{A-Z:Veganism} I is for Inspiration

I is for Inspiration.

Who (or what) do you credit with inspiring you to embrace veganism?

I credit Dr. Neal Barnard with inspiring me to consider (and, ultimately, embrace) veganism.  Or, more accurately, a magazine interview with Neal Barnard.

It was 1995. December. The festive season.

I was 18, a university student, and one of those ‘vegetarians’ who ate seafood.

I was heading to beautiful Byron Bay with my mum, sister, and our friend Jasmine, for a two-week holiday.


I had brought along a copy of (the now defunct) New Vegetarian magazine, to read in the car as we headed up the coast. It was the spring/summer issue, with KD Lang on the cover.

The cover also featured a smaller, black-and-white photo – a bloke called Dr. Neal Barnard, standing in front of the Sydney Opera House. I had never heard of him.

Somewhere north of Coffs Harbour, I began reading a 4-page interview with Dr. Barnard. As I read the opening paragraph –

‘Dr Barnard grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, in the middle of cattle country….’

– I had no idea that my belief system was about to be radically challenged.


The early part of the interview discussed Dr. Barnard’s experiences in medical school. It focused on his experiences with patients suffering from debilitating heart disease, and breast cancer. He mentioned his mother’s battle with a ‘dangerously high cholesterol level’, and how 6 weeks of following a vegan diet led to the level plummeting. She was a convert after that!

Some of this information was not new to me. I knew that I did not require red meat to be healthy, and I had ditched it a couple of years earlier, inspired by a book called Old McDonald’s Factory Farm (You can read about that ‘realisation’ here).

Then, I came to the topic that would change my world view.

‘As a committed vegan, Dr. Barnard is scathing about the western preoccupation with milk and dairy products…’

I didn’t know any vegans at that stage of my life.

I adored cheese. I knew that rennet was made from the stomach lining of baby cows, so I chose to purchase a ‘vegetarian’ brand of cheese that didn’t contain rennet.  I thought baby cows were adorable, and the thought of harming one was abhorrent. Even during my time as a meat eater, I chose to abstain from eating veal. I didn’t understand carnism back then!

Dr. Barnard seemed to be saying that dairy products weren’t healthy. Really?

The interview jumped back to Barnard’s childhood in North Dakota, where he ate ‘pork chops or roast beef just about every day’. The impact of his ‘scathing’ opinion may have been lost. But, fortunately, there was more compelling ‘anti-dairy’ information to come.

Just to drive home the point, and ensure that I never regarded dairy products in the same way again, the entire last page of the interview detailed some of the health concerns of dairy products. Dr. Barnard stated: ‘I have ten main reasons why dairy food is not good for health…’ Ten! Wow. This was news to me. I re-read and reflected, trying to absorb the details.

All these years later, I still remember the initial impact that the information had on me.

By the time we reached Byron Bay, I had begun to seriously consider ditching dairy from my diet. Discovering that dairy products were not healthy allowed me to remove my blinkers. I could no longer disregard the cruelty of the dairy industry. If dairy products were not necessary for bone health…. in fact if they were actually injurious to human health, I needed to stop consuming them.


I had some familiarity with the workings of a dairy farm. As a child, I spent Christmas holidays at a dairy farm owned by my aunty and uncle (in fact, we also visited the farm during our Byron Bay holiday. That’s me cuddling my friend Charlie, the fox terrier, above).

On the farm, over the years, I learnt that the calves were removed from their mothers shortly after birth. I knew that a truck came to ‘collect’ some of the calves, and that the mothers bellowed for days. I knew that the incessant bellowing saddened my mum too. No one wanted to tell me or my sister that the calves were going to their deaths.

I had been led to believe – as all of us are – that dairy farming was necessary. I accepted that humans required cows milk for bone health. 

Now Dr. Barnard was telling me otherwise.


The trip to Byron Bay marked a significant time in my life. I was a teenager, at the dawn of my adulthood. I had finished my first year at university. I got my first (and only) tattoo that holiday!

Most significantly, the journey that began a couple of years earlier with the discovery of a book about factory farming, was now gathering momentum.

The interview also mentioned Neal Barnard’s recently released book Food For Life: How the New Four Food Groups can Save Your Life. I purchased a copy upon my return to Sydney. I read it cover to cover, enthusiastically consuming and absorbing the words. I still own the book. It sits on the same bookshelf as Diet for a New America, another truly inspirational book.

By late March 1996, I was 19 and a vegan.

I wholly embraced that part of my heart that loved and respected animals. I faced up to the fact that ocean dwelling creatures were sentient beings. I acquired the knowledge to live a healthy life, without consuming dairy products and eggs. I began reading about animal rights.

I had embraced a vegan ethic, not just a vegan diet.

