Heater, Mother of Lance

A better way to start your day

During the last week in April I spent a few days with a film crew following my dear friend Ashley throughout her daily routine as a fellow full-time single mother. We tagged along through the struggle to get her kids up and ready for school, the breakfast routine, school drop-off, and then off to Park City where she works more than full time. She is a fellow Basthit Insane Motherfucker.

TANGENT: It snowed both days, and while we were in Park City we faced blizzard-like conditions. In the last week of April. The Santa Barbara-based film crew was like, “We get the whole Utah experience!” And I was all PLEASE KEEP THOSE THOUGHTS TO YOURSELF. Lovely people, the crew, don’t get me wrong. And I should apologize to them again for the awful, involuntary groan that kept spewing from my face at every single snowflake.

Ashley is not a vegan or even a vegetarian, and maybe I should “come clean” and admit that I have added a little bit of meat back into my diet due to some debilitating vitamin deficiencies, digestion issues, and the state of my mental health. Not a lot of meat, and I am very conscientious about it. I do the best that I can to align my food choices with my values and concern for the planet, animal welfare, and the rights of the individuals who work within the food system.

One thing I won’t ever add back into my diet, however, is dairy. When I cut that out of my daily meals six years ago I solved a slew of health problems including chronic, paralyzing sinus infections. I didn’t know then, though, where most of my food came from and had no idea what horrors occur within the dairy industry. Most people don’t.

Despite what the dairy industry would like us to believe, most dairy cows are kept in confinement throughout their entire lives, and they’re fed unnatural diets to boost milk production.

Virtually all dairy cows are separated from their calves almost immediately after birth, and the stress of their separation causes significant emotional distress for both the mother and her calf.

In addition to psychological and emotional distress, they have worse udder and uterine health than cows who are allowed to nurse their young. Male calves born into the dairy industry become veal, spending the remainder of their short lives confined to a small hut until slaughter; female calves become either veal or dairy cows.

All of those words read like a bunch of words and more words and even more words blah blah blah until you pair them with visual footage of what happens on most dairy farms. I am not going to embed the videos here, but if you really want to see where the cheese on your pizza and the milk in your cereal comes from (TRIGGER WARNING: these videos are unapologetically graphic and disturbing and very hard to watch), you can witness it here and here and here and here and here.

This part in particular should stick out to any mother (and frankly to any compassionate human being): “Virtually all dairy cows are separated from their calves almost immediately after birth.” The mothers mourn this separation from their offspring loudly and sometimes for weeks on end. You cannot mistake what they are going through as anything other than unrelenting agony.

Much like Ashley, I don’t have a lot of down time. She and I have swapped many stories about what it’s like to date in Utah and how we inevitably encounter the, “So, what do you do in your free time?” line of conversation. How do we remain calm or rational when confronted with such an idiotic question. You do realize you are on a date with a single mother who works full time? This free time you speak of? What language is that?

When Ashley has a rare day off she’s scheduled every minute of it with doctors’ appointments, trips to the grocery store, an emergency visit to the vet—oh, shit! She has one week to get the registration on her car renewed—a detour to the DMV, and I suppose she’ll get to mowing the yard IF HER KIDS WOULD JUST STOP HAVING NEEDS THAT HAVE TO BE MET.

Ashley has the heart of an activist (wait until you read an essay she’s preparing to be published here, an essay she is trying to write in between making sure all four of her kids are breathing and feel loved), but she has very little personal resources—physical, emotional and financial—to devote to any cause other than making sure the daily routine of her family doesn’t dissolve into irreparable chaos.

She does what she can. She does the best she can.

When I told her about a campaign I was working on, she shrugged and asked me to tell her more. I told her the whole story including those words you see above—“The stress of their separation causes significant emotional distress for both the mother and her calf”—and she got it. She mostly got it. I didn’t show her a single video until weeks later.

And then she got it. She cannot now un-get it.

But, what can she do? What kind of difference can she make and how? She’s got four kids and a full-time job and FUCK she just got a flat tire on the way to pick up Timothy from school.

Much like Meatless Mondays has helped families reduce their overall meat consumption, we (meaning the fine people at Farm Forward, Better Food Foundation, and other animals welfare activists like us) think we could have a measurable impact on the lives of dairy cows if we all pledged to cut dairy out of one meal a day for just 30 days. Just one meal with no cheese or milk or yogurt or creamer. And almost half of all cow’s milk consumed in the U.S. is consumed at the breakfast table.

Introducing: Milk-Free Mornings 

The alternatives to cow’s milk are countless, so many that I probably could not list them all. I use coconut creamer in my morning coffee. My kids have almond milk in their Cheerios and we’re surprised that it tastes pretty much the same. You can save your favorite yogurt for lunch and still make a difference.

