Joaquin Phoenix very publicly pointed the spotlight on inter-species entitlement. Here's why, and how to do something about shifting our perceptions.
As Joaquin Phoenix wrapped his acceptance speech at the Oscars, animal lovers took to social media in solidarity, while some viewers were left scratching their heads in confusion. The next morning, a friend admitted to me, “I just don’t understand why he’s so angry about milk!”
I empathized. My journey to align my diet with my values has been—and remains—a messy one.
Embarrassingly, I was 19 before I realized the cows we visited each Summer on my grandfather’s farm were not the same ones from my youth. I simply had never thought about it, and never seen one harmed. Grandpa’s cows always looked happy, especially as we drove across the field in a rusty pick-up truck to drop large bales of hay and replace the salt licks.
Later in life, as I learned more about the cruelty animals endure in our “food” systems, the high suicide rates and PTSD for factory farm workers, and the human disease created by animal farming, I made changes in what I ate—and, importantly, what I didn’t.
But milk was in my blind spot. Or, perhaps more accurately, under a thick blanket of denial. Embarrassingly,(again), I remember a spiritual retreat where an attendee questioned how I could work with animals and still drink milk. Arrogantly, I replied, “I’m ok with cows having jobs. I have one!”
She lowered her eyes softly and said to me gently, “But what about the babies?” Blank stare on my part. Babies? They don’t get milk from them, I thought, just the grown-up cows, I thought. Patiently she explained the real connection between the two. My heart sunk.
In his speech, Joaquin explained the link to a room full of stars, “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal. And I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up.”
How is it that our society is willing to make changes in what we use and do in the name of “climate change” but seems less willing to change to relieve the suffering of other beings? How is it that we support the #metoo movement―declaring women’s bodies should not be used by others―and yet turn our eyes away from dairy cows who are forcibly impregnated yearly as their babies are taken within 24 hours of birth to eventually become “veal”?
In his speech, Joaquin reflected, “I think whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.”
Indeed, the next -ism we need to tackle is speciesism. Humanity needs to learn to be humane.
Admittedly, change can be hard. Especially when we think we have to give something up or that something will be taken from us. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to go “all in” to make a difference. Small choices can have big impacts on the lives of the other beings we share the planet with. Consider these tips to start your exploration.
Milk-free Mondays: If giving up cow’s milk is on your “no way” list, consider just reducing your intake. And check this out: Studies suggest limiting dairy can lead to better digestion, weight loss, and clearer skin. (It’s estimated that 65 percent of the world’s human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after their infancy. Many of us don’t even realize dairy might be causing adverse effects on our health.)
Try Mom-less Milk: Like all mammals, cows must give birth to make milk. But oats, almonds, rice, peas, cashews, macadamias, hemp, quinoa, and soy don’t! Head to the nondairy milk aisle to try alternatives, avoiding those that list sugar as their first ingredient.
Be a Climate Changer: If impacting climate change is on your “to-do list,” limiting or removing dairy can help your cause. Dairy cow manure produces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Studies estimate that switching to nondairy milk in your coffee will reduce the emissions attributable to your coffee by about half. Further, nondairy milk is a conservation win, using 2/3 less water than needed to produce cow’s milk.
Become a Myth Buster: Most of us are unaware of what happens to our food before it gets to us, or the problems hidden in what we consume. Check out farmsanctuary.org and these enlightening books Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy, The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World by Amanda Little, and The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists are Building an Animal-Free Food System by Jacy Rees.
Meet the Mothers: Visit a farmed animal sanctuary near you.
Read Sarah Bowen's article on Conscious Driving Practices for Animal Lovers.