I stopped milking the cows. I can’t do it anymore.

I loved milking the cows because I loved working with them. I loved the interaction beyond words — trying to communicate with another being that doesn’t understand my language stretches my capacity for communication… I couldn’t speak to them about what I wanted, so I had to operate on a different level. Bovine telepathy? Not really… but doesn’t it seem like animals (especially dogs) can read your mind? It works on an energetic level, beyond words and even overt actions.

I loved working with the cows because they helped me explore myself. My first four hours in the morning were spent beyond verbal communication, remembering to be intentional and present — because if I wasn’t, I’d get kicked! After a couple close swipes at my head, I understood that being intentional about handling the cows teats was a matter of respecting them. I’d want anyone handling my teats to be intentional, not just absently groping around. I’ve had times where I should have delivered a kick to the head!

Things started shifting for me when Santana died last month. I felt the weight of her life. I realized she had spent her entire life in service (slavery?) to us, providing us with calves and milk and getting grain and hay in return. I started looking at the cows differently. I grasped that they’re living their lives from the same source as I am living mine, and what I want most in my life is freedom. We control these cows, forcing them to live the way that we want them to live so that they can provide us with the milk and meat we want.

Soon after Santana’s death we were training a young heifer (a female who hasn’t calved before). We train them by leading them into the barn with a bucket of grain, getting them used to walking up the concrete steps into a gated stall where there’s grain waiting for them. We shut the gate, they munch on grain, we take their milk. This heifer, Poppy, hadn’t been barn trained before, and she didn’t simply saunter into the barn the way our older cows do. She wanted to explore, to look around, to rub noses with the cows on the other side of the fence. And she wasn’t all that interested in the grain I had to offer. As I started trying to coerce her, I felt a sense of dominance rising in me: “You’ve got to do this because I say so.” And that felt so foreign, so opposite of what I’m trying to cultivate in my life, that I had to stop and think about it. Is this really just for me and my friends? Out of our desire to have milk? Is there anything in this for Poppy at all? If she doesn’t care about the grain, she has no vested interest in entering that fucking barn. We teach the cows that the grain is what they want, just like mainstream culture teaches us that money and cell phones and fast food and makeup is what we want!

I struggled with this as I continued to work with Poppy. The more she refused my manipulation, the more upset I felt about what I was trying to do. I saw a wildness in her that I loved, that I desire in myself, and I was attempting to train it out of her??? I couldn’t do it.

that was a saturday, the day of our dairy crew meeting. I went to the meeting at lunch and announced I was going to take a break from milking to explore these feelings more, and to see if I was resolved about this enough that I could stop eating dairy. Because of course, if I feel philosophically opposed to domesticating and milking the cows, the followup is to not benefit from it. So I stopped eating cheese, which had been a main staple of my diet here because we make our own — everything from cheddar to romano to gouda — and it’s delicious and fresh. And now I see that its creation is reliant on the domestication and manipulation of these animals that I respect so intensely. It hasn’t been hard at all to stop eating dairy. It hits me too deeply.

I was a vegan for a while in college, but that was more of a political decision. “I’m an activist, I’m a radical, I should be a vegan”… or something like that. So when it got too difficult to cook vegan food (when I was fired from the vegan restaurant I worked at), the cheese pizza my friends ordered from PapaJohn’s was too tempting. I said I was a “freegan” for awhile (I won’t BUY food with animal products in it, but if it’s already been purchased it won’t hurt for me to eat it!), and then the slope just got too slippery and I went back to indulging in cheese and milk chocolate again.

this time it feels different. I’m coming at it from the other side… instead of “I should be a vegan, so I’m not going to eat dairy products”, it’s “I can’t participate in this oppression, so I’m not going to eat dairy products… I guess that means I’m a vegan”.