Update, February 24, 2020: Awards season might be over, but that doesn’t mean Joaquin Phoenix is slowing down in his mission to convince the world to go vegan. Not even 24 hours after chastising the Academy Awards audience for allowing newborn calves to be stolen from their mothers just so we can all enjoy milk in our coffee, Phoenix brought a camera crew to a Los Angeles–area slaughterhouse to conduct a rescue mission. According to the video, which was posted to YouTube by Farm Sanctuary, the visit “was not planned.” Perhaps this is just how Joaquin Phoenix likes to spend his Mondays.
After a respectful conversation (seriously!) with slaughterhouse president and CEO Anthony DiMaria, Phoenix and his crew are introduced to a cow that gave birth shortly after arriving at the abattoir. DiMaria told Farm Sanctuary that he has a personal policy of not slaughtering mothers and their offspring, and allows Phoenix and friends to perform a dramatic rescue that involves Phoenix clutching a calf to his chest, underscored by the soothing music that is always playing at my chiropractor’s office. The video ends with Phoenix walking through the sanctuary with his mother, Heart Phoenix, before cutting to a shot of the calf and its mother happily trotting around together. It’s... actually quite beautiful? I don’t have the desire to be cynical about this video. Let’s leave that job to Phoenix’s new archnemesis: The National Milk Producers Federation.
Original story, February 11, 2020: There was a time when people who won Academy Awards would get up, say something like, “I’d like to thank the Academy and my 9,000 closest colleagues and friends, who I will now proceed to name one by one until the orchestra starts playing music to make me leave the stage.” But I guess that got boring, even for the people delivering those speeches, so they began talking, sometimes incoherently, about the Big Issues of Our Time.
This was how we got Joaquin Phoenix on Sunday night, as he was accepting his Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Joker, talking not about the movies, but how we all have to come together and fight for a more just and peaceful world. It was all pretty vague, except for one very specific instance, an example of how disconnected humans have become from nature: “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.” (Phoenix is a committed vegan and was PETA’s 2019 Person of the Year.)
That speech did not play well in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke to a few actual dairy farmers, who said, essentially, that Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t know shit about cows or dairy farming and that he should just shut his fat trap up.
“Today’s modern dairy cow isn’t all that maternal,” said Carrie Mess, a dairy farmer who writes a blog called Dairy Carrie and published an open letter to Phoenix yesterday in response to his speech. “Occasionally we will have a cow that shows a little more maternal instinct, but it’s pretty rare.”
Tina Hinchley, another dairy farmer, explained to the Journal-Sentinel that baby calves are taken from their mothers 20 minutes after birth so they won’t be contaminated by manure. “She’s going to moo for that calf a little bit,” Hinchley said, “but she’s not charging at us or anything. It’s almost like ‘Woo hoo, the babysitter is here. Now I can go eat.’ And that is what she needs to do.” The calf, meanwhile, gets colostrum from its mother and then formula from a bottle which, Hinchley says, contains all the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
The National Milk Producers Federation, meanwhile, had this to say, via a spokesman: “We have a free country, with freedom of expression, but we do wish that Joaquin Phoenix would talk with us, rather than at us, because if he did he would learn a lot about the commitment that dairy farmers have for animal welfare.”
Maybe it’s time for a milk summit?