In this post I would like to briefly answer the specific question: Why not just be vegetarian? Why should we not eat eggs or dairy? The answer is, most basically, that doing so causes immense amounts of suffering. In many ways.
First of all, eating eggs and dairy have negative consequences that are directly related to human life and health: intake of eggs is strongly linked to increased all-cause mortality risk and diabetes, dairy intake is linked to higher breast cancer mortality and prostate cancer, and exploiting billions of hens and millions of cows significantly increases the risk of zoonotic diseases, including mass killing pandemics, which may be one of the dangers most likely to pose a so-called existential risk (for elaboration on the human costs of our exploitation of non-human animals, see the second chapter of ‘Why We Should Go Vegan’).
So there are compelling reasons to stop raising and exploiting non-human animals and to stop consuming dairy and eggs for the sake of human beings. Yet this is far from the full story since the “production” of dairy and eggs obviously also involves non-human animals, and we also have an obligation to them to stop exploiting them. When we look at the reality of the egg and dairy industry, or when we just think about what eating dairy and eggs actually amounts to, it becomes obvious that the idea that it is somehow virtuous and respectful to non-human animals to be vegetarian – to “merely” consume eggs and dairy – hardly could be more wrong.
First of all, it is a common misconception that dairy and egg “production” does not involve killing any non-human animals. All cows exploited by the dairy industry and all chickens exploited by the egg industry end up hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse alongside the cows and chickens who were raised for their flesh, and by buying eggs and dairy one does inevitably support this end too: the needless death of the being who had her eggs or milk stolen from her throughout her life.
This is not the only death in the egg and dairy industry, however. In both the dairy and egg industry, males are seen as trash, and as a result, they are treated exactly as such. Male chicks are killed shortly after they have hatched, a process euphemistically referred to as 'chick culling', which usually either happens by throwing them into a grinding machine while alive (not for the faint-hearted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ—faib7to), by breaking their necks or by suffocating them with gas. These practices of killing male chicks are standard in the entire egg industry – including the part of it that provides eggs labeled “free-range”, “organic” and “humane.” Similarly, in the dairy industry, newborn male calves will never give milk, and they are therefore taken away from their mothers shortly after they are born, and they are then killed as young calves in order to be cut into parts and sold as “veal.” Again, this is the standard procedure no matter the labeling. So nothing could be more wrong than to claim that our eating eggs and dairy does not involve death.
Death is not the only sad and horrible aspect of the egg and dairy industry, however, because so is life itself for the non-human victims. Hens are not magic egg-laying machines, and they are therefore commonly, whether “free-range” or not, “force molted” – that is, completely starved in up to two weeks which provokes them into a new laying cycle – and they are then killed after about 18 months when they are considered “worn out”. A short and brutish life indeed.
Similarly, cows are not magic milk-providers; they, like humans and most other mammals, must have been pregnant in order to lactate. For this reason, cows are made pregnant throughout their entire lives, usually through insemination, which involves “[…] a person inserting his arm far into the cow’s rectum in order to position the uterus, and then forcing an instrument into her vagina.” This is the life of the dairy cow: a perpetual cycle of painful insemination, pregnancy, and then giving birth to her calf who is taken away from her shortly after. So not only do the egg and dairy industries involve an extreme amount of death, they also involve lives full of unimaginable, yet completely unnecessary, pain and suffering.
It is not merely buying eggs and dairy that we should abstain from, however; we should stop consuming it altogether. Just like we should abstain from eating flesh because it reinforces a morally defunct view of non-human animals, so too should we abstain from eating eggs and dairy. It reinforces the view that chickens and cows – and non-human animals in general – are beings, or rather resources, whom we can take from and exploit for our mere pleasure and convenience. It makes us blind and indifferent to their suffering, so indifferent that we cannot be moved to act even when we see the greatest of atrocities committed against them, such as mass killings of newly hatched chicks. It all comes back to our flawed view of non-human animals: a cold and apathetic view that inevitably leads us to inflict immense amounts of suffering upon them. It is about time we stop reinforcing that view. It is about time we transcend it completely.
This post is a modified version of the fourth chapter of ‘Why We Should Go Vegan’.