Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Got Milk?: Part 1

I work at a Waldorf School.  We are dairy free, except for eggs; we do not serve meat; we only buy organic produce and products; we do not use processed food or meals, rather everything is prepared at the school by our wonderful cook and kindergarten teachers.  It was very odd then to receive a catalog in the mail this past week from the Washington State Dairy Council.

As soon as I opened the envelope I called our director of admissions and stated, “We just received something very creepy in the mail today.”

Back in graduate school I took a class on Animals and Ethics, where I learned more about the fates of animals used in the dairy industry.  I had learned about the atrocities committed against dairy animals prior to taking the class and had worked to purchase milk, eggs, cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt and other dairy products, from places where the animals were treated humanely; fed a proper diet that was not laden with GMO (genetically modified organism) corn and soy; and had high ethical standards.  What I had not really thought about was how heavily the USDA pushes the propaganda of NEEDING to consume dairy products.  When I realized humans are the only species on this planet that drinks another animals’ milk after they have been weaned themselves, I was disgusted.  When you stop and think about it, the idea is pretty nasty.  For myself I choose to only use milk in cooking; however, I do use and consume – cheese, butter, ice cream, Greek yogurt, and eggs on a fairly regular basis.  But the idea that yet another product is being used to make money for corporations is highly disturbing.

At the Washington State Dairy Council (WSDC) website, their mission statement reads, “We are the Washington State Dairy Council, a team of nutrition professionals devoted to the promotion of lifelong health and enjoyment of food through leadership in nutrition education. We encourage food selection patterns, which include dairy foods, in accordance with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines and other currently accepted scientific recommendations. The Washington State Dairy Council has been providing quality and scientifically sound nutrition education materials for over 77 years.  We hope you are pleased with our materials and resources” (Obtained from www.EatSmart.org).

After watching a short program speaking to the marvels of the modern dairy industry I felt physically ill. The documentary portrayed dairy farms with clean, almost sterile, atmosphere’s; cows voluntarily entering into automatic milking stalls to be milked by a robotic machine; clean cows walking comfortably and grazing on pastures; happy calves resting in fields after being taken away from their mothers; milk that is healthy, clean, disease free and even flavored.  I felt ill because I have been exposed to the atrocities of the dairy industry and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) push for people, especially children, to consume milk.  The USDA and nutritionists claim that milk is the single best source of calcium, despite the fact that this “nutrient rich liquid” is 87% water.  If milk is almost a “perfect food” why are over 30 million Americans lactose intolerant and more than 70% of the world’s population cannot digest lactose in milk?

In the film I watched, a nutritionist stated that chocolate milk has been listed as a healthy energy drink with no extra calories, no extra fat and is an extra intake of good nutrients.  One dairy processing company stated, “We add just enough sugar to make it good and sweet, but not enough to harm our children”.
However, this is not correct.  Flavored milk contains more sugar than soda/pop, 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving of chocolate milk; “When children drink chocolate and strawberry milk every day at school they’re getting nearly two gallons of extra sugar each year” (obtained from http://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/sugary-milk).  It’s hard to visualize how much sugar that is and sometimes a visual helps, which is what Jamie Oliver did when he brought in a school bus and filled it with refined sugar; in the amount that children drink in a week.

Aside from the health damages associated with milk, there are the atrocities which occur within the dairy industry on a daily basis.  While I am not saying this is the case for all dairy farms, most dairy farms are no longer small, family owned operations; rather they are huge industrial farms with thousands of cows.  Cows and calves are often separated within one hour of the mother giving birth; that is if she is allowed to give birth.  On some occasions the calf is forcefully removed from her uterus (pulled out via a crank and rope) and is often killed during the process.  The cow is forcefully inseminated with chosen bull semen; pregnant for nine months; her calf is taken from her within hours to days of being born; and the cow supposedly rests for one month.  However, she is often immediately returned to the milking stalls.  In order to produce the level of milk demanded by consumer’s cows must be kept pregnant in perpetual cycles.  She is milked two to four times per day, seven days a week, for 305 days and given 60 days off (during which she is usually inseminated with her next calf).  A cow living out her natural life and producing calves naturally will often live twenty to thirty years.  Within the dairy industry cows are slaughtered at four to five years of age.  They are sold at auction for ground beef – their udders dragging the ground, split open, bleeding, covered in purulent sores; often unable to walk; some with horrible respiratory infections; and some with prolapsed uterus.  While these videos are highly disturbing, I believe it is important to gain an accurate picture of what the industrial dairy system truly looks like: PETA dairy industry undercover video and dairy industry undercover video.

One question often unasked is, “What happens to the calves?”  The female calves most often follow in their mothers’ hoof prints or will be used for veal or rennet.  The male calves are either killed instantly at birth or will be raised for veal.  Veal is created from taking a calf and placing them in a confinement pen, feeding them very little food or feeding them a diet which makes them ill, but keeps their muscle fiber very soft and tender (Veal Farm).  Most rennet comes from the lining of the baby calves stomach; it is the enzyme which causes milk to curdle and helps the calf digest its mother’s milk; it is most often used for the rinds of certain cheeses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rennet).

The dairy industry is another part of our food system which tends to occur in the background.  By this, I mean that the animals are often invisible and the products displayed on grocery shelves are sold in pretty, plastic wrapped packaging; looking nothing like their maker.  If you would like to watch a documentary talking about the true facts about milk and the dairy industry please watch The Milk Documentary.

While I am not advocating any particular diet and for me, personally, a vegan lifestyle is not the healthiest choice; I do believe we can make informed choices on where our dairy products come from and choose to support local, family farms which produce and sell dairy products from animals who have been raised humanely, fed a healthy diet and allowed to live as natural a life as possible.  There are also plenty of dairy alternatives to use and if a vegan lifestyle is right for you that is an option as well.

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