The feminist movement has never been more alive in Australia. We’re working to put more women in office and in corner offices. We’re fighting for equal pay, tax-free feminine hygiene products, an end to sexual harassment, funding for women’s sports, and streets safe enough for us to walk alone. Around the world, we’re working to end sex trafficking, slavery, genital mutilation, and “honour killings”. People rail against sexism in all its many forms – except, perhaps, when it comes to what’s on their plates.
Are people true “feminists” if they eat eggs and dairy?
Some are quick to dismiss the suffering of female members of other species as unimportant. But let’s recall that human females, too, have been dismissed as not important, valuable, intelligent, or worthy of consideration. The justifications that people give for being unconcerned about the suffering of chickens and cows and denying their basic rights are strikingly similar to those that have historically been given for disregarding women’s suffering and denying their basic rights.
Discrimination is discrimination, whether towards a woman, a cow, a pig, or a chicken. “They are different from us and therefore unworthy of consideration” is the belief on which all prejudice is based.
Eggs: Female Menstruation Farming
In Australia, around 19 million hens are exploited for their eggs every year. The vast majority spend their entire lives in intensive confinement (even if they’re supposedly on “free-range” farms) from the moment they hatch until the day they’re killed. They spend day and night in a faeces- and ammonia-filled warehouse with the bodies of many of their dead and dying friends and family members lying on the floor or crammed inside a filthy cage so small that they can’t stretch even one wing.
Most people don’t associate eggs with chicken menstruation, but they should. Chickens have similar cycles to female humans, producing around 15 eggs per year. But the egg industry has manipulated hens’ reproductive systems to induce extra laying cycles, forcing them to produce as many as 300 eggs per year. Because of this, the birds often suffer from cysts, infections, ovarian carcinomas, and other reproductive tumours, and sometimes, multiple eggs become lodged inside them. Their bones often shatter from osteoporosis because their bodies are forced to produce massive quantities of eggshells.
The egg industry doesn’t see chickens as individuals – it sees them as egg machines to be used, manipulated, and pushed beyond their biological limits in order to make money.
Dairy: Motherhood as a Commodity
Contrary to popular belief, female cows produce milk only when they’re pregnant or nursing. They make milk for the same reason that human women do: to feed their babies.
Cows on Australian dairy farms are forcibly impregnated through artificial insemination. Like humans, they carry their young for about nine months, but cow mothers aren’t allowed to nurse their babies. Instead, their infants are stolen from them, usually within hours of birth, and the milk the mother cows produce is shipped off for human consumption. They never spend time with their babies, who, more often than not, are seen as a “waste product” and killed.
The average cow used by the Australian dairy industry today produces more than four times as much milk as a cow did in 1950. These animals are kept constantly pregnant – ensuring that the milk supply is always flowing. After around five years of this intense cycle of pregnancy and being hooked up to milking machines two or more times a day, their milk production declines and they’re carted off to an abattoir.