This ethic shapes and influences all facets of my life today.

So, thank you Dr. Neal Barnard, from the bottom of my heart. I owe you.

I also extend my gratitude to the interviewer, Robert Fraser, for bringing the words and wisdom of Neal Barnard to my attention.

Who has inspired you on your vegan journey? I’d love to hear your stories!


In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

{A-Z:Veganism} D is for Dairy Industry

D is for…

Dairy industry.

Recently, I wrote about bobby calves. Today, I want to examine the messages that the Australian dairy industry disseminates to children, specifically primary school students.

What is the dairy industry telling school students about cows’ milk, and the lives of dairy cows and bobby calves?

To answer this question, I visited Dairy Australia’s website, Discover Dairy. Visitors to the site can explore sections aimed at students, teachers, and canteen staff. Apparently, Dairy Australia developed the section for teachers, in order to:

‘engage and educate teachers and students about the Australian dairy industry and the nutritious products it provides’.

Teachers and students are introduced to 3 ‘learning’ modules – Unbeatable Bones, Fuel for Life and Farm to Plate. Teachers are encouraged to ‘Discover Dairy with [their] students today!’.

The site includes lesson ideas and student activity sheets for primary school children covering subjects such as art, mathematics, English, and science & technology.

Fresian Cow


What is the industry telling children about the lives of cows and calves on dairy farms?

In the section aimed at students, I navigated to Games and Interactives. I imagine this is the most popular section for students. Lets face it, any self-respecting 8 year old would head straight there!

I viewed two ‘interactives’:

The Milk from Farm to Plate – What’s it all About? interactive has this to say about the ‘milk cycle’: ‘Milk is created inside the udders of dairy cows on the farm’. It then describes the pumps that ‘gently suck milk from the cow’. There is no mention of her calf.

This interactive provides the illusion that cows naturally or automatically lactate, that they need to be milked by humans. It fails to mention that cows lactate as a consequence of giving birth.

The second interactive is titled: How do Dairy Cows Make Milk?  It begins: ‘ How dairy cows make milk is really cool’. It then describes the four stomachs that cows possess – it is interesting. No doubt about that. But, I was left thinking: hang on! We (humans) are drinking the milk of a species with four stomachs?! It is truly absurd!

The interactive states: ‘Milk is stored in the udder until the cow is milked’ – as though the milk  is just waiting there in a vessel, for humans. For our convenience. It does not mention that the milk is produced for her baby. Children are not told that the cow’s baby would suckle many times throughout the day. There is definitely no mention of the fact that a cow’s udder can become painful and engorged, and that cows can suffer from mastitis. No, the milk is just filling up her udder, ready to be ‘gently’ sucked out by a machine.

Clearly, the ‘interactives’ only tell part of the story.

What about the 3 ‘learning’ modules?

I discovered a reference to calves in the module From Farm to Plate. In a section called Hand-Feeding Calves, it states:

‘After only 12 to 24 hours, calves are weaned off their mothers but are still given milk to drink. The first milk they are given comes straight from their mother and is called colostrum…The colostrum is milked into a bucket which is then transferred to a bottle with a very large teat on the end and fed to the calf’

This paragraph glosses over the severing of the maternal-calf  bond. The industry wants children to believe that life is good for a calf:

The calves soon learn to eat grass and often get to eat the best pasture on the farm to help them grow strong’.

Calves are denied a relationship with their mothers. They are fed from an artificial teat. They are only a day (or less) old. But, apparently, children should not be concerned, because the calves are compensated for this loss by having access to ‘the best pasture’.

There is no mention of male calves, shipped to specialist calf-rearing properties or slaughterhouses. The information gives the impression that calves have an idyllic life in a lush green paddock. Rather, a female calf will ‘grow up’ to be a dairy cow herself, and endure repeated pregnancies and loss of offspring.

peek a moo


In another location, I read this:

‘Male calves become bulls and are often sold’. 

The key phrase is ‘often sold’. Sold to whom? For what purpose? The use of ‘often sold’ implies that some are not sold. What happens to them? Dairy Australia asserts that bobby calves are the foundation of their industry, so why aren’t they telling children the truth about them?

In reality, bobby calves are not given high priority by the industry. A bobby calf’s only ‘use’ is his ability to initiate his mother’s lactation.

At 5 days old, calves can be transported, and the industry standard permits the withholding of milk from calves for up to 30 hours before they are slaughtered. They certainly aren’t sharing that information with children.

The module From Farm to Plate includes a section titled ‘How cows make milk’. Here, calves are mentioned in connection with milk production:

A cow only starts to produce milk once her first calf is born.’

The module states that:   

‘Most cows give about 25 litres of milk a day.’

