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Élise Desaulniers is an independent scholar and animal rights activist who published her first book on food ethics, Je mange avec ma tête (“I Eat With My Head”), in 2011. She co-authored two articles in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics (Springer 2014) and won the Quebec Grand Prize for independent journalism (opinion), for a piece on feminism and anti-speciesism in 2015. A frequent lecturer and presenter at colleges and universities, she lives in Montreal.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, we are back and I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to Its All About Food. Thank you for joining me and that really was a mouthful, wasn’t it? That last part, I really encourage you to read the book but like we were saying before you need to turn everything else off and focus 100 per cent but I believe you’ll get a lot out of it, I know I did. Moving on to the next book that I want to talk about, Cash Cow, I have in the studio, Élise Desaulniers, she is an independent scholar and animal rights activist who published her first book on food ethics, Je mange avec ma tête (“I Eat With My Head”), in 2011 she co-authored 2 articles in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics and won the Quebec grand prize for independent journalism for a piece on feminism and anti-speciesism in 2015. A frequent lecturer and presenter at colleges and universities, she lives in Montreal. I’m like saying half French and half English, Montreal. Thank you for coming.
Élise Desaulniers: Your French is very very good; we should do an interview in French.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay I would love to do that, some other time I suppose because I don’t think my listeners would really appreciate it. But just to explain a little bit I have studied opera and musical theatre and I was singing quite a bit in France at the time so I really studied pronunciation, I probably gotten a little more relaxed since I’m not living there anymore and all speaking and pronunciation is related to muscles so when you’re not speaking the language your muscles get soft.
Élise Desaulniers: Well that’s the story of my life in English I understand English perfectly I can write fine but speaking is another thing, I’m sorry for your listening.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sure many people have told you that Americans love French accents and British accents and versions thereof but we love those things so don’t lose that. I first noticed this phenomenon about the musculature in the mouth when I moved from New York to California and I lived in California for about 9 years and then whenever I would visit New York and go back to speaking New York, I felt this weight in my tongue well because New York is such a heavy language and I it just was so heavy on my tongue, it was a phenomenal thing.
Élise Desaulniers: So it’s not only me because when I speak English it hurts, I’m suffering right now ha ha.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s funny, I also tell people when they want to speak French correctly it’s all in the lips you must pout and look like you just want to kiss everyone and then everything sounds so much better. Alright let’s talk about milk. Milk is not a poison, you’ve said in your book although some of us have called it a poison but there’s a lot of things that are not right with dairy milk or milk from animals so let’s jump into Cash Cow. Right, so why did you write this book?
Élise Desaulniers: Well like you said earlier it’s my second book so the first book was about food effects in general and I gave a lot of lectures on the topic and while most people agreed with me at least you should reduce your meat consumption, I’m vegan and I’m talking about veganism they agreed on some principles but when it came to dairy especially, French and Quebecers are the same, we love dairy, we love cheese, we love yogurt so they agreed on the principle but don’t I want dairy, don’t I want cheese, don’t tell me to stop eating cheese, there’s something strange about dairy, there’s something strange with our relationship with cows, there’s something there that I should look in there so that’s why I started researching and I understood my relationship with dairy and our relationship with dairy is built on false beliefs and probably made from the industry advertising but also the fact that cheese is good and it doesn’t come direct well it’s not the animal flesh so maybe our job to see the link the animals suffering and being exploited and that thing we put on our bread, so it’s complicated.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s complicated, I’m not promoting dairy ever but I’m thinking that a long time ago hundreds thousands of years ago whenever we started consuming dairy products it probably wasn’t as detrimental to us as it is today, people are consuming far more dairy products than ever before and we didn’t feed the animals or take care of the animals the same way as we do today and I probably shouldn’t even use the word care because there’s no care involved today really but there’s a romance and I think it started a long time ago this romance with animals and believing that what they gave us was good for us.
Élise Desaulniers: Well I’m glad you bring that up, nobody ever ask me that question about that and during my research I interviewed Renan Larue, a French researcher, he works on the history of vegetarianism and he told me how well for most of our history being vegan was not something you could imagine we needed animals, we needed cows, cows were useful in the fields and in our lives so we were not always thinking about killing cows but using them we needed them and using a bit of their milk for our consumption was just fine so we couldn’t imagine living without cows so we couldn’t imagine being vegan for most of our lives history… its completely different today but that might explain why vegetarianism came before veganism because well cows were just part of life same thing for hens.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t think that when we started our relationship with cows we were artificially inseminating them or raping them which is what I like to say.
