Eco Friendly Food: Why I Stopped Drinking Milk

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Imagine this. In nature, a cow decides she’s ready to have baby and seeks the attention of bull. After a bit of dancing around she allows him to mate with her – A bit awkward of a process, but does the job and boom you have a pregnant cow. Of course, most cows these days are alive for commercial use, whether to produce milk or meat. The industry don’t have the time for the animals to finish their proliferous love making, as they have approximately 600 million tonnes[1] of milk to churn out per year.

Please bear in mind that for cows to produce milk, they either have to be pregnant or have just given birth.

This means that for a cow to be useful, they spend most of their time alive being pregnant. Imagine! Being pregnant for most of your life can’t be fun. Not only do they spend many years growing baby cows, but for many of the 264 million dairy cows in the world, their calves are taken away from them immediately or within a few days. Cows spend days mourning and crying at the loss of their babies, and some even take it so hard they make themselves sick. Depending on the sex of the calf, they’ll either be raised for veal, then slaughtered within a few months. If female, they’ll be subject to the same treatment her mother experienced.

Can’t have those baby cows drinking our milk.

In order for this constant pregnancy cycle to keep happening as quickly and efficiently as possible, farm workers have to artificially fertilise cows by trapping them and essentially sticking their hand in their vaginas and squirting cow semen up there. Elegant right? Cows are forced to produce milk for 10 months in a year, including 7 out of 9 months of their pregnancies[2]. A serious consequence of the dairy industry is the unavoidable animal suffering, especially on the scale at which it happens. A cow should live to approximately 25 years; however, the average for a dairy cow is 5 years.[3] Forced to produce an unnatural volume of milk from excessive reproductive hormones, cows often develop diseased and infected udders. If the strain from the ridiculous amount of milk in their udders doesn’t cause them to simply give up first, when they are deemed no longer profitable (around 4-5 years old) due to a reduction in their milk production, they’ll be promptly taken to a slaughter house and killed to be fed to us as burgers. To satisfy the demand for cheap milk, not only do animals suffer, but dairy workers too. Known to be a harsh and unforgiving employer, the dairy industry has treated many workers badly, with long working hours, little to no breaks, and awful working conditions. It’s not just superfluous vegans – the reality is cold and sharp.

The Great White Lie

According to Oxford Dictionaries, milk is “an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young”[4]. Just using this definition alone, we already run into problems. It suggests here that milk is produced by female mammals for the sole purpose of nourishing their young. Emphasis on keywords, “their” and “young”. The simple unavoidable fact is;

Cow’s milk is for baby cows.

You can’t really argue with that. If your mother was to suddenly turn around one day and offer you, a grown individual, a tall, cool glass of her own breast milk, you’d wonder if she’d gone mad. So why is it that drinking the breast milk of another species greatly genetically distant from us has been so normalised?
Probably the most beautiful con ever played on the general public; many of us grew up believing that milk is vital for the growth of a healthy child, and to maintain healthy bones in adults. An incredibly rich source of calcium, approximately 300mg per cup, milk was labelled as the best product to consume to ensure we received ample amounts of it to stay healthy. However, many scientific studies have shown that drinking milk is actually detrimental to human health. Not only do we absorb just a small percentage of bovine produced calcium, it actually increases calcium loss from bones!
This is due to the acidity of milk; it reduces the overall pH balance of the body. Calcium is an acid neutraliser, and of course most of it is stored in our bones. When we drink milk, the calcium leaves our bones in an effort to neutralise the acidity, eventually exiting our bodies through urine.[5] The numbers don’t lie; the countries with the lowest dairy consumption have the lowest bone fracture incidents in the world.

The antiseptics used to disinfect cow teats have been found to increase the level of pus in the milk of cows with staph-infected udders[6]. Normally, milk (and even in human breast milk) contains a small percentage of somatic cells (mostly harmless white-blood cells from mammary gland ducts) which fine to consume from healthy mammals. However, many dairy cows are unhealthy. The average somatic cell count in U.S. milk is 1,120,000 per spoonful. I don’t know about you, but the idea of drinking pus doesn’t really make me feel good. (I actually feel quite sick). When calcium is easily obtained from other sources such as green leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage), soya beans and nuts[7], milk just cannot be justified because (let’s say it louder for the people at back),

Cow’s milk is for baby cows.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the good things milk has done. With the introduction of powdered baby formula in 1865[8], babies who would have otherwise starved to death from a lack of breast milk were given a chance at life. A very small percentage of the world’s population who live in rural, (and often cold) places with little access to fresh food rely on bovine milk, for its other nutritious benefits (such as protein and fats), as a survival technique. But how is it that many of us who have access to reliable, healthy sources of calcium came to believe that milk was the only great source of it? And why do we believe drinking copious amounts of it is good for you too?

