I love cows. And from the moment that our group arrived in Costa Rica I was overwhelmed with countless adorable cow sightings. The people sitting around me were probably quite annoyed because I had to point out every single cow that I saw. So you can imagine that when the option to milk a cow was offered, I jumped on the opportunity.
My initial desire to milk a cow was not because I wanted to actually “milk” a cow, I just really wanted to get close to a cow, to be able to pet it and love it. I actually had some aversions to milking a cow because I am a vegan and I thought a sounded like a giant hypocrite. I told myself that this was a cool opportunity that I should at least try, because when else would I have the chance to milk a cow in the heart of Costa Rica?
Claire, my fellow cow-lover, and I woke up early the next morning and met “Mama”, our host Marcos’ mother, outside the small barn. We were both dancing with excitement, seeing the cows there so close and so cute, especially the babies with their too- big floopy ears. Mama told us to follow her and we hesitantly went inside, standing against the wall not wanting to get in the way or do anything wrong. She got the cows ready by tying them up by their horns to the fence and bringing the babies over to feed, I assume to make the milk easy for us to get out. I was surprised by the aggressiveness of the calf while watching it feed, and felt sad watching it struggle as mama tore it away from its mother so we could begin milking.
It was finally time to start milking! Mama sat on a stool and attempted to teach us how to properly milk a cow. It looked so easy when she did it, though I am sure a lifetime of practice helped some. Neither Claire or I could get any milk from the first cow, even though it seemed like we were doing exactly what mama was doing. We switched back and forth taking unsuccessful turns while mama laughed at our struggling. I was disappointed with my seeming lack of ability to milk a cow, but also felt guilty about wanting to be successful. Wanting to understand this process more, I asked mama in Spanish how often she does this and she replied “todos los dias”. In that moment I had so much respect for her and all family farmers. To wake up early each morning, wrangle the cows, getting dirty and sweaty all before the sun has fully risen.
I think mama realized we were getting nowhere with this cow and took us over to Rosa with the promise that she was easier to milk. To our surprise mama was right and after a couple tugs and squeezes we got our first drops of milk in the small tin can. Within a few minutes we were able to collectively fill the can, while mama had already filled a bucket 3 times the size on her own. I held the can in my hands and was initially surprised by how warm and foamy the fresh milk was. I didn’t even know milk ever looked this way. Comparing this to a cup of milk you could buy at the store I realized how disconnected we are from the food we consume. The milk I was holding in my hands was very different from the milk my family has in the fridge at home and it was acquired very differently. The cows there were healthy, treated with care, and lived a free life in a wonderful location. I didn’t feel guilty anymore. I was proud of that little can of milk and I was proud of the integrity of farms like this one. I’m still a vegan, and I stand by my decision and lifestyle choice. I have though gained a new perspective from this experience and respect for the hard work that goes into responsible agriculture.
Written by Mackenzie Peich