Élise Desaulniers: No we were not.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s one of the worst things in my mind whenever, I don’t do this often, I don’t care to do it but when I go online and go to these university sites that describe how animals are artificially inseminated it’s just the most disgusting horrific thing and it’s all considered on board and perfectly acceptable but that didn’t happen then and the animals the babies.
Élise Desaulniers: They lived with their mother.
Caryn Hartglass: They lived with their mother it was a very different situation.
Élise Desaulniers: The industry’s still telling us that story which is a past.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes way past.
Élise Desaulniers: And even me, me I went to university, I’m educated I’m reading and I spent most of my life not thinking about it but when I became vegetarian and quickly after became vegan but in the in between a friend asked me how do you think milk is produced well by cows and she said well I think cows need to have a baby in order to produce milk, are you sure? I’m reading papers every day and I’m online I’m researching and I didn’t know that and I didn’t know the link between veal and dairy and it was all the same thing I just didn’t know that so for most people around us they just have no idea and when you look at the milk cartoon well you see a happy cow in the field with her baby and it makes us feel good to think that reality is that.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I think you mentioned in your book knowing that there is a way to treat animals relatively decently we somehow accept treating them horribly.
Élise Desaulniers: because there’s this slight possibility.
Caryn Hartglass: there’s this slight possibility that it could be that way.
Élise Desaulniers: Every talk I give about dairy there is always somebody sitting in the back is answering but what if I have a cow in my backyard, yeah sure your living in Montreal come on but what if I have a cow in my backyard and I treat her nicely and she stays with her baby and that idea always comes up what if and yes of course but it’s what if like it could be that way. Every talk I give about dairy there’s…
Caryn Hartglass: I had Dr David Katz on the show a few years ago, he’s a medical doctor and an expert in nutrition at Yale and he’s had some great work he wrote a book Disease Proof something or other anyway his wife is French and I once visited her blog and she was talking about organic dairy and I just very politely mentioned some of the issues that I thought she’d like to know about and she was very polite and very gracious and said she has to find out more about this well she got her milk from some local organic dairy went to that farmer and came back feeling better somehow that it was ok and then I came back again do you see how he inseminates the cows by the way and the conversation was done but there are lots of people not just French people that really have a hard time with this.
Élise Desaulniers: There’s also a long part of the process that we don’t see, like you mentioned we don’t see insemination and we don’t see the slaughterhouse so yes especially in France where cows go outside it’s not the case in Quebec where 94 per cent of the cows are just inside and with chains and everything they’re not free at all but in France you see cows outside so you imagine well it’s fine and it looks good in the fields and all of that so because we don’t see all the process and we don’t think about it because it’s going to make us feel bad thinking about it, it makes it easier to consume dairy but your right organic dairy is the worst because you pay a lot more so since you pay a lot more you feel a lot better and people that buy organic dairy want to do good things so it’s hard to tell them well no it’s as bad, I don’t know for American organic milk but in Quebec well it’s cold during the winter and sometimes even during the summer so cows go outside only once a week during summer the rest of the time its exactly exactly the same as conventional and the slaughtering is exactly the same.
Caryn Hartglass: So there are so many issues this is the most important issue to me which is the ethical portion the cruelty portion the reason why I became vegetarian and vegan is because I don’t believe in causing pain and suffering I don’t want to kill animals period and I was very happy delighted to learn that there are all these bonuses for not eating animals, it’s better for the environment, it’s best for the environment and it’s the best thing for my health so yeah for all of those good things so let’s just touch on the health and the environment for a moment.
Élise Desaulniers: It’s important because when we question the dairy consumption people will tell you well but what about your calcium and what about that so it’s normal natural and necessary to consume dairy you need to cover that you need to explain well no you don’t need well you need calcium of course but you can find it in your green leafy and we all know that but there’s also health problems related to dairy consumption and for some people that’s the extra argument that we are of them at least look at their dairy consumption for instance since cows are pregnant where they give milk there is hormones in their milk natural hormones I know in a stage your adding hormones but in Canada we don’t do that we are really really proud we’re Canadians we don’t put hormones in our milk well yes but your cow’s are pregnant so since they’re pregnant there is pregnancy hormones in your milk and you consume that and that consumption is linked to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and well it’s somethings you need to look at it it’s an allergen, we talk a lot about food allergy but all those autoimmune reactions are reactions to the milk protein these are facts if at Harvard School of public health agree with me on that and they’re not vegan they’re not promoting veganism but they say well you should consume less milk and find other sources of calcium and vitamin D that is added to milk and protein and stuff yes.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s nothing good about milk.