The use of the term ‘give’ implies that cows are willing participants in their enslavement. Obviously, the milk is ‘taken’ or ‘stolen’. This misuse of language disguises the reality of dairy cows’ lives.

Under the heading ‘Milking Time‘, I was disturbed to read the following :

‘Milking time is an enjoyable experience for the cows for many reasons. Sometimes the farmer plays soothing music in the background to relax the cows. It is important that cows are kept happy because they need to be relaxed to produce their milk’ .

A ‘happy’ cow. (Source: Discover Dairy)

I wonder what style of music ‘keeps’ cows happy, and compensates for the loss of a baby? Mozart? Moby? Muse? Despite the assertion that there are ‘many reasons’ that milking time is ‘enjoyable’, no further information of this nature is provided. Perhaps they’ll start telling children that the gentle sucking of the machines is quite relaxing, and preferable to the constant suckling of a baby.

What is the industry telling children about dairy products?

Children are told that dairy is ‘fuel for life‘, and that they require 3 serves a day.

(Fuel for life? That is actually true. A cow’s milk is fuel for her calf; nourishment that is biologically designed to promote bovine life).

Children are encouraged to:

‘speak to [their] teacher or principal about adopting a healthy canteen policy that includes plenty of milk, cheese and yogurt on the menu’. 

Children are directed to ‘lead by example’ so that their friends will be:

‘slurping yogurt, slicing cheese, and sipping milk right along with you before you know it…Keep up the yummy fun!’

‘Yummy fun’ (Source: Discover Dairy)

I was surprised to read the following in a curriculum guide for the Picasso Cows program:

‘New research has found milk is a more effective drink than water to rehydrate active kids’.

A footnote is provided in the curriculum guide.* I imagine that this finding would be regarded as a boon to the industry. Time constraints prevent me from following up on the ‘new research’ at this stage. However, I find it difficult to believe that the lactation fluids of a mammal with 4 stomachs can provide ‘more effective’ rehydration of ‘active’ human children than water. Water is fuel for life!

So, why am I concerned about the information that the Discover Dairy web site promotes to teachers and students? 

Firstly, lets examine the stated role of Dairy Australia:

‘Our role is to help farmers adapt to a changing operating environment, and achieve a profitable, sustainable dairy industry’.

Secondly, lets look at the language that the industry uses about primary schools and school children.

In a curriculum guide for a national project called The Great Wall of Dairy, it states:

‘Primary schools provide an ideal channel to reach a large number of children aged 5–12 years’.

A captive audience!

 ‘Children are also developing their long term food consumption behaviours at this age so it is important to build healthy, positive eating habits while they are young’.

And who better to ‘educate’ them about positive eating habits than Dairy Australia?!

And this:

‘Educating children about nutrition and where their food comes from is important to establish positive attitudes and perceptions about the industry and the products it produces which they can carry into adulthood’. 

Clearly, children in classrooms are fair game for an industry seeking to advertise its products and ensnare lifelong consumers of dairy products.  Naturally, the establishment of ‘positive attitudes and perceptions about the industry’ would be hindered if young children were provided with factual information about bobby calves, rather than misinformation. A young child who has been unwittingly separated from her parents (such as losing sight of them in a shopping centre) would be able to identify with the fear and panic of a calf who has been separated from his mother.

I am opposed to school teachers being used as conduits to promote dairy products to students in their classrooms. I would not be impressed if my children were learning about calcium and nutrition from Dairy Australia.

Source: Discover Dairy

As mentioned above, Dairy Australia’s stated role is to achieve a ‘profitable’ industry. They do not develop learning modules, free classroom resources and national curriculum programs because they care about the health of Australia’s children. The industry is not interested in educating children about nutrition. The industry is interested in ‘educating’ children about dairy products. They are interested in maximising their profits. These programs, modules and resources are part of a marketing strategy.

Nutrition education in schools should not be driven by industries with vested interests.

Dairy: ‘A unique combination of bone-building nutrients’. (Source: Discover Dairy)

It’s unlikely that parents would give consent for their children to view television advertisements (during class time) that are designed solely to establish positive ‘perceptions about [an] industry and the products it produces which [their children] can carry into adulthood’.

So, why should we tolerate this covert form of advertising being conducted under the guise of ‘education’?


*Footnote cited by Dairy Australia – Volterman K et al. Children and Exercise XXVII: The Proceedings of the XXVIIth International Symposium of the
European Group of Paediatric Work Physiology 2011; Chapter 13: 101–105

In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!


{A-Z:Veganism} B is for Bobby Calf

B is for…

Bobby calf.


Last Spring, at a children’s ‘story time’ session at our local library, the librarian excitedly informed the pre-school aged children that a special guest would be arriving soon. 

