Monday, January 31, 2011

The No-Dairy Fairy

One of the things I'm excited about when it comes to this project is to see how my body will react to not having dairy for two months. I've given up meat for long stretches before, but never dairy. I drank soy milk pretty regularly in my teens and also ate soy cheese, but have never made a conscious decision to cut dairy completely out of my life until now. It is definitely something I've thought about though, for a few different reasons.

For starters, I think I'm probably lactose intolerant. If I'm really honest with myself and stop to notice the signals my body gives me, I realize I do always feel pretty crappy after consuming dairy. Just a few sips of milk makes me nauseous and uncomfortable. My brother believes he's lactose-intolerant and has shunned dairy for years; there's no reason why it wouldn't run in the family. In fact, according to page 35 of Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, it's estimated that most humans probably are lactose-intolerant, and that "those of us who can digest cow's milk are thought to have a genetic mutation that occurred thousands of years ago so we could survive on a herd's milk under harsh conditions." It's simple: humans aren't really supposed to drink milk from other animals. Alicia puts it like this: "Pandas don't drink gorilla milk...dogs don't drink goat milk...Even cows don't drink cow's milk once they've grown up--they wean themselves naturally."
Which brings me to my next point. Another reason I've wanted to give up dairy is because, simply put, it makes you fat. (And I'd be lying if I said that losing a few pounds wasn't part of what motivated me to do this vegan project in the first place.) Milk meant for babies to drink while they put on weight fast, in order to grow up big and strong. But you're not really supposed to drink it after you're a baby. We obviously don't drink human milk after a certain time in our lives, so why drink a cow's? Our bodies just aren't built for it. As Alicia says, "Remember: cow's milk is designed to turn a baby calf into a 400-pound cow." Milk is high in protein and fat, but low in carbs and completely devoid of fiber. It's not really of that much use to us, nutrition-wise. And besides, there are plenty of other places in nature to get calcium other than milk, and more per serving even: Chickpeas, soybeans and almonds all have more calcium milligrams per 100-gram serving than both butter and whole milk.

Milk also contributes to, exacerbates, and/or causes a whole host of health problems, including allergies, asthma, and even cancer! On page 36 of The Kind Diet, Alicia says, "The medical world acknowledges that some of the biggest factors in breast cancer are fat, animal protein, and excess estrogen. Well, since milking cows are pumped full of extra estrogen to make them lactate, dairy is your best and cheapest daily source of all three."

Don't even get me started about all the HORRIBLE stuff I've read in this book about the poor milking cows. They must be kept pregnant at all times in order to keep lactating (they don't lactate unless they are pregnant, just like humans), and when they give birth, their babies are taken away from them immediately, and the separation anxiety and sense of loss they have about their children being taken away is felt just as acutely by them as it would to us. The females are then raised to be dairy cows like their mothers, whereas the male calves, for six months, are "chained to little veal crates, not allowed to stand up, fed synthetic formula, and then slaughtered. And that is how we get veal. So if you use any cow dairy products, you are helping perpetuate the veal industry."

There have been times I've had to literally put this book down and cry while reading about the barbarism, the  injustice, and the torture we inflict on poor, innocent animals in dairy farms and slaughterhouses across the world every day. It's godawful. I know I was talking about dairy, but I'm going to go on a rant here for a minute.

I can't stop thinking about the stuff I read about the egg industry, for instance. It's just brutal. I'm going to quote directly from page 31 of The Kind Diet here: "More than 95 percent of eggs sold in the United States come from birds confined in wire battery cages so small they can hardly move. They are virtual laying machines who are sick, abused, and often starved. After all their hard work,  these birds end up so spent that the meat can only be used to make soup, chicken pies and pet food. The rest of the hens are in such bad shape by the end that they are beaten to death, gassed, or thrown live into wood chippers.

"Other victims of the egg industry are male chicks; because egg operations need many more hens than roosters, baby male chicks are routinely disposed of in one of two ways: Either they are thrown into dumpsters full of other baby chicks, left to suffocate, or they are put, live, through meat grinders to be fed to other livestock. Female chicks have their beaks ground off with a hot blade at 1 or 2 days old."

I can't get that phrase out of my head: Female chicks have their beaks ground off with a hot blade at 1 or 2 days old. No matter how you slice it, no matter what your opinion is about the consciousness or intelligence level of an animal, that is so wrong. I do happen to be one of those people who believe that animals have souls--however you define a soul, I believe they have them. But even if you don't believe that, there is no way to deny that animals, even little baby chicks, can feel pain. They're still living creatures. No matter how teeny of a brain a living thing has (compared to yours), no matter how low-ranking on the food chain or in your consciousness that creature might be, it is downright barbaric and wrong to grind its beak off with a hot blade at 1 or 2 days old. Not to mention throw it live into a wood chipper, or leave it in a dumpster to suffocate with hundreds of others of its kind. It's despicable.

