Every year in the month of May, the arrival of Mother’s Day marks an occasion to reflect on not only the love of our own mothers, but the essence of motherhood itself, and what it means for us and our culture. But as we send cards, flowers, gifts and poetry to the women in our lives who have cared for and nurtured us, we are perhaps overlooking an opportunity to look more honestly at our society’s hypocrisy when it comes to the same profound relationship among members of other species.
It is impossible to separate our use of animals as economic resources from our exploitation of their reproductive systems. After all, there would be no animal industries (whether on a small or a large scale), without ongoing breeding and birthing. When domesticated animals become mothers, their children belong to someone else, and not only are they nearly always separated from their young shortly after birth, but they have no power whatsoever over the future their child will be forced to endure.
Whether you are a vegan, are thinking about embracing veganism, or have never thought about your food choices, the following collection of excerpts depicting the reality of motherhood in the animal industry will inspire you to think about how your choices affect mothers from other species.
Humans are far from the only animals to experience the deep connection between mother and child. In fact, this might be one of the very experiences that is universal — crossing all boundaries between species. And yet, somehow, we manage to suppress our awareness of this all-important bond when it involves individuals who are different from us, especially when acknowledging this fact would require us to make a change in our own behavior, such as eliminating our dependence on the products of animal husbandry.
One day Mariolana swished her tail in the characteristic way of an ovulating goat. Although it was unclear whether her body could bear it, getting pregnant was her only stay of execution; it was her only hope to unknowingly “pay“ for another six months of life. When I told my host that I was pretty sure Mariolana became pregnant the day I saw her tail swish, she told me it was unlikely… but we would see. Sure enough, after mating season was over, the vet came and confirmed that, against all odds, Mariolana had conceived what would most likely be her last child. Because she had struggled so much with her pregnancy the year before, it was unclear what this would mean for her, but both Mariolana and I knew she was still full of life. If only her child birthing years were over and she could simply be…
Their lives appeared to consist of “waiting“. Waiting to eat, waiting to give birth, waiting for their children to be taken from them, waiting for their bodies to be drained of the milk they futilely created for their missing calves. They knew these routines, but I wonder if they knew that all the “waiting“ was only leading to an early death. If every carton of milk, package of cheese, sour cream and yogurt told the true story of these cows‘ lives; the loss of their children and the bloody end both they and their calves ultimately meet… would the greater public still turn a blind eye?
When I went back outside I found the black hen frantically weaving in and out of the lavender, calling to her fellow chickens, some of whom ran over to her aid as she continued searching for her missing eggs. I tried to push my guilt aside and continue on my day. But when we returned for lunch, hours later, she was still there moving slowly in and out of the lavender and muttering to herself as she searched in vain.
It‘s easy to conceptualize the relationship as one of respectful symbiosis in which the backyard farmer provides food and shelter to her flock in exchange for the “gift“ of hens‘eggs. However, this bucolic portrayal ignores several essential ethical questions, not the least of which being the fundamental issue of whether humans have the right to breed other animals for our own purposes, and whether it is appropriate for us to conclude that a hen “doesn‘t care“ whether someone other than herself decides what happens to her eggs.
For lunch, we would go into the garden to pick a salad, and then to the hen house to grab an egg. I have never heard such a mournful cackle as when I removed all the eggs from under a hen attempting to nest. She looked for her eggs for over an hour, wandering confused and calling, calling, calling.
“Like all farmed animals, Marcie was defined not by what was there, but by what was missing – the visible and invisible amputations of a lifetime of slavery – mutilated body, broken spirit, wounded soul, unrealized potential, capacity for pain filled to the brim, capacity for joy left utterly empty. In her years of confinement on a small family farm, where she repeatedly watched her babies being killed, so much had already been taken from her that, by the time she was rescued and brought to a place where she could finally begin her life, there wasn‘t much left to build a life on.“ (~ Joanna Lucas)
Animals of both sexes suffer under institutionalized exploitation. However, the female of the species often experiences more prolonged abuse, including an ongoing cycle of forceful artificial insemination (mechanical or manual rape), physical abuse of her mammary glands, and invariably being separated from her young; all of these are emotionally brutal experiences for the female members of any species.
How would we feel being forced to reproduce so that members of this other species could use our milk and our eggs, or take our children away and kill them for food? How would we feel being bred into captivity, being separated from our babies, being milked by machine (or even by someone‘s hand), and ultimately being killed so that someone else could eat our bodies? How would we feel about our daughters being condemned to the same lifetime of breeding slavery? How would we feel if each of our sons was taken away to have his flesh sold as veal and the lining of his stomach used to make cheese? How would we feel if our bodies were literally the property of someone else, and we were defenseless against the ongoing assault upon our reproductive systems?
All photos provided by Gentle World