Élise Desaulniers: No and in terms of environment, well we talk about meat, about meat and stuff, but of course your cows are also livestock, so it’s the same problem and with water you need three times more water to produce one gallon or litre or whatever of cow’s milk than you need for soy milk. In California if you have listeners there who are turning off their water and being careful in restaurants and not taking glasses of water to save water, well good, but they should only switch from cow’s milk to soy milk in their latte and it would do so much more for water consumption.
Caryn Hartglass: Drink soy latte’s in California folks or almond latte’s I know the almonds are getting a bad press because they take a lot of water to.
Élise Desaulniers: But it’s still better than cow’s milk.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Élise Desaulniers: But soy is so efficient in your latte in the morning switch to soymilk and it’s good.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s good and you don’t have to worry about those phytoestrogens in the soy milk they’re not the same as the hormones that you find in cow’s milk which are so much more detrimental, when you’re eating the whole, minimally processed soy food those phytoestrogens that you get there are you’re friends.
Élise Desaulniers: That is an issue addressed; if you’re concerned about breast cancer, like I am, my mother died from breast cancer; it’s actually doing good for you there’s only one source that says that soy is bad for you and it comes from the meat industry, so only one source, it’s the meat industry and of courses we’re against them.
Caryn Hartglass: So how did you get so smart?
Élise Desaulniers: I don’t think I’m that smart, I don’t think so, maybe by drinking soy milk, no but I’ve spent my life doing tons of things, I’ve worked in advertising, worked for an airline. A few years ago I met a book on animal ethics, philosophy book, like serious book with a lot of footnotes that my boyfriend ordered because he’s a philosopher like he’s French and he likes cheese and everything not anymore but at that time like he did a speech in philosophy never heard about animal ethics but he ordered that book because he was teaching an ethics class and like we heard it was like this new topic and I had the book in my bag I started reading it and like my first thought was I have cats I love them and I’m eating animals that suffer. I felt stupid so I don’t think I’m right but I felt stupid not thinking about that by myself like where do animals meat are coming from. So I started reading and reading you know the basic stuff like Peter Singer and (Tom) Regan and blah, blah, blah, and I was like how come that happened around me and I never heard about it and well I put the fault on the case that I’m French and in French we don’t have that much literature on animal ethics; so it’s probably because I’m French, but I started reading in English about the topic and writing about it, for me it was important to read and write at the same time just to share my knowledge with people that needed that information. So I started blogging and the more you write the more you have to think and inside I was vegetarian and vegan really quickly I tried to find ways to continue eating meat and cheese but the more I was reading, the more I was convinced that I was wrong. It was the same for the boyfriend. He became vegan to and we met a lot of people around us that were also starting to think about those issues and right now in Montreal. I don’t know if it’s the climate that gives us a lot of time inside to read and think, but there are a lot of people working on those issues. We might be late, we’re catching up. The young people in universities and college, I feel like half of them are vegetarian or vegan or thinking about it. The intersection of the issues; the exploitation of animals linked to women exploitation, for them they all agree with that and it’s simple there’s something going on right now and it gives me a lot of hope for the future.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s very encouraging to hear, I just took a little road trip with my partner Gary this weekend. We like to see the autumn leaves we drove up north to Ithaca and then back down to Lewisburg Pennsylvania near Bucknell where I went to college a long time ago. So we spent some time at the university and number one I found a little restaurant that served tofu scramble which was amazing, it wasn’t very good but I’m glad it was there. It was there and they served soy milk for my tea, no I was in heaven and this is all new and then you were mentioning reading ethics and philosophy. I met up with Dr Gary Steiner who’s a philosopher at Bucknell and he’s written a number of books on animal ethics and he’s come up with the “vegan imperative”. That’s kind of his catchphrase and he explains what the vegan imperative is. I spoke to him on this show a few years ago. He and his wife made a lovely lunch for us this weekend which was all vegan and fun because we do a lot of cooking and I post a lot of recipes all the time, we do food shows and people are afraid to have us over. Not just because we’re vegan, but because we cook a lot. So it was really nice for people to make us meals. But I wanted to talk a little bit about France because I did live in the south of France from 1992 to 1996 as we were talking earlier. Nobody talked about vegetarianism and I never met another vegetarian at that time. I was delighted years later to discover the Veggie Pride Parade which originated in Paris, they came out of the closet, literally. But I have to give my friends a lot of credit because they did go out of their way whenever they had events to make sure that there would be food for me, which was really lovely. But I remember one man would talk about the foie gras and he was absolutely convinced that the birds were delighted to be in their situation, how they would run for the food, they would run to have the tube shoved down their throat and they were very happy.