"The greatness of a nation...can be judged by the way its animals are treated." --Mahatma Gandhi

I don't even know what to do about the stuff I've read: stories of cows not being properly stunned in the line and being skinned alive, kicking for freedom as their legs are cut off. Stories of pigs who, when they didn't measure up to industry standards, were killed by being picked up by the hind legs and bashed against the floor. That is just disgusting. If my resolve to eat no animal flesh or by-products ever wavers during this time, all I have do is think of these stories, and I am moved to help in any way I can. And the best way I can help right now is to not support the industries that perform these atrocities in any way. Which I am doing. Okay, deep breath. Back to dairy.

The reason I haven't given up dairy yet is simple: I love it. I love butter, cheese, milk and sour cream. I love Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips to an insane, inappropriate degree. I've known for a while that giving up dairy would probably be the right move for me, but I've just never felt strong enough to kick it. And when I say "strong enough," I really mean it. Dairy is actually addicting. Alicia explains: "Milk contains a protein called casein, which breaks down in the body to become casomorphins, as in 'morphine.' Casomorphins have an opiate effect on your body and--like all good opiates--make you feel relaxed and happy...And that makes biological sense. Casomorphins were designed by nature to make a baby feel wonderful while attached to her mother." Which does, like she says, make good biological sense, but if that's so, it doesn't seem to make as much sense for a human to drink this same milk well into adulthood.

Luckily for me, there is such a thing as vegan butter and vegan sour cream. For the past few days, I've been relying on meals of a baked potato with Earth Balance buttery spread, Tofutti "Sour Supreme" (“Better than Sour Cream”), Athenos Cucumber Dill hummus, and alfalfa sprouts, with a side of Black Bean Chili that I made in my crock pot earlier in the week (recipe here: I used pintos and chickpeas for the contrasting beans. It turned out deliciously!). Baked potatoes have always been one of my absolute favorite foods, so it's been nice to eat so much of them again lately. When I was seven, a baked potato with butter and sour cream was my favorite snack. Now, as a 24-year-old aspiring vegan, I can still have this snack, albeit with a few veggie tweaks, which honestly, I hardly even notice. All I notice is baked potato-y goodness. All of the flavor and none of the nasty repercussions that come with consuming dairy.


  1. I hate the animal production industry, but there's two things not mentioned in the book you read. One of them is the anatomy of a 2-day year old chicken. The nerves in the beak of a chick haven't developed yet, because they need their beaks to break out of the shell. If they had pain receptors in their beaks the chick would never break out of its shell due to the pain in doing so. Granted, clipping them off is because they huddle 6-8 chickens to a pen, and they'd peck each other to death for dominance of that space... but you must be aware of the cruelty involved in that.

    Secondly, I don't know if this book is entirely reliable. Does it fail to mention the poultry and livestock farms that aren't chemically or mass-producing animals? There is such a thing as organic meat. Despite the gross mutation of animals we eat today, humans can eat meat because we evolved into that capability, just like bears in cold climates evolved to eat plant matter. What's not good for us is the chemicals, synthetic or natural. Things like Miracle Gro® can harm plants, as well as the animals that eat those plants. Even our landfills end up back in our systems. Consider which animals can eat a seagull...

    Trust me, I'm supporting you completely in the long run. Vegan is a great choice. And dairy is unhealthy for some races. For me, I'm intolerant to both soy and milk products in an inverse proportionality. I need and equal amount of both to stabilize my metabolism (if I consume either).

  2. You're absolutely right. I'm glad to hear that about the beaks. The image just seemed so brutal to me that I couldn't get over it! I didn't know that about the pain receptors, and I'm glad to learn it. And yes, I am aware that there is organic meat and farms that are ethical and clean in their production of meat and poultry, but I thank you for mentioning that. It's easy (for me, at least) to get caught up thinking about all that is wrong about the industry, and to lose sight of all those who are doing it right. There's definitely nothing wrong with eating meat that you are sure is organic and chemical- and cruelty-free, if that's your choice. We all need to watch out for the chemicals we consume. They get in the soil, so they're in non-organic produce and in the animals who eat the food grown in that soil, and then in us when we in turn eat them. Becoming aware of all the chemicals we consume on a daily basis is the start to getting back to a cleaner, more healthful and natural way of eating, which is important for everyone, whether you choose to eat meat or not.
    Thanks again for reading and commenting. It's important to me to learn all I can about these issues, and to make sure I have the most balanced and accurate view of the state of things as I possibly can. Comments like yours help me to be able to do that, and I very much appreciate it :)

  3. Bravo! Highly enlightening, not to mention nicely flowing and completely interesting. You've got a nice solid post here, and I read through without ever coming to any sort of a lull. I like that you're passionate about the subject, and it shows! Getting on the subject of animal cruelty works well for illustrating your concern and doesn't feel like a distraction from the main point at all. Looking forward to reading more!

  4. Thanks, Josey! That's very encouraging.

  5. I wasn't sure how interested I'd be in reading about becoming vegan, since I have a lot of vegan friends, but I must say, it's very interesting reading about your thoughts and reasons for choosing veganism. I know it would be difficult for me.

    You do a great job of balancing facts, your own emotional response, and allowing them to play off of one another. Great writing, and great blog.

    I don't drink milk either, because it's upsetting to my stomach.

  6. Thanks, Paige! I appreciate your comment :)