Your choices matter, and we’d love you to join us in making a personal pledge to make your mornings milk-free for just 30 days. Take the pledge and Better Food Foundation will send you recipes, nutritional tips, and coupons for your favorite plant-based products.

This is one small way to make a real impact on the lives of animals when you feel like you don’t have the resources to help otherwise.

  • Tristy

    2017/06/08 at 10:17 am

    Thankfully I’m lactose intolerant

  • Huette

    2017/06/08 at 10:25 am

    Are there any known dairies that have different practices that you would feel good about recommending? Local or otherwise? I have to admit to absolutely loving dairy products. I buy the majority of my dairy from a local creamery in Idaho. I don’t how their practices measure up, but I understand that it is better than the national brands.

  • REK981

    2017/06/08 at 11:27 am

    I am not a baby cow, therefore I do not require the consumption of cow’s milk. My health improved immensely when I went dairy free. Love this!!

  • Heather Armstrong

    2017/06/08 at 11:32 am

    This, this, and this: “I m not a baby cow…” Funny, but so very true.

  • tomamanda

    2017/06/08 at 12:07 pm

    That’s my question, too. There are a lot of small, family-owned dairy farms in my hometown, and they only produce milk for their families. There’s now one farm that sells locally and I’m wondering your opinion of those farms?
    (not cause, like, i wanna debate. just because i assume you know much more on the subject than me!)

  • KristenfromMA

    2017/06/08 at 1:04 pm

    Ugh, I’ve been struggling with this issue for a few months now. I’ve been vegetarian for a couple of decades and have recently struggled to become vegan. It’s been really hard and I’ve fallen off the wagon (in someways, though I’ve been off of yogurt and ice cream for a while).

    Thank you for posting the message that giving up some dairy some of the time still helps.

    ETA: If you have an inflammatory condition (like I do), giving up dairy will help immensely.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2017/06/08 at 1:44 pm

    Supporting farms who treat animals humanely is *incredibly important* if we want to end factory farming. Independent farmers aren’t the enemy. They are very much a part of the solution.

  • JRSF

    2017/06/08 at 3:54 pm

    Word on the sinus issues from dairy. I stopped seeing the expensive acupuncturist after she told me to knock it off with the milk instead. Perpetual sniffles largely gone.

  • Alexandra

    2017/06/08 at 4:48 pm

    I was the Dairy Monster for 26 years of my life (cheese platters, ice cream, nachos, NAME IT) until I started dating my vegan boyfriend. It took almost a year to cut it out entirely, but not only did my skin clear up, my sinuses magically start functioning normally and my weight drop, I can look at cows in the eye and not feel wretched! High fives all around.

  • Rachel Church

    2017/06/08 at 7:13 pm

    I would just like to chime in from New Zealand where dairy cows live in pastures, and the practices are very different. I cannot imagine that people didn’t know where milk comes and how is produced….that the calves are reared separately – what did you think happened? I do support your efforts to help know where their food comes from so they can make educated decisions.

  • amy

    2017/06/09 at 4:19 am

    I agree about cutting out dairy but be careful what you replace it with. Almond milk production is incredibly bad for the environment. It’s hugely water intensive

  • Heidi

    2017/06/09 at 8:01 am

    Thank you for posting this, Heather. It’s a great reminder and I plan to buy almond or soy milk instead of dairy at the grocery store next time.
    Is there anything like non-dairy probiotic yogurt? I have Crohn’s disease and have Activia yogurt four times a week.

  • Moira

    2017/06/09 at 8:21 am

    I admire and respect your activism – these efforts have helped the dairy industry reform its animal care policies and more operations are working towards Certified Humane status. Here’s the rub – large dairies and an abundant milk supply keep fluid milk prices down for the rest of country unable to afford pasture-based milk, coconut milk, almond milk, etc. – that stuff is expensive. And that’s just fluid milk – a large percentage of byproducts – whey, nonfat dry milk, milk protein concentrate – are also primary ingredients in a whole lot of food. Again, this would cause food prices to skyrocket without an adequate milk supply. A lot of that milk is earmarked for WIC programs and free school lunch programs. Finally, the US is one of the biggest exporters of milk ingredients to third world countries with no dairy industry to speak of . So yeah, big dairy has its issues, but it’s necessary to feed a lot of people both in the US and abroad.

  • REK981

    2017/06/09 at 8:53 am

    Coconut milk yogurt. Or google, lots of recipes out there to make your own with probiotic capsules and coconut or almond milk. Or just take the probiotics and skip the yogurt entirely.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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