Élise Desaulniers: Yes well I worked for an airline for many years as I told you before this airline was air France. So when I became vegan I was still an air France employee and spending a lot of time in Montreal of course but also a lot of time in Paris and first day being vegan I used to travel business class so I was really really happy I can try the vegan meal in business class well it was terrible the first serving was only veggies second serve were the same veggies but cooked with rice and the dessert was fruit so and the morning after at the air France cafeteria there was nothing I could eat, except for a baguette, maybe rice, but it was tasting like chicken so it probably had chicken broth, so it was terrible. It was like eight years nine years ago and now I go back once or twice a year and it’s changed a lot. Paris is the capital of gastronomy in the world but it’s becoming the capital of vegan gastronomy. There’s really really good restaurants and like a new restaurant every week, there’s a lot of really really good cooks there and that are writing books and like amazing books, I mean they know what good food is so when they cook vegan food it’s good. It’s changing a lot and because of a few really influential people, people who have a huge influence the group L214 in Lyon did amazing work they are like Mercy For Animals but in France but they don’t have much money but they’re doing huge things.
Caryn Hartglass: In Lyon.
Élise Desaulniers: In Lyon but also all around France and so there is things going on all over France to teach what veganism is what vegan food is the arguments but they also do campaigns against foie gras around Christmas time. They did an undercover investigation in a slaughterhouse and that video went all over the place in France. France suddenly realized what a slaughterhouse was and they did headline all the news. There is a lot going on in France right now and in Quebec at the same time because like we talk to each other.
Caryn Hartglass: I know that as soon as France and all related to France get over themselves they will definitely take the lead.
Élise Desaulniers: Well they’re good thinkers, French philosophers are good philosophers so now they’re starting and they will tell you that you’re late yes maybe but they’re starting to think about animal issues and they will do great. I mean if you look at all the books published in France in French on animal topics in the last years, there’s a lot and there’s a lot going on.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m excited and sad at the same time because I’m sorry it wasn’t happening when I lived there. It was not easy but in some ways I want to think well maybe I, in some small way I spread a few seeds.
Élise Desaulniers: Well I think that’s what happened because when you look at the history, there’s like you start to go from the beginning, there’s always somebody saying hey I had this neighbor I got this roommate twenty years ago and she told me; that’s my guess I had a German roommate and I thought she was crazy but I remember what she told me and her arguments came back twenty years after when I read the book. So yeah every little seed is important.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned Lyon, and I told the story before but when I lived in France I was in Lyon first before I went to Aix-en-Provence. My boyfriend at the time wanted to celebrate my birthday so he called Chez Bocuse, are you familiar with that restaurant? It’s world renowned. So two weeks in advance he asked “could you serve a vegetarian”, like me, they said “sure no problem.” Two days before, he sent a fax to remind them and we showed up and they had no clue who we were. The dinner was a disaster and they charged an arm and a leg. The French don’t normally really want to be confrontational or argue in a restaurant scenario but my boyfriend did talk to the maître d’hotel and told him the problem and this guy was trying to explain, “we have twenty five chefs in the kitchen we can’t possibly do anything for you.” I mean in made no sense, it was the middle of the week, nobody was there. But I’m sure even in that restaurant they could probably do something better today.
Élise Desaulniers: Well now we have a chef in Montreal and he used to work for Bocuse and now he’s working for Normand Laprise, he’s like the best chef in Montreal and this guy is vegan. You can hire him to cook at your place if you want but that’s interesting you mentioned vegetalien, in French we have two words for vegan; we have “vegan” and we have “vegetalien” and it’s so complicated… well it’s French.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s always the French word and then the other word that everyone uses, but Élise, I’m sorry we’re out of time.
Élise Desaulniers: Oh no.
Caryn Hartglass: Believe it or not already so thank you very much for joining me please check out the book Cash Cow, love the title and learn more about why you don’t want to consume dairy and if you have family and friends who are consuming dairy maybe you want to share this book with them, ok thank you for joining me Élise.
Élise Desaulniers: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food you can find me at responsibleeatingandliving.com we’re you can find a phenomenal cashew cheese fondue recipe I recommend for Halloween and anytime any great party email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember have a delicious week.
Trancribed by Lara Allan, 12/21/2015