#2 When the Red Paints Peels

In studying some of the most influential leaders from across the world, an important commonality appears in the depth of their understanding of the issues they represent. Not only is their comprehension of the issues’ direct impact on their lives great, but also their ability to empathize with all stakeholders that might be influenced by the lapse in social justice. For example, throughout his life, Martin Luther King Jr. directly experienced atrocities of racial discrimination, which enabled him to articulate social inequalities in a way that represented every African Americans’ experience across the country.

Acquiring this incredibly powerful ability through anything but direct experience is extremely difficult, but seems to be rooted in full understanding of the issue being researched, which can be worked towards through listening to other people’s experiences and opinions. Last year I spoke with Barre Londoree, the Vermont director of the Humane Society of the United States, whom spoke to the urgency that we should express in finding solutions to animal cruelty in the state, “I think that [animal cruelty] is a very big issue in terms of what people care about. A lot of what takes place in an agricultural setting is completely hidden from the public.” As someone who is devoting his life to advocacy for Vermont animals, Barre Londeree explains that Animal Cruelty is a very prominent and current issue in a state that has carefully hidden the problem behind the bright red color of a closed barn door. 

These opinions are shared with Sarah Nilsen, a professor at the University of Vermont, who passionately believes that animal cruelty is one of the biggest concerns facing Vermont right now. The farming industry in Vermont consist of many smaller farms, which have the potential to lack proper inspection, and is harder to document, Sarah explains, which creates even more concern surrounding the treatment of animals. Sarah also entails that the greater the dairy industry, the greater amount of veal, which is a situation I’ve encountered first hand being a participant in the 4-H club at Shelburne Farms. Upon further research, approximately 55,000 bulls are born each year in the dairy industry. The production of veal is a brutal process, and knowing that Vermont is one of the top three producers of veal in the country, the desire to begin promoting a change to the inhumane procedure is amplified even more.

In peeling away the facade that has been painted over the veal and dairy industry in Vermont, it has become apparent that the issue of farm animal cruelty in Vermont fuels such controversy that discussion is forced to occur, whether it is coated with denial and resentment, or honesty. In reading my blog post to this same prompt from last year, I quickly found that I enjoyed writing about the ignorance and naiveté that surrounded this topic, when I had yet to address the areas that I lacked understanding. As I have become more well versed with this subject, one vital thing remains true throughout my arguement, denial is dangerous in the hands of someone who is ignorant. Human beings naturally empathize with other beings, so the ability to be despondent to an issue, or to go even further and refuse to admit its occurrence, along with your involvement in the issue is enabled by lack of experience. Is much easier to contribute to an extremely harmful and painful industry, when you don’t fully understand the extent of that participation.

This consideration directly correlates with my third conversation. Georgia Jeffers and her children grew up in a generation where farms were even more abundant than now, and towns were more rural. Georgia believes that animal cruelty is and has been a social concern that has continued to affect farm animals for too long.  Unwillingness to be exposed to something as disgusting as animal cruelty is going to be one of the hardest challenges I face, Georgia explains, but she also believes that it is the primary solution to the abuse of animals. During this discussion, I realized that the dairy industry is a very historical part of the Vermont economy, meaning that the veal industry must of also been a prominent for many years. Knowing that Georgia, and her generation, is very knowledgable about the dairy industry, along with its relationship with the veal industry, it makes my wonder where and when the dairy industry found the opportunity to begin hiding its connection with the veal industry, and begin creating a reputation that is so well regarded in this country.  Georgia’s understanding of the veal and dairy industry is a stark contrast to the conversations that I have had with people of younger generations, and whether it is due to her geographical connection to the dairy industry, or other factors, I am excited to research history’s impact on the veal industry these next few months.

By the end of these discussions, the thing that I learned about red paint is that it might be an effective facade when it is fresh, but at some point the carefully applied layers are going to begin to fade and peel, and I’m excited to see what happens when what is inside is exposed.


Lena Ashooh

4 Responses to “#2 When the Red Paints Peels

  • Tom McKenna
    6 years ago

    Dear Lena,
    Greetings from Juneau, Alaska. Tim O’Leary pointed me in the direction of your WtS blog and asked me if I would be a thinking partner / blog responder with you this year. I’m happy to do so, if you’re game for some dialogue.

