While browsing through Portobello’s beautiful Books for Cooks shop this week, I came upon a baking book I just had to have: ‘The Joy of Vegan Baking’. My diet’s been dairy-free since I was a kid. The prospect of making dairy free shakes, cheesecakes, and Irish soda bread (all of which I’ve never tried) intrigued me.
I’ve always had a bit of a complex with vegans since they choose not to eat what I can’t. If I could eat dairy, I’d be the first to try and probably wholeheartedly enjoy pizzas, ice cream, butter, milk, chocolate and other delectables. I say I don’t mind the allergy—seeing as I haven’t tasted these dishes before. But based on my reaction to vegans, I’m a bit bitter. Luckily, something I read in the book stopped my self-pitying, reactionary attitude in its tracks.
In an article nestled between recipes, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau writes about the absurdity of grown humans drinking cows’ milk (or any milk for that matter). For those of you who are well-educated on dietetics and nutrition, it comes as no surprise. But for me, this simple statement through me for a loop:
“All female mammals produce milk for the same reason: to feed and nourish their young.” (pg 96)
Goudreau goes on to say that each mammal baby stops drinking its mothers’ milk at a different age. But that no matter the mammal, the mother stops lactating and the baby stops drinking milk and switches to other sources for its nutrition as an adult. All mammals, that is, except humans. We drink human milk (or formula for those dairy allergy sufferers) when we’re babies, and then we switch to cows’ milk as adults.
Cows’ milk is seen as rich and necessary for our diet—heck, it’s even a part of our national food pyramid! But is there any truth in the industry’s ‘Got Milk?’ campaign? Is it really a rich source for our vitamins and nutrients? Is it a common-sense way to get calcium? And how does our demand for cows’ milk affect cows? They produced milk for the same reasons and humans.
To be brief, I’ll answer a few of these questions and give links to articles that go way more in-depth than this post. Calcium is a mineral that comes from rocks such as limestone and is present in greens (kale, chard, broccoli, etc). Cows’ milk traditionally has been a rich source of calcium because of the cows’ diet (greens, growing especially in certain soil types). Just like humans, cows’ milk contains the nutrients that the cow takes in. With mass production of milk, cows have been raised and milked in more and more crowded conditions with less and less nutrients. Now, cows’ milk is fortified with calcium artificially, just like OJ. It is no longer a unique source of rich calcium.
As you can imagine, cows are being bred not to give birth to other cows, but to stay in a perpetual (or nearly perpetual) state of lactating. Their life spans are shortened considerably due to this constant breeding and milking. Also, their young do not receive the milk. Male babies are slaughtered for veal while females are raised on artificial nutrients and join the ranks of their mothers.
Unless you’re a shepherd with a herd of your own goats or cows, I really wouldn’t recommend drinking milk. And if you’re grown, chances are your body has reacted poorly before to breaking down the lactose (cramps, IBS, etc). We’re not made to drink human milk or cows’ milk—it’s quite literally infantile!
To learn more our habit of drinking cows’ milk and eating dairy, please explore some of these thoughtful links. No, none of them link to PETA.
Also, try searching for cows’ milk and lactating cows in Google Scholar to get more information on the supplements fed to cows for the milk cocktail we consume today.