How does it feel?

The sideshow continues: Coles claiming farmers are lucky to see milk sacrificed, animal activists making uninformed allegations of cruelty, vegans banging on about growth hormones (which are illegal here anyway).

Sitting in the stifling heat of the office and reading it all in one hit on one page tortured with anger, confusion and deceit, it is as if the world is against you.

So, with the kids asleep and only the crickets to keep you company, you step outside to fill your lungs with fresh, cool twilight air. And it feels like the world is yours.

My reality

My reality

No wonder so few farmers have an appetite to take their dairy lives beyond the farm gate.

Could you be suffering from cow envy?


The ethics of food is so complex. Vegans following a conscientious diet are told they are inadvertently starving Peruvians, causing deforestation and even eating with blood on their vegetarian hands. It’s not easy being green and I don’t blame vegans for being so passionate about their choice.

Life on farm is a microcosm of those ethical dilemmas. Every day, we must make decisions that impact on the well-being of an animal. Often, there is no easy answer. Should we euthanase that cow now or wait although she’s in discomfort in the hope she recovers? Should we raise that calf away from her mother or risk deadly disease transmission? And the big one: should I send heifers to China if milking just won’t pay the bills?

If nothing else, it forces you to stare hard in the mirror and here’s what I see: yes, I am a commercial dairy farmer and, hell yes, I care about our animals and our land.

Although this is something vegans on Twitter seem to find inconceivable, in my experience, this mindset is not only possible but typical of dairy farmers. It’s what keeps us on the land for generations and I am incredibly grateful to be here. My farm may not be a “cow sanctuary” as one vegan put it but I’m doing my best to make sure the cows never realise.

(Special note to my vegan friends: I realise what a privilege this is and wouldn’t blame you for some serious cow envy!)

Why Australians become vegans and why it matters to this farmer

According to 2010 Newspoll research sponsored by Voiceless, only 1% of Australians call themselves vegans, with vegetarians accounting for another 5%, but the reasons why people consider veganism reveal some very interesting things about our attitudes towards food.

Overall, 56% of Australians say there are one or more things that would encourage them to become vegan. These are:
• evidence that many farming practices cause stress and pain for millions of animals every year (36%)
• evidence they can be healthy on a vegan diet (35%)
• evidence that being vegan is better for the environment (31%)
• more vegan menu items in cafes or restaurants (25%)
• being vegan costing less than their current lifestyle (23%)
• family or friends that are vegan (20%)
• more vegans in general (17%)

The research also found that “47% of Australians think making cows pregnant every year and taking their calves from them to obtain milk is unacceptable”.

Veganism is the canary of the disconnect between farmers and other Australians. Those who choose to avoid eating the food we produce on the grounds of morality are telling us we are falling short. Some will have made their minds up but most Australians are quite receptive to the true story.

The good news is I don’t think there is a large gap between mainstream dairying practices and what most Australians perceive as “ethical” farming. I do think we can bridge it if we find a way to work with others who share our passion for animals. We must also learn to talk about it with confidence and pride.

Charlie Arnot of the US Center for Food Integrity wrote an excellent post on just this topic today, which includes this comment:

For far too long, many in this discussion have resorted to attacking those who don’t share their beliefs – an “us vs. them” mentality that limits the opportunity for meaningful discussion about complex food issues. This polarizing debate is unfortunate and unproductive. What would be far more beneficial is an informed discussion of food system issues that will allow us to meet the growing global demand for food, while decreasing our impact on the environment and assuring responsible farming.

Just as a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is a sound strategy for good nutrition, a balanced discussion of the complex issues related to food is a sound strategy for making good decisions on food policy.

I learned a great deal from agricultural leaders in Australia and I look forward to learning more. The open exchange of ideas makes everyone better. I pledge to use that same approach to other issues in the coming year. The next time someone raises a concern about today’s food system I’m going to welcome the question, encourage a discussion and learn more about the issue. I’m going to reject the appeal of culinary colonialism and work to assure we all have the opportunity to make informed choices about our food.

Hear, hear, Charlie!