article that milk is a ‘very ‘normal’, everyday product.’ Of course the consumption of dairy has been normalised culturally, but that in itself doesn’t make it either natural, normal or necessary to consume.
The fact there is an artist at the event suggests there will be a degree of theatrics in the performance. Yet there also doesn’t seem to be a genuine attempt to speak the truth about dairy farming, where people could make their own minds up, instead of dealing with another layer of distraction. The intent here seems to be in reinforcing the bucolic image of farming peddled by the likes of McDonald’s and Waitrose, and found in the fables of children, in order to reassure and further encourage the unnecessary consumption of dairy products. The article then goes on to say the artist will be ‘sleeping together in the pavilion with the cows, milking them, and feed[ing] them.’ It would seem to support an illusion the cows are being well looked after, and are also generally well looked after, until they are no longer useful and are then killed.
The animals themselves aren’t genuinely considered in the ‘true cost of farming’, whilst it is reasonable to say the environmental costs of animal farming are high, as outlined in the Cowspiracy documentary, and a recent article in the Science journal that also made this point. But the answer isn’t reform, the answer resides in a fundamental change in our behaviour, where we take these issues seriously. The article also mentions that ‘our planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, with industrial agriculture being one of the largest contributors.’ This is true, and arguably animal farming is a big driver behind this event, so we need to take more radical action in regard to our environment, and make different choices in regard to consumption. We also need to change the way we view nature and the way we live in this world, and veganism can play a significant role in that. There is also a mention in the article of ‘Global Food System Inequalities’, and it will be interesting to see how issues of neo-liberalism will be addressed within the performance itself.
But let us wonder whether this is really part of a campaign by Nessie the performance artist. Someone who is concerned about the dairy industry, and is willing to spend five days and many nights on the harbourfront milking two cows three times a day, possibly on her own time and at her own expense. If it is, then I admire her dedication, though there are a number of fundamental issues with the claims she has made so far. Despite this, I think it is possible to understand the struggles of the farming industry too, and there is no doubt it is difficult for people in a declining industry. Sadly, the government and National Farmers Union will be of little help here, because they rarely show genuine concern toward people that are struggling, indeed they don’t really seem to care at all. This of course is awful, but it is another truth the industry needs to face in these changing times. The answer isn’t going to be in reform, the answer is in alternative ways of living.
In regard to dairy itself, there are many alternatives that are widely available, from oat milk, soya milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and almond milk. The vegan yoghurts, cheeses and creams are also widely available and the homemade cashew cheeses are truly very good. Whilst it may be difficult to think in terms of ‘giving up’ certain things, when we consider the environmental costs, and the costs to animals themselves, it becomes easier, necessary even, so next time you realise you are reaching for the dairy, think about picking up one of the alternatives instead.