I recently read the true story of a cow named Clarabelle. She had endured the loss of every one of her children. On a dairy farm, thats life for cows and buffaloes: youre artificially inseminated to keep your body producing milk, you give birth, they take your baby away so humans can steal as much of the infants milk as possible, and the process starts all over. Most male calves are marked for death by dairy farms around the world because they cant produce milk. In India, theyre often left to starve, abandoned, or sent to slaughter. Abroad, theyre typically crammed in a crate to be killed for veal. When her milk production started to wane and the farm was preparing to send her to slaughter, Clarabelle was rescued by a sanctuary. But she had a secret. She was pregnant.
When sanctuary staff discovered that they would have a new baby to love, they were delighted. But a week before her due date, Clarabelle began sneaking off, avoiding them, and acting strangely. A search revealed why: she had already given birth and hidden her baby in a faraway patch of grass to save the infant’s life. She was slipping away to nurse and running back so as not to arouse suspicion. But Clarabelle was at a sanctuary now, and she would never have to suffer the pain of losing a child again.
As a mother reading Clarabelle’s story in the book Animalkind, I thought about this gentle, loving cow finally getting to celebrate Mother’s Day with her child. I was filled with happiness for her and, at the same time, with grief for all of the other cow and buffalo mothers who will never know that joy.
That’s the main reason I’ve been vegan for years: I respect other species. However, just as the dairy industry considers male calves of no use since they cannot produce milk, the egg industry considers male chicks of no use because they can’t lay eggs. These days, the chickens used for eggs are bred for higher egg production, while those used for meat are bred to grow fast and have bulkier bodies, so they are not the same. But I believe that cows, buffaloes, and chickens have the right to raise their babies, the right to be free from abuse and suffering, and the right to their own lives. As humans, I know that we can do better than exploiting them for our own ends.
My decision to eat vegan was solidified when I came across the books Skinny Bitch by Kim Barnouin and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet. They helped me understand the important relation between food and our body, and once I went vegan, I started noticing wonderful changes: I dropped a few kilos, my skin felt great, my hair became healthier, and I had a lot more energy.
Vegan foods like greens and lentils are some of the most affordable — and healthiest — foods you can buy in India. Tofu makes an excellent egg replacer, and it’s a good source of protein with no cholesterol. And the options for non-dairy milks, such as soya, almond, and oat, are becoming so numerous it’s hard to keep up. Cows’ milk is suited to the nutritional needs of calves, who have four stomachs and gain hundreds of kilos in a matter of months. Just like all mammals, we do not need to drink milk after weaning age, and we certainly do not need to drink the milk of another species.
I was vegan throughout my pregnancy, too. In fact, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest food and nutrition professionals group in the US, states that vegan eating is “appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes”. The group has observed that “(v)egetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity”.
My son, at just seven years old, has chosen the cruelty-free way of eating, too, because he cares about animals. I love knowing that my child is growing up to be healthy and kind.
On Mother’s Day morning, my family and I will be pouring oat milk in our coffee, whipping up our favorite tofu rather than egg scramble, and hope that someday, every mother will get to celebrate Mother’s Day with her baby, just as we can.
(Ayesha Takia is an actor and animal rights advocate.)