Within minutes, I heard squeals of delight and surprise from the children –I saw a calf. Her brown eyes were wide with what I could only interpret as fear, as she was half dragged, half carried into the room by another librarian. A strong stench enveloped the room as the calf lost control of her bowels. She was placed on a rug at the front of the room, in clear view of everyone.

I could not stop staring at her – how could anyone have thought this was a good idea?  The parents smiled and pointed, and the children wiggled about and gazed excitedly at the calf.  We sang songs (‘cows in the kitchen, moo, moo, mooooo’) and listened to stories that featured cows. I could hear a woman repeatedly saying to her children: ‘Look at the moo!’ (‘She’s a calf’, I wanted to yell).

I couldn’t wait for the session to end. The calf looked so miserable. She was only 5 weeks old. In a world kinder than ours, she would have been suckling from her mother. I wanted to stand up and shout ‘look at her beautiful eyes, look how peaceful she is – please stop eating cows!’ But I didn’t, of course. I looked around the room, seeking to make eye contact with another parent. Is there another vegan here? Does anyone else feel empathy for the calf?

The ’story time’ calf highlights the gap between the admiration that humans feel for the ‘cuteness’ of a calf and the ability to feel true empathy for her and her kin. No doubt, some of the children and parents that patted the calf’s soft head and commented on her beauty went home to a cheese sandwich for lunch, or perhaps a veal cutlet for dinner – and did not think twice about it.

That is exactly how the dairy industry wants it.

What is a bobby calf?

According to Dairy Australia, a bobby calf is:

  • aged less than 30 days old,
  • usually a dairy breed or cross, and
  • destined for sale or slaughter.

The ‘story time’ calf wasn’t a bobby calf – she was approximately 35 days old.  I don’t know where she lived or where she was destined. I didn’t ask because I was afraid that the answer would upset me. But I do know that she wasn’t with her mother. According to my world view, baby mammals should be with their mothers.

During pregnancy, a cow’s body nourishes her unborn offspring. At the birth of her baby, her body responds as nature intends – she produces colostrum and, later, milk to nourish her newborn.

On a dairy farm, humans remove (steal) the baby from her mother shortly after birth, severing the maternal – child bond forever.

She is not permitted to nurture the baby that grew within her body. Her body, her baby and her milk do not belong to her. She will never see her baby again. Worse, this loss will happen multiple times during her life on a dairy farm.

She does not choose this. She does not willingly give up her baby.


On its web site, Dairy Australia states: ‘Calves are the foundation of our industry and enable us to continue providing you with safe, high-quality, nutritious milk and dairy foods’ (my emphasis).  There is no doubt that the industry is entirely dependent on calves – cows do not lactate unless they are pregnant with, or have given birth to, a calf. Simply, the industry would not exist without calves.

So, what does the industry say about the removal of calves from their mothers?

A section on Managing Calf Welfare states: ‘ Calf welfare is improved by removing it [sic] from the cow within 12 hours of birth….’ Also, sadly, this: ‘Research suggests that separating cow and calf as early as possible reduces the stress on both as there will be minimal bonding between them’ (my emphasis). This statement would be ludicrous if it were not so callous.

I assert that within twelve hours of the births of my babies, I loved them with every fibre of my being. My body was physiologically primed to nurture them, and my heart was bursting with love and adoration. I am a mammal. Cows are mammals. It is not difficult to envisage that cows experience love and affection for their babies too.

In her book Domestic Animal Behaviour, Katherine A. Houpt discusses cow-calf bonding.  She states: ‘Contact between the cow and her calf for as brief a period as five minutes postpartum results in the formation of a strong, specific maternal bond. Cows groom their calves during the early postpartum period…Licking the calf occupies up to half the cow’s time during the first hour postpartum’ (my emphasis).

It is apparent that mother-calf bonding happens very soon after birth, within minutes (rather than hours). Clearly, the industry’s assertion that only ‘minimal bonding’ occurs within the early hours of a calf’s birth, is inaccurate.

Theoretically, there are two ways of looking at the relationship between cows and their calves. Which do you think is most likely?

1. Cows feel no connection to their babies; they have no desire to nurture their offspring, and they have no compulsion to nourish their babies with milk.

2. Cows have a deep bond with their offspring, one that resembles the bond that human parents have for their offspring. When that bond is severed, they grieve and experience distress.

Cows are not inanimate objects.  Their behaviour and actions suggest that they do have affection for their offspring.

Holly Cheever, Veterinarian, shares a remarkable tale of a dairy cow that actively hid her newborn calf to prevent a farmer from removing him from her care. Sadly, despite the pleas of Cheever and the tenacity of the mother cow, the farmer removed the calf. He was destined for a veal crate.

If we accept that a cow has a ‘strong, specific maternal bond’ with her calf, how on earth do we justify severing their relationship? Is a glass of milk worth that much?


In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!


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