And cheese comes from cows? Peanuts from a peanut facility? Crazy

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A few days ago, I was flying home from Washington D.C., having spent two days in a long meeting of questionable productivity.

(As an aside, if you ever want to be convinced of the greatness of this country, just go to D.C. for a couple days. You will return home in awe at the productivity and prosperity of this nation despite having to drag Washington along.)

Anyhow, I was sitting in my economy seat in a low fare carrier who happens to still provide a free beverage and a 12-gram (0.423 ounce) bag of peanuts. That’s 17 peanuts, in case you are wondering. Having nothing else to do but to read what was written on the tiny package of peanuts, I suddenly read something that I would have never suspected: WARNING: Produced in a facility that processes peanuts.

Who are we talking to?

The warning on the bag of peanuts was capping an awful day of unsuccessful attempts at understanding mankind. A few hours earlier, I had been sitting next to a young lady at an airport restaurant when, in an uncommon moment of social friendliness, I tried to engage in a conversation with her.

I quickly learned that she was studying anthropology at the University of Maryland (which should have been a big hint), that my double meat sandwich was disgusting (for a moment, I thought that this was because of the dripping mustard), and that she refuses to consume any animal product — this, while she was eating a large piece of veggie pizza. I pointed out that she obviously was making exceptions to her voluntary ban on all animal products, as the cheese that was nicely dripping from the pizza was produced using milk that originated from dairy cows.

She stood up in apparent surprise, shouted that I was making this up just to gross her out, that I had succeeded in ruining her lunch, and then walked away from the counter, leaving behind half of an unfinished pizza that I would gladly have eaten had it been adorned with some pepperoni and sausage.

I was left pondering how one is supposed to communicate with someone who thinks that cheese comes from … a facility that processes vegan cheese?

The opposition

On many occasions during my career, I have had to defend animal agriculture and the science that supports it. In return, I have received email messages reminding me that my house could easily burn down (it could), that they would see that I be fired from the university (they haven’t succeeded yet), and that I was a Nazi killer (“a chicken is a dog, is a baby”, as I recall the line of logic).

Caring for my house, I tried to find out who was my opposition in an unsuccessful attempt at understanding their arguments. I came up with disturbing statements, some of which I can report here.

The animal rapist

Search the Internet and you will find that “to keep producing milk, cows are forcibly impregnated through artificial insemination.” This statement ignores a few fundamental aspects as to why artificial insemination (AI) is used on most dairy farms.

First, AI allows outstanding bulls to have a large progeny, a process (selection) that has led to the immense genetic gains made by the dairy industry in the last 75 years or so. Second, this has removed most bulls from dairy farms, hence making the handling of animals on dairy farm far safer. Lastly, “natural” cows were designed to have a calf just about every year; AI has nothing to do with the desire to achieve yearly calving.

The torture instruments

A few more Internet clicks and you find that “The mother cow will be hooked up several times a day to machines that take away the milk intended for her calf.”

It doesn’t matter that the cows behaviorally appear quite content when being milked; that milking induces a large release of oxytocin in cows — a hormone associated with sublime relaxation in the absence of stress; and that modern cows produce 10 times more milk than what their calves requires.

Silly humans

Another site points out that “Humans are the only animals that continue to drink milk after being weaned, and moreover from another animal.”

This is true, but we are also the only animals to cook our food, to use utensils, and to drink soda — and make beer, watch football, send our progeny to school, and hit tiny white balls along grassy fairways. There are many, many things that only humans do, and most are indicative of where we stand on the evolutionary ladder.

Choosing the audience

What I have concluded is something that perhaps is quite evident to many of you. Among those who oppose what we do and the technology used in modern agriculture, there are the many who are simply misinformed or ignorant, and the few who often are not entirely without malice and who share few common values with the rest of us. Trying to engage with the latter group has proven to be entirely unsuccessful to yours truly.

Our opportunity is in communicating with the former, the Whole Foods addicts, those who have mistakenly been convinced by the food elite that there is something poisonous in the conventional, pasteurized milk at the grocery store. And in the process, one may have to explain that cheese is made from milk.

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