It was nearly dark on the last day of my hunt and I had just shot two does, a mom and her fawn standing near each other. Mom heard the first gunshot but didn't know where it came from. As she looked toward her fawn, I shot her. After dating my last two doe licenses, I prepared to get to work.
I was more than a mile from my car. The only way to take out two deer at once is to leave behind everything but the meat. This procedure takes time, and as the setting sun sent the temperature plummeting toward zero, I realized I couldn't find my headlamp. I'd be butchering in the dark.
This can be especially treacherous when it's so cold you might not feel the nick of knife on hand. Luckily, the heat of the animals kept my hands warm.
The light disappeared as I was cutting off one of the doe's hind legs. My knife nicked her udder. Milk poured out.
Before I explain what happened next, two things:
First, ever since my son was born, I've been paying a lot more attention to milk. For the second time in my life, I had the opportunity to sample human breast milk (it didn't do it for me like it used to). Meanwhile, in our search for alternatives to cow milk, which we find leaves a lot to be desired, I've become familiar with sheep and goat milk. And I've heard good things about camel milk, though I've yet to try it.
The other thing is that when you're pumped full of adrenaline and hunting endorphins—I call them "savage hormones"—you can enter a primal, wild space where you sometimes do things you might not normally do, like squeeze turds between your fingers to see how fresh they are. When you're cutting up an animal, your adrenaline is still peaking from the hunt and the carnage can turn you into more of an animal than you already are. Many hunters encourage newbies to eat the raw heart of their first kill. Thanks to savage hormones, they often do.
Combine savage hormones with my burgeoning interest in comparative milk, then put me in front of a leaky deer and, well, I decided it was time for a small snack. By the light of my cell phone, I could see that the milk was pure white, not pink with blood. I leaned in and took a slurp of milk from the lacerated udder. It was good. Really good. Even better than sheep's milk, which was previously my favorite. It was so good that I collected some in a clean Ziploc bag to take home for the kid. The next day, after my savage hormones wore off, taking deer milk home to my human baby began to seem strange, not to mention dangerous, and I had little doubt that his mom would veto the treat, so I tossed the baggie.
Many readers will find my field experiment disgusting, weird and perhaps barbaric. But if you think milk from dairy factories is any less disgusting, weird or barbaric, then you probably don't know much about where milk comes from. You've probably never heard the cries of a mother cow and calf when they're separated. The mom, her udder activated by pregnancy, is carted off to live out her biological prime in slavery, her body turned into a milk machine. When she's done producing, she gets turned into hamburger meat. The calf, depending on its sex, will either be a milk-machine like mom or fattened into beef.
Compare that scenario to the mother and fawn that lived wild, free lives, both spared the grief of losing one another. To me there's no comparison.
There are no easy answers when it comes to animal products. Our dualistic relationship with animals, especially cows, as both milk and meat providers has proven especially hard to reconcile through the ages.
Jewish dietary laws have long forbidden the simultaneous cooking and/or consumption of milk and meat. Though nobody knows the logic behind this prohibition, it's generally considered to be based on a line in Exodus forbidding the cooking of a kid goat in his mother's milk. From there, it's just a few conceptual steps to a ban on cheeseburgers and separate dinnerware for milk and meat.
Perhaps the adjacency of milk and meat brings the inherent tragedy of consuming animals too close to home. It forces us to confront the fact that the animal murdered for burger once suckled a mother's breast. Maybe the segregation of milk and blood is meant to keep empathy out of the kitchen and help us preserve a measure of sanity as we eat our tasty, nutritious, mammalian neighbors.
I finished deconstructing my deer in the dark, feeling my way through the animal like a blind man reading Braille. I loaded the meat into my backpack, with additional sacks of meat slung over my shoulders, and hobbled back to the rig with an extra hundred pounds on my back. My hands and clothes and milk moustache were caked with blood. I drove back to civilization to clean up.
Despite the brutality of hunting, I wouldn't have it any other way. Aside from raising your own meat and milk, this is the most honest way to eat animal products that I know of. Because, acknowledge it or not, when you eat meat, you're party to a kill.