Motherhood has always been a feminist issue to me. Long before I became a mother, myself, I was angered to live in a society that valued women (and, especially, mothers) so little and gave such inordinate power to men. As a vegan, too, it’s clear to me that the dairy industry is a horrifically exaggerated version of the way we, as a society, treat human mothers and children.
As givers of life, females should, by rights, be revered and respected. Instead, around the world, women struggle to get what they need for their children, suffering disproportionately from poverty. In the United States, we still question whether a woman can, or will, ever be President; in 2016, we elected a misogynist (hardly our first).
What surprise is it, then, that the mammalian function of breastfeeding has been commodified, so that cows are owned by humans in profit-making schemes, treated as easily replaceable machines, and denied the right to give their babies the milk and maternal care they would so desperately like to give? None at all. A society that would marginalize its own mothers would imprison, commodify, and kill the mothers of other species, without pausing for a moment of thought.
As a mother, and a mammal, I know that there is nothing worse than ripping a baby from his or her mother. I know that everything inside a mother is screaming, “You can’t have my baby.” (The sound of a baby crying, too, because Dr. Cry-it-out suggested that Mama stay in the kitchen, cooking for Daddy, contains the clear message, “You can’t have my mother.”) They do, though. This Mother’s Day and every day, the dairy industry is imprisoning mothers and separating and/or slaughtering babies, even if it is having to dump the milk it steals because, in the faintest of silver linings, the closing of public school systems means that the largest buyer for the saddest and most ridiculous food ever sold (milk made by mothers of another species, stolen and sold primarily for consumption by humans past infancy), is no longer buying.
Can we celebrate that? Can we celebrate being at home and feeding our babies (and toddlers, if they want it) our own milk? Can we celebrate our ability to make nourishing, delicious meals for our children without causing the unbelievable harm that is caused when people choose to support the factory farming of animals?
If we can, we must. It’s hard for many people to feel celebratory, not knowing if this pandemic — yet another caused by human exploitation of animals — will lead to a death within the family (if it hasn’t already), and knowing that, as grown daughters and sons, we must remain physically distant from our own mothers to avoid further spreading the zoonotic disease Covid-19 that is disproportionately harming the elderly. Some mothers won’t even be home this Mother’s Day, because they are “essential workers,” putting their lives on the line. For them, too, though, those of us who can, must stay home, stop the spread, and reassess.
When we emerge, can we emerge as kinder people? When we send our children back to brick and mortar schools this fall, can we send them having learned to say “no” to dairy? Will we tell that cruel industry that we’re still not buying? Can we say “no” to all animal exploitation — especially, the dangerous, poorly-regulated, large-scale animal exploitation that exists in animal agriculture — and its accompanying zoonotic pandemics? If we can, then that’s what’s going to help mothers: cow mothers, pig mothers, chicken mothers, pangolin mothers, and human mothers who want to be safe and keep their children safe.
Now is the time to act. Realists often question whether a vegan world will ever exist. Whether it will or not, dramatically increasing the demand for safe, plant-based food, and withdrawing the demand for food produced by an industry that is literally killing us (“us” mothers, “us” humans, and “us” Earthlings), is not only the best, but the only route to a world in which mothers of all species are respected, and in which this — all of this, this disaster we’re in, right now — never happens again.