Writing, life, politics

On Cows Milk At A Vegan Event

First off, a statement. I do not consider being a vegan to being in any way comparable to being a member of an discriminated against group, be that persons who are non-white, female, gay or bisexual, trans-gendered, or members of a minority religion. However, for someone such as myself who by virtual of being a white, middle-class, male, cis-gendered heterosexual, ticks every single privilege box going, I think that being a vegan might perhaps in some partial way simulate what it might feel like to be a member of a discriminated against group. Not for real. Just for pretend. A simulation.

That said, I’ll then launch into a second statement that might sound rude, exclusionary, and frankly arseholish:

I sometimes wish that vegetarians wouldn’t turn up at what’s supposed to be a vegan event, like the one I’ve just been to. Although to be fair to them, in this case, it seemed very badly described. (Then again, the people organising it, when speaking, repeatedly referred to it as a vegan event, so I wonder if the “mis-description” was inserted in by the person who wrote the program). Here’s how it was (ambiguously) described:


(I should say, it was still a great event, I really enjoyed it, and I’m very thankful to the two women who organised it for putting it on).

The thing is, I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t feel I have a huge amount in common with them. I live in a non-vegan world, where I constantly have to moderate what I say, and bite my tongue. When people ask why I don’t drink milk, I have to simply say that it’s “because I’m a vegan”, rather than give the truthful answer that lies behind that, because if I did, I’d upset people. I can’t even really give that truthful answer here, because while this is my own personal blog, it’s still a non-vegan space. It’s still me writing as a vegan in a non-vegan world. (If you really want to know, I’ve attached it as an appendix to this post).

It would be nice, just once, to go to a place where I don’t have to bite my tongue for fear of upsetting someone. But as soon as vegetarians turn up, I have to, because it’s now back to being a non-vegan space.

Vegans tell anecdotes about the times they want to a wedding or restaurant and there was literally nothing for them to eat, and they literally went hungry. We cry that all we’re asking for is for there to be just one thing on the menu that we could eat. Just one and we’re happy. Overjoyed even. Hell, put two items on the menu and you risk rendering us catatonically indecisive, so unused are we to coping with choice.

Meanwhile, one of the vegetarians at this event just told an anecdote about going to a restaurant for a wedding dinner in the US where the punchline of the anecdote was that there was only one vegetarian option on the menu.

As you can imagine, I did somewhat fail to feel his pain.

Yeah, sure there’s a place for outreach, and bigger tents, and evangelism, and inclusiveness, and all that… But sometimes you just want to be among your own kind, you know? Where you can talk about the things that you have in common, and the things that uniquely affect you, without having to bite your tongue for fear of upsetting “the others”.

I’ve been trying to think of an anecdote about this, and the best I can come up with is (again, veganism is only a simulation of discrimination!):

Irish people living in the UK have certainly faced serious, historical discrimination in the past, and quite possibly to some extent still do. But if I was organising an event for BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) attendees at a UK convention, and an Irish person turned up, I think I’d be a bit, “Mate, really?”

And if he responded to our anecdotes about the serious and damaging discrimination we’d faced for being BAME with an anecdote about discrimination he’d faced for being Irish that was, by comparison to our experiences, quite minor…

Well I think I’d fail to share his pain.

So to go back to the “simulation” I referred to at the start of this point, when some white people get upset about things like the National Black Police Association, I’d like to think that just maybe I get it.

When you live in a world where you’re always the “other”, sometimes, just for once, just for a while, you just want to be among your own kind.

(Oh and by the way, the title refers to the fact that we ended up having cows milk bought to this supposedly vegan event by the hotel. If we’d all been vegans we could just have told them to take it away. But when a bunch of the attendees are vegetarian, that would have seemed a bit rude.)

* * * * *

The truthful answer…

Cows are mammals, and as with any mammal, they only make milk if they give birth to a child. So to get milk from a cow you have to make the cow pregnant, and when the resulting calf comes out male it’s surplus to requirements and is thus often taken straight away and killed (if not killed it will be raised for beef and then killed after several months). I’ve heard stories of cows that cry for eight days straight after their calf is taken away. I cannot see the moral principle in refusing to eat beef, but being okay with baby calves living a life that in its entirety consists of: be born, be immediately taken away from your mother and taken to a slaughter house, have brains blown out. It’s a life that spans less than 24 hours, which will entirely be spent, thirsty, hungry, scared and lonely. It seems to me that the life of a male dairy calf is about as shit, miserable, and pointless as a life is possible to be. It makes a mayfly’s life seem possibly purposeful, and every single time I think of what we do to cows and their calves it brings me to the verge of tears. That’s why I don’t drink milk. It’s not because “I’m a vegan.” It’s because I cry when I think of baby cows getting their brains blown out in slaughterhouses.


  1. Simon


    But the farmers around here use beef bulls and sell on all the calves as weaners. Which means their pointless existence is more like 18 months.

    I don’t expect that to change your views, but it is a good idea to keep the stories of animal exploitation accurate, so as not to dilute the message.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Yeah, fair point. I was perhaps oversimplifying things a bit, and I sill bone up on my facts for next time. But: a) that some male calves get to live eighteen months doesn’t change the fact that many don’t; b) I still have a big problem with them being killed for meat at up to 18 months, and if someone is a vegetarian, I think they should too.

      But fair point, point taken, and thanks for the comment!

    • Jonny Nexus

      I should say that my post was aimed more at vegetarians than meat-eaters. I personally think that it’s wrong to kill cows for food. If you don’t, then as civilised men we can agree to disagree and put that aside. But if you instead also claim to be against the killing of animals for food, but are still somehow okay nonetheless with milk, then there is no difference to put aside. Instead, there is only a taboo subject (milk) I can’t mention for fear of accidentally / inadvertently accusing you of hypocrisy.

      Oh, and having thought about it, I’ve put some edits into the post to attempt to make it more accurate. Thanks!

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