The Milk Myth

The other day my friend and I were talking about how easy it is to be misinformed about the nutritional quality of food if we accept media messaging at face value and don’t do research. For a very long time (i.e. until this year) I thought that milk and other dairy products were generalizable as healthy because they “provide calcium” and all that stuff.

I’ve never liked milk all that much. Growing up I drank milk only with my two golden foods: cereal and chocolate. If I felt ambitious I’d drink the remaining milk in my bowl. My entire family felt the same way about milk and we never understood how people could drink it with their dinner. Blech. Suddenly the summer after freshman year I began to enjoy a cold glass of milk by itself. My parents thought I went to the dark side. I thought I was being healthy. In my head: “look at me, getting all this calcium!” Oh, how wrong I was. The truth is that the commercial dairy industry has ingrained us with the idea that we must drink milk to have strong bones. There are multiple problems with this.

First, the human body wasn’t necessarily meant to digest pasteurized milk, especially milk from non-humans.  No other species consumes milk in adulthood and I highly doubt humans have a specific gene that requires we drink milk from other animals to grow. While primitive societies have thrived on milk for a while, there’s a distinct differences between raw milk from grass-fed cows to pasteurized milk from grain-fed cows. After pasteurization most of the nutritional benefits of milk that do exist are destroyed. We barely absorb the calcium.

Second, numerous  studies have found that there is no relation between high calcium intake and strong bones.

Third, recent research has suggested that drinking pasteurized milk actually increases calcium loss. Ingesting milk increases the acidity of the body’s PH level so the body takes action to neutralize the PH using one of the most effective acid neutralizers— calcium. The process of neutralizing actually takes more calcium than you’re consuming by drinking milk in the first place.

Knowing all of this, it’s amazing that the “Got Milk” campaign is so present in schools. It misinforms kids about the nutrients of food and disables them from making healthy, informed decisions about what they put into their bodies. At least tell them that calcium can be found in high quality among vegetables. The new nutrition slogan should be: “when in doubt, eat vegetables”. High-calcium alternatives to milk include dark green veggies (no surprise there), dry beans, sesame seeds and almonds, salmon, sardines, sunflower seeds, and okra. I’m sure there are many more. Shout out to vanilla almond milk! You sneaky nut you.

Did anyone else grow up with this misconception of milk? How did you learn about its true nutritional worth? Has this changed how often you drink it or what kind of milk you drink?

Sources:

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/is-cows-milk-meant-for-human-consumption-part-1/

http://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/

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Veggiequeer: A Twist to Veganism

“Veggiequeer” is one of my favorite portmanteaus. It’s a fusion of words originating from two social topics: dietary preference and sexuality (though the word here applies as a reference to dietary preference). While the term “queer” has had a pejorative meaning for most of the 20th century, it’s been reappropriated in the past couple decades— at least in the U.S.— to denote an opposition to binary thinking. More personally my friends and I use it as a suffix for anything that we don’t want to box ourselves into.

A recurring theme on this blog is that no one has the authority to monitor your dietary preference. The problem here is that most people are going to do it anyway, especially if they don’t know many people who are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc. In middle school I didn’t know anyone who was vegetarian, but I also didn’t think it was a big deal. I guess it was a surprise to me when I went on a volunteer trip to Belize for a couple weeks and some fellow members referred to another volunteer as “PETA” because she  was vegetarian.

Too often people make us feel pressure to have a definitive dietary preference. We have to be something, as if the person asking has a burning desire  to categorize what we eat. There’s nothing wrong with asking out of curiosity, there’s just a problem with planning to critique or double-check another person’s diet.

To deal with these situations some of my friends and I use the term “veggiequeer” to describe our diet. What does it mean? Here’s the great part: it means whatever you want it to mean! Generally it’s been used to describe some variations in veganism & vegetarianism or gaps between eating meat and not eating meat. It’s casual. More than likely the person asking will have no idea what you’re talking about and what better time than then to A) explain why you choose to eat what you do B) address stereotypes C) explain the origins of “veggiequeer”! Obviously this depends on the person’s actual interest— use your social cues friends.

The “Please Stop Talking About Your Food” Problem

Eating habits and opinions on food production can be touchy subjects for a lot of people. For one thing we were all raised differently in regards to what is “normal” to eat, even if we grew up in the same culture. Food is essential for all bodily processes that enable us to breathe, move, and think, but also what we put in our bodies plays such a huge role in our social and mental health. There is no part of our lives that is not influenced by what we eat. Along with sleeping, breathing, and pooping, eating is one of the few behaviors that all beings have in common.