It all started from a fact. Humans need calcium to stay healthy, approximately 1500mg of it[9] a day. I grew up being told that milk was the only source of it, and that I had to consume some form of dairy in order to stay doctor free. I remember the iconic celebrity campaigns – a glass of milk in hand with a white line of milk on their top lip. If Tyra Banks says so, then I must drink milk too! But where does this notion come from?

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During WW1, canned and powdered milk was used by governments to supplement soldier’s diets, in an effort to stop them from starving to death. This lead to farmers concentrating on just producing cows for milk, getting rid of other types produce. Fast forward to the end of WW1, and there were a lot of dairy farmers, with no other types of animals or crop, and a whole lot of milk. What to do with all the excess? Instead of reverting back to the way things where before, because farmers had invested too heavily in milk production, they convinced people to drink more. In Britain, Dairy UK works on behalf of dairy farmers to promote and produce educational material on the supposed benefits of milk.

Who have the most impressionable minds at any point in society? Young children. So groups like Dairy UK and others in United States created very intense propaganda on the supposed benefits of milk, which is why calcium in milk is has always been associated with healthy bones in growing children. As a parent, who are you to argue if a health professional says that if you don’t feed your child a seemingly ‘natural’ product you’ll stunt their growth? As a result of such propaganda, programs such as the European School Milk Scheme provides subsidies to schools so they pump their students full of the white stuff for free or very cheaply. In the words of Anne Karpf “Does God’s own PR company handle the account for milk?”[10]
With Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Tetra Pak recently released a report “Making More of Milk”[11] addressing the fact that the EU will halt the UK’s access to free milk. Their aim literally is “to encourage children across the EU to develop a lifelong habit of consuming milk and milk products for the long-term”[12]. Tetra Pak reckon that child obesity is a bad problem (which it is) and reasons that encouraging children to drink milk as part of a healthy diet will prevent this. With access to scientific studies, we can see that this is quite a twist on the truth. A healthy diet will aid in preventing obesity, but it does not need to contain any dairy products. The dairy industry is a hugely powerful force, lobbying and pulling the strings of governments across the world to come up with new ways to get us to consume more milk – when the reality is that we don’t need to.

With 264 million dairy cows worldwide, the environmental impact is atrocious. All these cows need to eat and drink, and according to the a report by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy (2012), it takes 4 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk. Cows also release methane from the digestion process, which is a known greenhouse gas (which contributes to climate change). Milk cannot be sold raw, so must be pasteurised, then stored in cool conditions. All of these processes use energy, and adding the transportation costs on top of that, you’re looking at a huge damage to the environment. It is estimated that the dairy industry produces 15.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year – a staggering amount.

Now I still eat cheese every now and then, mostly on the occasional pizza, and a sprinkle of parmesan on my pasta. However, I am extremely careful that when I do buy the occasional dairy product I pick produce from small organic farms. It’s more expensive, but I find comfort in the fact that not only are the cows treated better, but I’m supporting local and small business. A lot of dairy farmers are forced by supermarkets to lower their selling price and are required to comply with the overarching threat of business going elsewhere.
It’s difficult to change habits so quickly – as someone who had milk in their cereal every morning it was a big change for me. But I started slow, firstly with liquid milk (that was actually pretty easy the idea of pus in the milk was just way too much for me), and found solace in a coconut milk alternative and granola. Then I moved on to yoghurt, stopped buying cheese in the supermarket, and now I on my shopping list there are no dairy products at all. I’ll admit, when I dine out I still have the occasional dish with dairy in it, but from where I started I’m proud of how far I’ve come.

What about you?

 

Sources
[1] https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235182/Statistics-Dairy-cows.pdf

[2] https://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/08/how-much-pus-is-there-in-milk/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/30/dairy-scary-public-farming-calves-pens-alternatives

[4] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/milk

[5] https://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18922193

[7] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684040/

[9] http://www.doctoroz.com/article/calcium-fact-sheet

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2003/dec/13/foodanddrink.weekend

[11] http://www.tetrapakrecycling.co.uk/downloads/tetra-pak_making-more-of-milk.pdf

[12] https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/41005/milk-intake-tetra-pak/