Making big changes, and meeting cows

I thought I’d write a bit about my own story.  What exactly prompted me to make my lifestyle changes?

Back in college, I decided I wanted to be a “pescetarian” – someone who eats fish, but no other meat.  I was inspired by my roommate Elsa, who was vegetarian.  I did it for health reasons, and because I felt I didn’t really need to eat meat to have good nutrition.

It took a bit of getting used to (“No more turkey sandwiches?! This is inconvenient! I’ll have to find something else to eat in my plentiful refrigerator and cupboards!”) but soon I was well on my way.  A few months later, I went to my primary doctor for menstrual cramps. I had a mild anemia, nothing serious, due to my period.  He recommended I start taking some iron supplements and specifically that I eat red meat for the iron.  My pescetarian streak was up.  “I can’t be a vegetarian,” I told myself. “I have anemia.”

In New Orleans for medical school, I ate just about everything.  I tried alligator, turtle soup, and duck, which were all very popular there.  One of my best friends, Meghan, was vegetarian, and I didn’t even think to ask her why.  Then my mom started talking to me about going to factory farms.  I’ll never forget the feelings of disbelief when I heard that animals were leading horrific lives.  In my mind, I had naively imagined cows hanging out in green pastures during the day, being taken into barns at night, living life with their fellow bovine friends and calves.  I probably had heard of factory farms, but in blissful ignorance completely dissociated that with the food I was eating.

It didn’t take long for me to associate that killing an animal that inherently wants to live and not suffer is wrong, and I can save their lives by not eating them.  I can try to imagine how awful it must be, to be that animal that will be killed.  But what’s wrong with eating dairy and eggs?

Did you know that cows, just like female humans, do not produce milk all the time?  That they need to be pregnant or recently have had a baby?  Oh!  So how do they get pregnant, and what happens to their babies?  Unfortunately, in our system, workers invasively (that means put a tube into their sensitive area) artificially inseminate cows to get them pregnant.


Then the cows go through pregnancy for 9 months, and finally, they have their babies.  Soon after they have their babies (I’m talking hours, not weeks), the baby is taken from its mother who just carried it for 9 months.

Does the cow fulfill her motherly instinct to lovingly dote and bond with her children and to raise them, like a human mother has the right to do?  No, we pull the baby and its mother apart. The male baby has the joy of going to slaughter to be sold in markets as “veal,” while the female baby is destined to become a dairy cow and live the life her mother lived.  The life of a dairy cow can therefore be summarized as cycles of insemination and pregnancy, followed by the anguish of humans stealing her babies, and getting her milk meant for her baby taken from her to be consumed by humans.

If you want an example of what it looks like, you can find any number of videos quite easily.  Here’s one:

As a person who wants to be a mother one day, I can’t imagine how much hurt we are creating in these animals as we tear families apart, just to consume their milk and milk products.  And by the way, would you drink human milk or eat human milk cheese?  What makes eating cows’ or goats’ or sheep’s milk cheese any less gross?  At least human milk is our same species.

(Don’t worry, I’ll cover eggs later! That’s enough sadness for one post!)

On a brighter note, I traveled to Norway this summer, and farm animals there are lucky enough to live as I originally imagined they did: on bright green fields, together with their friends (though I didn’t see any babies).  I asked several Norwegians if they had factory farms like we do in the U.S., and they replied, “Of course not!  Animals are meant to be in the fields, not in factories.”  I couldn’t have agreed more!  I haven’t met too many cows, but these ones were really friendly with me.  Looking into their eyes, I saw kindness and peacefulness.

Petting a cow
Petting a cow

They even made me laugh as they tried to lick my hands.

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I walked away and said bye, and they followed!
I walked away and said bye, and they followed!

I’d say that changing my diet has been an exercise in expanding my compassion.  As a doctor, that’s very important, and as a human citizen sharing this Earth with billions of humans and trillions of animals, it’s even more important.  I try to walk a mile in someone else’s paws/ hooves/ claws/ shoes way more often now, because compassion creates more compassion.  The more I practice it, the better I hope to become.  Changing my diet has also been an exercise in taking the initiative to educate myself, and being brave enough to change what I do to be more in line with how I truly feel.  Remember, making big changes doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take months to years to change your mindset, but once you start, you won’t look back.

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