Because of food’s ever-present power in our lives people become very passionate about it. Some people tweet haikus about food, others make YouTube series of drunk cooking, and still fewer and far less admirable people change Rogers & Hammerstein lyrics into chocolate-praising hymns (The Sound of Music sanctity > chocolate). Tack on all the diets, research studies, and intersectionality with environmental health, animal rights, etc. and there are millions of clashing views about what’s best to eat.

Passion is a wonderful quality to have; it fuels education, progress, and inspires others. There is a difference, however, between respectful passion and stubborn passion. Misused passion can create damaging social dynamics when it becomes a medium for accosting others. Forcing your opinion down someone’s throat will always lead to a coughing fit.

Often vegans, or really anyone else who chooses a more unique diet preference, get a bad rep for being “preachy”.  This is generally a very small minority. Of my ten vegan friends none of them have ever asked me to change my diet, made snarky remarks about my food choice, or made fun of me when I chose to eat that one slice of bacon (I’m vegetarian) like my non-veg friends have. The people I know who eat vegan are very aware of the preachy vegan stereotype and some of them even go out of their way to avoid judgement at restaurants by saying “I’m vegetarian and also lactose-intolerant, what can I eat?” instead of “what’s vegan?” In many ways I think it hurts them more than anyone else.

A couple weeks ago a group of pamphleteers stationed themselves at our campus plaza, dressed as animals, and tried to convince people to turn vegan by yelling about it and holding signs. One of them tried to hand my friend Katie, who’s vegan, a pamplet. When she informed him she was already vegan he looked at her and said “but you are wearing leather shoes and your bag is leather so maybe you should take this.” Someone please explain to me how being  judgmental and rude will convince others to go vegan.

The difference between being “preachy” and having a mutually educational conversation is how open both parties are to discussion. Many of my friends are interested in social justice, earth preservation, human & animal rights, you name it, so I know I can freely address these subjects with them.  However, there are definitely people in my life who have made it clear they don’t want to hear about it and I respect that distance unless they bring it up themselves. Sadly the fear of being perceived as preachy can silence those who have thoughtful, educational tidbits to offer. To make the best eating decisions for our health and our environment we have to be open to learning, even if it’s not what we want to hear.

Water Footprints & Food

It’s not really “in” to be concerned with your water footprint. A Google search of the phrase “water footprint” retrieves 8 times fewer results than a search for “carbon footprint” (723,000 compared to 8.5 million).  Even in the dialogues I’ve had of water conservation most focus on reducing water use at home: take shorter showers, use a basin to wash dishes by hand, turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth, etc. With all the hullaballoo centered on household water use, it must have the most impact on reducing our water footprint, right?

Wrong. Only 4% of the water footprint of humanity relates to water use at home, meanwhile 27% is related to the production of animal products.  (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2011).

This means that if you want to make a significant effort to reduce your water use you can start by decreasing your consumption and purchase of animal products and byproducts. The quarter pounder is worth more than 30 average American showers (National Geographic). Forget for a second that I’m vegetarian; personally, I would choose being clean for a month or two over a 5-minute inhalation of beef.

  • The average water footprint per calorie for fruits or cereals is 20 times smaller than that for beef and 3 times smaller than that for chicken.
  • Producing a typical American Thanksgiving dinner for six people requires over 30,000 gallons of water.
  • Pork costs water to produce, and traditional pork production—to make your sausage, bacon, and chops—has also been the cause of some water pollution, as pig waste runs into local water sources.
  • California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater
  • On average, a person who doesn’t eat meat or dairy indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet.

Water conservation is not a local or regional issue— it’s global. The food consumed in Boston could determine the water footprint of a cocoa farm in Brazil or a cheese factory in Wisconsin. The decision to cut out meat and dairy is not all insignificant and will not only help water conservation efforts around the globe, but also reduce the negative consequences that production of animal products have on the environment and by default our own health.

Sources:

Hoekstra, A. Y., A. K. Chapagain, M. M. Aldaya, and M. M. Mekonnen. 2011. The Water Footprint Assessment Manual: Setting the Global Standard. Earthscan, London, UK

Hoekstra, A. Y. 2012. The Hidden Water Resource Use behind Meat and Dairy.

Natural Resources Defense Council

Veganism Myths

Myths often exist because of a lack of knowledge. Ethical Ocean, an online marketplace for ethical products & service in North America,  created this handy-dandy infographic to dispel some common misconceptions about the vegan lifestyle.

(Note: please disregard the unnecessary sex differentiation of protein intake. I acknowledge that adequate protein varies per person according to physical activity, size, and other factors that aren’t essentially sex-related). 

Veganism Myths Debunked

via Ethical Ocean – eco friendly products, fair trade and vegan shopping.