I did not eat veal for the first 37 years of my life. I've always eaten meat, but since childhood I've avoided what I'll call the "Disney Platter." In other words, I didn't eat foods that used to be really cute. Venison, lamb, rabbit or veal were just off the menu.
I'm not saying these choices stand up to logic. They're just the way I looked at life, especially prior to learning a lot about where food comes from.
In the last five years I've gone from knowing almost nothing about my food's origins to knowing an exquisite amount about it. (Note: moving to rural VT/NH makes acquiring this knowledge very easy. So does reading a lot of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver.) Obviously my will-eat / won't-eat food logic was overdue for a reassessment.
I never thought about veal until I met farmer Lisa Kaiman of the Jersey Girls dairy in Chester, VT. Lisa is a dairy farmer. On her farm she sells raw milk (some of it to award winning cheesemakers) and in her store she sells a variety of other farm products, including veal. This is where I received my quick education.
Every glass of milk or crumb of cheese in the world produces some veal. That's because dairy farmers, by definition, have a fresh crop of calves on the farm each spring. Obviously the female calves can grow up to be milkers like their moms. The little boys, unfortunately, cannot. And since cattle breeds are specialized--milkers like Holsteins and Jerseys are not the sort that are grown for beef--often they're sold for veal. A dairy farmer can expect to be paid only $2 to $10 for her veal calves.
Farmer Lisa didn't like selling them off, so now she goes to the trouble of raising them herself. They enjoy fresh milk and solid food in her roomy veal barn, and then spend some time outdoors too. When local families stop by the farm to buy milk, they often seek out the little fellows for a quick little pat on the head.
I buy and cook Lisa's veal, because if I were a bull calf, I'd want to live my early days there. The animals don't live a long life, but it is a happy one.