When the matrix was released it was a runaway hit. I, like many people, chose to see it more than once at the cinema. That in itself was groundbreaking for me, since I am far from being a cinephile (I purposely wait til the DVD is out so that I have the possibility of escaping to the loo without stumbling over legs, treading on toes and missing the only scene where the lead man might have his kit off). The attraction of The Matrix was more than a good story, great special effects and leather clad actors. It appeals directly to our emotions via our need to be free.
Our society recognizes that our greatest desire, second only to life itself, is freedom. Governments manage to control our behaviors with the threat of taking our freedom away. In fact our strong identification with freedom, can even sometimes overcome the desire to live – we could and have in the past as the great wars testify – die for freedom. The Matrix shows you a world where not only is your freedom taken from you, but one where you have only the vaguest disquiet that something…somewhere…is terribly wrong. We are caged within the system and bred for our resources. Controlled breeding and lack of freedom. It’s your worst nightmare.
I was 7 months pregnant when I met our friends here on the island (for the sake of ease, let’s just call them Mr and Mrs Vegan) and they described to me the horror of dairy farming. Now as well as not being a cinephile, I am very far from being a vegan. Not even close to being a vegetarian. And if I was a pescetarian, I would only be eating fish and chips all week long. In fact, I am one of the only Brits I know who takes her steak blue. Not Medium Rare. Not Rare. But Blue aka. raw apart from a whiplash of sizzle on each side to sear the edges. I also love cheese. Hard cheese. Soft cheese. Blue Cheese. Runny cheese. Fried cheese. Stinky cheese. I can eat cheese without bread. In chunks. As Fondue. With lashings of red wine to wash it down. Yum. So I knew I wouldn’t like it when Mrs Vegan started to tell me the story of the Dairy Farm…
‘It starts with the rape of the cow’ she said as she sat back after my lentil curry (my best and only vegan dish).
I scoffed. ‘Rape necessarily has a traumatic component. It’s not like they’re stalked and beaten.’
‘No. That’s right. They are only held captive for their entire lives and systematically, forcibly raped once a year.’ she said.
‘Why every year? And how exactly raped? By a bull?’
‘Munch your cheddar’ she said ‘And I’ll tell you how it’s made. A female cow on a diary farm only has one purpose. It’s to produce milk. And in order to produce milk, farmer’s have to make sure that the cow is pregnant and gives birth every year. ‘
‘Every year?’ I said incredulously.
‘Every year.’ She said nodding.
That was my second pregnancy…and believe me, it takes its toll on the body. 9 months to build a baby and up to a year to recover; as well as the obvious vaginal swelling, pelvic pain, womb repositioning (as well as all other internal organs which have been bunched up out of the way to make way for the baby) and the hormones flying about causing distress, there’s the obvious point that the body has been depleted of all its energy reserves. And a cow’s gestation period is similar, if not longer, than that of a woman.
‘Okay that’s shit.’ I said. ‘But we don’t really know whether cows would naturally mate regularly or not. After all it’s still nature taking it’s course.’
My family used to breed dogs. And I remember quite distinctly taking our bitch to mate with a dog. She was scared, but it was natural. In my head I imagined the same. A bull with a cow in a pen. Emulating what nature does best. But as it turns out it was a whole lot worse.
‘They can’t afford to let nature take its course.’ Said Mrs Vegan. ‘They artificially inseminate them.’
To my ears that sounded better than being mounted by a bull you might not even fancy.
‘They tie up the cow so she can’t move. And then the farmer sticks his arm up there and pulls down the uterus and shoots the semen into the cow.’
Okay, I thought. Disagreeable definitely. Momentarily painful. Absolutely. But does the cow sense an invasion of privacy? Does a cow know what privacy is?
‘The people in the industry call it the rape rack. It’s where the cows get tied up and ‘raped’.’
Even I winced at this word. Rape isn’t a joke.
‘And let me tell you about the collection of the semen.’
‘They can’t wank them off then.’ I said flippantly. I imagined that somewhere some poor sod’s job was to wank off a bull.
