New to the world and suitably confused, an intelligent, breathing creature is dragged from its mother, never to see her, or anything, again. A result of forced impregnation, this living being exists only as a byproduct of the milk which exists to serve its nourishment, too expensive even to be sold to a slaughterhouse, let alone kept alive. Naturally unwilling to face the savagery herself—this would be too much—the dairy farmer throws some coins into the bloodied hands of a knackerman, after he kills and disposes of the biological waste. (Had the calf been female, she might have been spared this fate in order to serve as her mother’s successor, but those males slaughtered early are probably the lucky ones in this regard.) The mother is left with no one to provide her milk to except those who on that farm need it least: members of our own exigent species. She is sucked dry up to three times per day, before being re-impregnated or sent to be butchered. The resulting milk then begins a long journey from the distributer to the supermarket to the shopping basket to the plastic carrier bag, before finally ending up in a cup of tea, which I do not finish.
I have never felt more embarrassed than when I first recognised my role in this circus of inhumanity. Unimaginable levels of suffering are being unceasingly funded by the wallets of the consumers of animal products; this is a uniquely economic moral emergency, which disappears the moment we refuse to afford any more of our money to the animal industry. To prevent this suffering, the remedy is as simple as choosing something else on the menu, and after beginning to make this decision several months ago I have committed myself to never again allow my convenience to balance upon the carcasses of any sentient members of our moral community.
That cow is unlike us in many important ways. Its wellbeing requires much less to maintain than most human beings. It is less intelligent, has less self-awareness and less of a sense of dignity than most human beings. It does not philosophise. It cannot vote or enjoy poetry. Yet that cow knows pain as we do. That cow feels as we do. That cow recognises its children and distress in their faces as we do. That cow wants to live, just as we do.
That cow is unlike us in many important ways, and yet those few ways in which it does resemble us are the only ones ethically relevant, and thus the only ones that should determine how we treat them.