Holy Cow

That was fast. Not one, but TWO complaints that I referenced veal on a blog ostensibly devoted to pastry. I guess I’m not surprised (though I am shocked at the speed of the responses), since I’ve noticed that several vegetarian blogs link to me (big dessert hounds, those vegetarians). Here’s an excerpt of one that captures the gist of both:

I’m saddened and disappointed that you would promote the consumption of veal, which has nothing whatsoever to do with pastry, and is the cruelest practice of an immoral industry. I[n] future I suggest you stick to the stated purpose of your blog. As for me, you have lost a longtime reader.

Well, that’s a pity. And while the last thing I want to do today (or any other day) is get into a debate about the ethics of meat eating or veal production, I have to politely disagree that pastry and veal have nothing to do with one another. In fact the two are intimately related. Not many people realize this (except maybe vegans) but there would be no pastry in a world without veal.

Why? Because veal calves are the male offspring of dairy cows. They’re the inevitable result of the practice of dairying, since cows don’t produce milk unless they have at least one calf first. Female dairy calves grow up to be more dairy cows, but male calves don’t. And because they’re members of a breed raised for milk and not meat, they aren’t good for anything (cruel as it may sound to say). So they’re slaughtered early as veal.

That’s what veal is, and there’s really no getting around it unless we’re going to genetically engineer dairy herds so they only produce female offspring (a whole different can of worms). I personally don’t like the way veal calves are treated, and think we can do a lot better on that front. But in for a penny, in for a pound as they say. The same food production system that gives us butter for Danishes gives us veal. It’s pretty much always been that way, and probably always will.

Now on to cheerier topics.

THIS EXCELLENT UPDATE, from reader Amanda:

Even if we only produced female calves, there would be veal. You see, some calves are vealed because they break a leg. Female calves are often vealed because a dairy usually runs at about 100% capacity. You can’t double your herd every year, you don’t slaugter your adults every year to make room for the new girls. There isn’t a heck of a big market for dairy calves. The highest and best use for the animals is veal.

MORE GOOD COMMENTARY frmo Chef Tim, a regular contributor:

Amanda has it right. Your other (former) reader is sadly blinded by his/her values. And you too have it right, our very consumption of dairy products condemns calves. Veal itself is not evil. The vast majority of veal/meat is treated ethically in its albeit short lifetime (as much as one can when you know it will be killed for your survival). Yes, we get the occasional idiot that likes to kick around a few turkeys for fun. Animal husbandry for consumption is not a happy thing for any animal overall, especially in concentrated animal feeding operations where the biggest dilemma is what to do with all the feces that run off into water sources. Instead of treating it like a dairy “by product” I believe we should consume even more veal. It is a much more efficient source of meat than beef. Pound for pound, it takes fewer resources to get veal to market that a 1000 lb steer.

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