‘No, the bull mounts another bull who’s been castrated and buggers them until he comes. Obviously the castrated bull is tied up.’
‘Why don’t they use a cow?’
‘Because it would break her back. They do it all day, every day when they need to. Bull’s are too heavy for a cow’s back to support for long And of course, sometimes the castrated bull’s back does break.’
I felt sick. Rape of the cow was horrid. Rape of the castrated bull, even worse. Even if I didn’t know why it should be worse.
‘Then when the cows give birth, their calves are taken away of course because the farmers need the milk. Male calves are sent for slaughter still with their umbilical cords. Unless they are raised for veal or a tiny proportion for beef.’
As she paused for breath I felt my unborn baby move in my belly and my eyes, filled with tears. The image of calves so young that they still had their umbilical cords and the horror of calves being taken away from their mothers was too painful to think about.
Mother cows have been known to break out of fields and then walk for miles to be reunited with calves taken to auction.
‘When the dairy cows are spent – usually at about 7 years versus the 25 they would live naturally, they’re loaded into crates probably with mastitis, auctioned off and then stunned and hung so that their heart still beats enough to push out the blood as their throats are slit.’
‘Enough.’ I said. ‘I understand your point and I’ll think about it.’
This is not a description of what happens just on a non-organic farm. This is dairy farming across the board and it’s what has to happen if one is to eat dairy.
I’m not a bleeding heart environmentalist. I have cheese in my fridge (actually there’s rather a lot of it at the moment because I’m doing the Atkins diet). But the story of dairy farming gives one pause to think.
In modern dairy farming, cows can be expected to produce between 6,000 and 12,000 litres during their 10 month lactation. This means she may be carrying in excess of 20 litres at any one time – ten times as much as would be required for her calf.
As outraged as we are at the Holocaust and as stirring as The Matrix is, we think we can keep beasts caged and subject them to any number of trauma in order to farm their resources, casting them out when they’ve served our purpose. It’s your worst nightmare…but done to cows, sheep and goats – all animals which are part of dairy farming. We allow this to be done because…
- It’s always been done
- It’s done by other people (we only eat it)
- We don’t have to see it
- (secret option number four, cheese is really yummy)
But why do we think we have the right to do it?
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Genesis, King James Bible
The subduing and ruling refer not to the mere supply of his natural needs, for which provision is made in the following verse, but to the accomplishment of his various purposes of science and beneficence, whether towards the inferior animals or his own race. It is the part of intellectual and moral reason to employ power for the ends of general no less than personal good. The sway of man ought to be beneficent.
Barnes notes on the Bible
I’m not unduly surprised to uncover this. A religion created from the mind of man in an effort to prove his superiority has accorded us the right to exercise cruelty over animals which are regarded as inferior. What is more interesting to me is if we have this right so accorded by the Big Cheese (see what I did there?), we have divided animals up into ‘friends’ and ‘fodder’. Imagine if you were to read the ‘rape of the cow’ passage now and replace the word cow with ‘dog’, ‘cat’, or ‘horse’. But of course we project humanity onto these animals (Paris Hilton has created an entire clothing line for her chihuahua).
Ironically, cows have been representative of docile stupidity in our society for centuries. But research shows that cows have many characteristics similar to humans. They have their own personality, their own emotional life, experience pain, anxiety and suffering.
… it’s now suspected that they are even capable of worrying about the future–a psychological attribute that is often considered a critical threshold in personhood determination (i.e. a person should be capable of making plans and having intentions over time). If cows are worrying about the future, that means that i) they have a sense of self, ii) they are concerned about their welfare (which is intention), and iii) they can imagine themselves in the future…
When I think about everything we do to cows (and this article hasn’t touched on other aspects of cruelty, of which there are many), I would love to find out they were imagining a future where they kept humans in captivity to breed them. The only thing is, I’m not sure they can conceive of electricity and I don’t think they’d breed us to eat (who else but humans would be so stupid to feed flesh to herbivores?), nor are they imaginative enough to devise the procedures we put them through, those which when exercised on us, we have fought, and died in wars to prevent. But it’s okay, because apparently God allows it…