This essay is the fourth chapter of Why We Should Go Vegan.
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.
First, there are the reasons directly related to human life and health that were reviewed in previous chapters: Intake of eggs is strongly linked to increased all-cause mortality risk and diabetes. Dairy intake is linked to increased 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.
Thus, we have already seen compelling reasons not to support the egg and dairy industries purely for the benefit of human beings. Yet this is far from the full story, since the “production” of dairy and eggs obviously also involves non-human beings. And when we look at the reality of the egg and dairy industries, it becomes obvious that we also have strong reasons not to support these industries for the sake of the chickens and cows who are harmed by these industries.
First of all, it is a common misconception that dairy and egg “production” does not involve killing any non-human animals. The cows exploited by the dairy industry and the chickens exploited by the egg industry all end up hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse alongside the cows and chickens who were raised for their meat, and when buying eggs and dairy, we do 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 the egg industry, males are seen as trash, and they are sadly treated as such. Male chicks are killed shortly after they have hatched, a process euphemistically referred to as “chick culling”, which usually happens by throwing them into a grinding machine while alive (not for the faint-hearted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_u0jxi_v-w). This practice of killing male chicks is standard in the egg industry — including the part of it that provides eggs labeled “free-range”, “organic” and “humane.” Similarly, in the dairy industry, since newborn male calves will never give milk, they are taken away from their mothers shortly after they are born, usually to be killed as young calves and sold as “veal”. Again, this is the standard procedure no matter the labeling.
Yet death is not the only sad and horrible aspect of the egg and dairy industry, because so is life itself for the non-human victims. Hens are are therefore commonly “force molted” — i.e. completely starved in up to two weeks in order to provoke them into a new laying cycle — and they are typically killed after about 18 months when they are considered “worn out”.
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 exploited for their milk are made pregnant throughout their entire lives, usually through artificial 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 birthing of her calf who is taken away from her and killed shortly after. So not only do the egg and dairy industry involve an extreme amount of death, they also involve lives full of unimaginable — yet completely unnecessary — pain and suffering.
Lastly, just like we have strong reasons to abstain from eating meat because it reinforces a morally defunct view of non-human beings, so too do we have strong reasons to abstain from eating eggs and dairy. It reinforces the view that chickens and cows — and non-human animals in general — are mere resources whom we can take from and exploit for our 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 that we stop reinforcing that view.