THE MILKMAIDSClick here for Dutch

2021 - 41,9 x 59,4 cm - India ink on paper
Proud farmer Fred, holding up a carton of the milk he produces, in the background his ‘ladies’ lined up to give milk. The lady on the right mooing loudly, and a lot of ladies looking at the spectator, just like curious cows would do. So, what is it we see here? Is it a funny picture? A satire maybe? For me, it is a picture of absurdity. Meant to be funny on one side, but with some serious questions behind it as well.

Consuming dairy in itself is not wrong. Thousands of years ago we traded our spears for rakes and kept a few cows, in the end maybe even eating them, and look at what we came to be. But since that time, something has changed. How does milk come to be these days? By making sure a cow has a calf every year so she keeps producing milk, the calf in turn taken away and – when female – being milked herself one day. Male calves are economically not interesting, but what happens to them is a long sidetrack to this story. When the cow starts producing less milk due to aging, she is best processed as a piece of beef. Milking cows now is a mainly economic system, made by our society, in which farmers themselves might be trapped to keep their farm running. And if I take a look on a farm, I can really see farmers acting in their best conscience, being proud of their animals.

Still, there are problems, environmentally as well as ethically. The basis of that problem being that we want too much, too fast, of something that isn’t a naturally endless source. You really have to think on it to see the absurdity here, and that is the worst part. So I thought: let’s replace the cows with humans, so you can feel the absurdity in one instant. Both are mother animals, both give milk, so what’s the difference? Exactly, there definitely is a difference. If a woman has to give birth to babies for as long as she can, the babies in turn taken away from her, if she is hooked on a milking machine for all her ‘useful’ life, and when she is elderly and doesn’t produce enough, becomes a piece of ‘momma’ on your plate, it suddenly is a sad thing. Looking at these inactive, dependent human mothers makes you feel that they must have a more meaningful way to spend their lives.

I’d think the same counts for cows. Giving birth and giving milk is a precious, natural process. One that we should appreciate, not exploit. So we don’t have to stop consuming milk, we should just consume it consciously. We might consider consuming less, but good milk, and take alternatives to milk from time to time. So that in turn for their milk, we can give these mothers the best and longest life possible.

Hint for on your smartphone: zoom in!

Want to take a closer look at farmer Fred and his girls? Watch the video below!