We caught up with director Susan Rosenzweig to talk about her eye-opening documentary short BABY HERS.
Thank you for sharing your important film, you have certainly opened our eyes to the cruelties of the milk industry. What inspired you to make this film?
I’ve always loved animals and wanted to help them. My dad taught me how to catch bugs in the house with a Dixie cup and put them outside, which I do to this day. I became a vegetarian when I was nine and discovered where lamb chops and chicken nuggets came from – I was horrified. But even I was completely in the dark about what goes on in factory farming until about 6 years ago. When I discovered that it actually hurt chickens and cows to use their eggs and milk, I was outraged and wrote about it in a piece for Huffington Post, “The Other Inconvenient Truth.” But as a writer, I know that people don’t tend to read about things they don’t want to know about. Then while I was freelancing as a copywriter at GSD&M here in Austin, I met an advertising professor at St. Edward’s University, Roger Gans, who was doing research on the power of narrative persuasion and film. As he says, “it can get people to consider alternative points of view that no amount of logical argument or directive persuasion ever could.” That’s when I realized I needed to tell the story visually, to get people to empathize with animals and see how they are just like us.
I became a vegetarian when I was nine and discovered where lamb chops and chicken nuggets came from.
For those who haven’t seen the film, please can you tell us a bit about Baby Hers?
‘Baby Hers’ tells the tragic and true story of how we get milk: by stealing it from lactating mothers and kidnapping their babies – usually the day they are born. It’s really one of the best kept secrets of the dairy industry, that and the fact that cows only produce milk for the same reason human mothers do: to feed their babies.
How do the babies survive without their mothers milk?
To be honest, many of them don’t. They’re usually fed formula or a milk replacer, which is missing the colostrum – or the first milk produced after birth. Which they need. Like human infants, calves are born with no immunity against disease, so they depend on their mothers to provide passive immunity through the colostrum. They also need their mothers, for comfort and warmth. Both the babies and their mothers cry for days after being separated, some won’t eat and die – it’s really heartbreaking.
Both the babies and their mothers cry for days after being separated, some won’t eat and die – it’s really heartbreaking.
What changes would you hope happen in the future?
With all the science that has proven how unhealthy cow’s milk is for humans, and the amazing plant-based alternatives that are being developed today – I would love to see the continued decline in dairy consumption. Without the demand, farmers will have to transition to other crops or sources of income. Which we will need, as the demand for plant protein sources grows: peas, lentils, and beans actually have more protein than many dairy products. And without the health implications, as films like Forks Over Knives have shown. Did you know that lima beans have 11.6 grams of protein per ounce? Mozzarella cheese only has 6.3 grams!
I would love to see the continued decline in dairy consumption
How has this subject become relevant during Covid 19?
One silver lining that has come out of this global pandemic is that major news media outlets are finally talking about factory farming and the treatment of animals. Since the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is believed to be the source of COVID-19, people seem to finally be connecting the dots. I’ve seen stories and articles everywhere exposing what really goes on. Even if you don’t love animals the way I do, you have to care about how they are treated if you’re going to consume their products. Whatever an animal experiences goes straight into your food: whether it’s E-coli from them standing in their own filth, antibiotics to deal with their stress-born illnesses, or a Coronavirus jumping from animals to humans. We are all connected.
We feel connecting a human mother to a cow really hits home the issue, what made you decide to tackle it this way?
Thank you for saying that – this was my biggest challenge! From my advertising experience, I’ve learned the importance of knowing who your audience is and tailoring your message in a way that will resonate best with them.
My mom was actually who I pictured as my target market: she loves animals but doesn’t want to know about the bad things that happen to them – it upsets her too much. Most people don’t want to know this sad truth, I certainly didn’t. But not knowing something doesn’t stop it from happening. So I needed to figure out how to get someone like her to watch. I also knew I had to figure out how to create empathy for dairy cows, and showing how they love and protect their babies the way human mothers do seemed to be the right bridge.
Most people don’t want to know this sad truth, I certainly didn’t. But not knowing something doesn’t stop it from happening.
What would you like audiences to take home from watching Baby Hers?
I’d like them to realize that animals like Reba and baby Valentine are just like us: they feel joy, love, sadness and pain. All they want is what we want: to live a happy life without fear. There was a time, when smaller family farms were the norm, that animals were treated more humanely. Sadly that is not today’s reality, regardless of what the milk advertising campaigns portray. Factory farming has hurt us all, but it hurts animals the most. It’s up to us to speak for the voiceless, and ensure that all living beings are treated with empathy and respect – even those who walk on four legs and can’t say the word “no.” The best way to voice your opinion is with your dollars: shop compassionately. Choose local and nondairy options whenever you can. And learn about the amazing plant-based options available – they’re really delicious! I’ve started an Instagram account @howtoditchdairy to share the surprisingly great options I’ve found.
Factory farming has hurt us all, but it hurts animals the most.
How did you get into film making?
I’ve been an advertising writer/creative director for over 20 years now, and was fortunate to be able to learn a lot about production from being on all kinds of commercial shoots. I’ve written hundreds of scripts for TV, radio & podcasts – but never anything over 60 seconds, and never for anything like this. It’s a totally different process. Doing a documentary was so out of my wheelhouse, so after months of trying to figure it out on my own I signed up for a couple filmmaking classes at Austin School of Film. This gave me the two things I desperately needed to make the film happen: structure and a deadline.
Are there other aspects of the meat and dairy industry you would like to document through film?
Sadly there are so many aspects that are well-hidden from the public, so yes. One in particular that still horrifies me is how male baby chicks are treated in the egg industry. Billions of male chicks are suffocated or thrown in a grinder at birth ALIVE, because they are considered “useless” to the egg business. They call it maceration.
Billions of male chicks are suffocated or thrown in a grinder at birth ALIVE, because they are considered “useless” to the egg business.
It’s the stuff of horror movies but sadly, it’s going on every day by Fortune 500 companies like Hellman’s and Kraft. And it’s so unnecessary. Just like dairy products, there are an amazing number of delicious alternatives to egg products. Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo is one of my favorites – it’s so good I can eat it with a spoon!
How can our audiences keep in touch with your work?
Starting in July they can watch the trailer and find more information about the dairy industry and alternatives at our website: www.babyhersfilm.com. They can also follow me and “Baby Hers” on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook @babyhersfilm.