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The Onion Fails To Peel Back The Suffering Caused By Milk

Rated: C

Article Review:

"The Onion Fails To Peel Back The Suffering Caused By Milk"

The Onion  -  Jan 29, 2015


The Onion, a newspaper that publishes all the satire that’s fit to print, recently ran a hilarious piece about Pepperidge Farm’s famous “Milano” cookies. The story, “Pepperidge Factory Farm Under Fire For Inhumane Treatment Of Milanos” shows cookies crammed in cage-like baskets — a clever mockery of all those horrible factory farm images with animals jammed into impossibly tight spaces.

The story laments “the cramped and unsanitary conditions” afflicting the Milanos. It quotes an “outspoken snack advocate” saying, “What’s most tragic is that many of these weak and vulnerable Milanos are so poorly handled and mistreated that they suffer extensive crumbling and even fractures in their biscuit shells, exposing their delicate chocolate and orange-flavored fillings to the elements.”

Hehehe. Good stuff.

But the conceit skirts an irony that even satire shouldn’t ignore. Cookies may not suffer, but the cows producing the milk used in the production of Milanos suffer terribly — and the media rarely notes it.

“Many of us assume that milk is as innocuous a product as an apple,” writes Sherry Colb, Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University School of Law. “We have absorbed this message repeatedly from a very early age.”

A cookie involving suffering? Not so absurd a notion, when you look at how cow’s milk is produced for human consumption.

It starts with a heifer’s forced impregnation. Female cows are strapped to a rack (common slang sometimes refers to the device as a “rape rack”) and inseminated with semen stored in a massive syringe. There are 9 million dairy cows in the US.  Nearly every one of them suffers immensely from the results of this experience. (As this description suggests, the process itself is brutal.)

Left to her own devices after giving birth, a mother cow would feed her calf for nine to twelve months (not to mention play with her calf, teach her calf, protect her calf, and nuzzle her calf). But because the cow’s milk has been reserved for human consumption, the calf is forcibly removed from the mother soon (and sometimes immediately) after birth.

Mother cows have highly developed emotions. They will bellow for days, pace the spot where they gave birth, and stop eating. Then they’ll produce a season’s worth of milk and, once again, be forcibly impregnated.

The mother’s offspring, depending on sex, will face one of two fates. Male dairy calves become “veal calves.” Some of them are slaughtered while only a few days old, others within a few months-–it all depends on the kind of meat desired by the market. Because of this connection, boycotting veal is a pointless gesture if dairy products aren’t boycotted as well. The female dairy calves, for their part, follow in their mothers’ footsteps. They’re fattened and prepared for impregnation at the age of fourteen months.

The normal lifespan of a female cow is around 20 years old. The typical dairy cow, who goes through several rounds of forced impregnations, experiences a drop in milk production after five years. Dairy farmers cannot survive financially unless heifers are producing milk at maximum capacity. As a result, dairy cows not only routinely develop mastitis, but they enter the gates of the abattoir somewhere between the ages of 5-7. The vast majority of the nation’s cheap hamburger meat comes from the bodies of these “spent” dairy cows.

The cycle described here has nothing to do with the scale of operation. It happens on family farms and on factory farms. It’s endemic to the project of forcing one species to produce milk for another. It’s a reality that escapes milk carton narratives and Got Milk billboards. And it’s a reality that’s central to the mass production of Milanos.

And that’s not so funny.


11 Comments on The Onion Fails To Peel Back The Suffering Caused By Milk

  1. It seems the majority of people are completely ignorant to what goes on in the dairy industry, when in fact, its savagery and cruelty is just as bad as slaughter houses (which most are ignorant too as well). I think it’s also important to remind people that not only are calves taken from their mothers to be killed for veal and leather, but for their stomachs, too. Rennet, the lining of their stomach is harvested in order to make many types of cheeses. It floors me that so may vegetarians don’t even know this, or even care.

  2. Kathryn Casey // February 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm // Reply

    Thank you for that.

  3. I would add that The Onion piece falls long short of “amusing,” parodying as it does reports that expose the real suffering of real, sentient beings.

  4. It is truly disgusting to read about how cows are artificially inseminated. I don’t think the “rape rack” term is a stretch at all although I’m sure many people rationalize that “rape” is not a term that can be applied to animals–(as they also argue “murder” cannot be applied to animals as well.) I have heard that a similar process is used to breed race horses too. I think it is a form of bestality and I also wonder how is the sperm retrieved from the bulls–do they have to “jack off ” the bulls? I have read that turkey Tom’s are jacked off by people in the turkey industry so they can artificially inseminate female turkeys. This whole industry is very perverse and I can’t help but wonder if some of these humans “get off” on penetrating female animals in this way and getting sperm form the males. Sorry if I am grossing anyone out but really, this business is quite pathological.

  5. James, I rarely disagree with you, but I disagree with your C grade on this one. I applaud The Onion for this piece, and I would give them an A.

    You and I agree that factory farms are horrible. But what is the best way to communicate that message to the general public? The typical approach isn’t working very well. People aren’t getting the message because they don’t want to hear it. There is an old saying that a window opens when a man laughs, a window through which you can insert an idea. A parody like this in The Onion is a way to insert the idea that factory farming is morally wrong.

    As for your complaint that Milanos are made from the milk of dairy cows…the inhumane treatment of dairy cows is exactly what this parody is trying to address. You seem to resent The Onion for approaching it in such an oblique way. I commend them for it.

  6. Disagree with Dave. Most people either have no idea what dairy cows go through or ignore the facts surrounding the extraction of milk, so the Onion’s satire doesn’t go far enough. I agree that humor is a good way to educate people about animal issues, but this piece, while funny dances around the real issue. Unless you are a person who can extrapolate from the milano piece you are going to fail to “get it.” Unfortunately, I think most people will miss the real points that James stated.

  7. I think we all need to stop taking ourselves so seriously all the time. That is what The Onion is so helpfully pointing out to us and everyone who hears us. I hold some pretty strident opinions about farm animals and I never feel a need to validate those with facts because it is how I feel, not what I actually have experienced. But when a few spokespeople for our cause drive the argument out to extremes we should thank The Onion for yanking us back away from the lunatic fringe. When we can’t laugh at ourselves we aren’t taken seriously. It makes us look too fanatic, too obsessive. And that’s a dangerous position when our concerns are mostly emotional because we have no convenient anchor in reality to tether ourselves to. The Onion does us a huge favor with a clever and gentle satire. Maybe we should take the hint.

  8. What family farm is in a postiion to purchase quota? Dumb idea. Are we not as usual in a milk deficit postiion? Better management practices may be appropriate for farmers but first they need to be solvent. A fair share of the milk dollar has to go to them now.

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