    I’ve enjoyed reading that you’re going to do a second year considering the veal industry in Vermont, and its relationship to the dairy industry and animal cruelty. You mentioned you were going to try to include more positive perspective on the issue — or at least bring that to light– in your first post. I’d love to know more about your intentions there. As someone who comes from a state that has some very rural demographics, I’m always striving to see policy decisions from the perspective of rural folks who may not have a lot of economic choices, or who may be steeped in traditions that differ quite a bit from those in suburban or urban settings.

    Would you tell me a bit about how veal works in Vermont, in relation to the dairy industry? I know veal is young cows, but I don’t know much at all beyond that.

    Kind thanks, and looking forward to corresponding.

    A bit about me, just so you know who is on the other end of this communication. I’m an elementary school principal at a school in Juneau, Alaska where my kids (10th and 12th grade now) went to elementary school and where I taught for many years. I’m originally from Harwich, Massachusetts. I did go to undergrad at Middlebury, and grad school at Bread Loaf, but I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t learn much at all about local farming.

    Looking forward to learning with you!

  • Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your comment! I would love to correspond with you, it’s so cool to hear from a mentor from out of the state!

    Sorry about not making the relationship between the veal and dairy industry clear in my post. Since the dairy industry consists of female cows, which are needed to produce milk, the bulls, which are generally 50% of the calves born, are sent to veal processing plants across the country. Around 60,000 bulls are sent to out of state veal plants across the country, making Vermont one of the top producers of veal calves, which is interesting because the dairy industry is very important to Vermont and is very well regarded, but many do not support the veal industry.

    I really appreciate your curiosity surrounding the tradition and affordability concerning the dairy industry. I learned about the veal and dairy industries’ relationship as a dairy 4-her. A large portion of my summer is spent on a farm, or at fairs, with kids who were born and live on dairy farms. Through this I have learned that currently the standard procedure for dealing with bulls is not sustainable. Affordability is definitely an issue in seeking a different procedure for dealing with bulls, but farms are not receiving a large profit with their current model. I really enjoy learning about how a kid living on a farm’s perspective varies from someone who doesn’t live on a farm, and I have found that it is in agreement that tradition is never an excuse for animal cruelty. Very few of the families that I have gotten to know have traditions that intentionally hurt an animal, and I think that the animals’ treatment on veal farms shouldn’t be any different, but is definitely something that I need to consider while working on my argument.

    Thank you so much for your response, and I look forwards to talking soon!


  • Hi Lena,
    I’ll be one of your blog readers over the next few months. It’s interesting to hear about the conversations that shaped your understanding of the problems within the dairy & veal industries in Vermont. You make a great point about the power of direct experience in helping people to understand and empathize with an issue. I wonder how this understanding might inform your work this year. How can you use media to give audiences a more experiential grasp of the problem without alienating them? As you already recognize, people are often resistant to recognizing how they participate in harmful and painful systems. While this resistance sometimes comes from a failure to realize the problems, it also arises from an inability to see feasible alternatives. I would be interested in knowing more about what other, more humane options exist for how to manage the bulls born within the dairy industry. How and where do more sustainable, humane systems exist? People might be more willing to recognize the problems in the dairy industry if simultaneously being shown other options. I also wonder how your conversations with average people are similar/different from those with people who are most vested in this subject. How could the average dairy consumer or Vermonter make a difference?

    Excited to see where your continued investigations lead!

    • Hi Fallon,

      Thanks so much for your comment, I’m excited for our correspondence! These are some really great questions, that I haven’t considered yet in my project. One of the things that I struggled with last year was finding a humane and sustainable solution to the veal industry, without harming the dairy industry and its farmers, which are incredibly important to our economy. I think that a lot of my project this year will be researching alternatives to the current veal production model. The veal and dairy industry is a very controversial subject, and I think that these questions that you pose will be very helpful in figuring out the best way to approach people with various opinions and experience, and work on a film that addresses a range in audience.

      Thanks so much for your help and I look forwards to see what else I learn!


Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *