If there’s anyone who should be leading the dairy-free movement, it’s moms. Here’s why.
I may get a little sappy here, but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.
I first decided to take the vegan plunge in early 2013, after what began as a decision to “go vegetarian” for a month and resulted in one of the most life-affirming experiences I have had thus far. I felt great, became incredibly knowledgeable about the benefits of plant-based eating, and I was excited about spreading the message to others every day (read: PLANT-BASED LIVING IS AWESOME YOU SHOULD TOTALLY TRY IT).
After the initial holy-crap-this-is-amazing hype died down a bit, I went through a period where I settled back into a somewhat lackadaisical eating routine.
Cheese made its way back to my regular palette, as did the occasional dairy ice cream. I see this sort of as the devil on your shoulder whispering sweet buttercream cupcakes and fondue into your ear; habits of the Standard American Diet are always trying to weasel their way back into our lives via the constant industry advertising and permeating social pressure that not eating animals is “weird”.
Then I had a baby, and I became a breastfeeding mother.
I don’t have to tell moms that you won’t fully understand the relationship between mom and baby until you have one of your own. It’s a particular rite of passage that can’t fully be understood otherwise.
But, I may need to remind moms that we’re not the only ones on this planet that have that bond with our children.
Have you ever really thought about where cow’s milk comes from as you drink it? A female cow doesn’t naturally just spew milk from her udders because she’s in the dairy industry. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the sole life purpose of a cow, nor does she enjoy feeding America’s gluttonous dairy habit on a large factory farm.
Just like all other mammals (including humans), in order for a cow to produce milk, she has to:
- Be female.
- Be impregnated, to trigger lactation after birth.
- Have her milk regularly removed to build and maintain her milk supply.
In the beginning, the lone, grass-fed cow in a red barn image was a real thing. Farmers would hand milk the cow’s excess supply (the leftover milk not fed to her babies) for drinking, butter or cheese production. Now, over 75% of the farms in the United States have over one hundred (if not thousands) of cows, the majority of which rely on machines to inseminate and milk them, with no regard for their children or their children’s motherly needs.
This brings me to my headliner: five reasons mothers should be first in line to go dairy-free.
Reason #1: Odds are, you chose to have a baby. Even if it was unexpected, you’re most likely over the moon to have a mini-you.
On the contrary, dairy cows are artificially inseminated by a machine (unwillingly, and therefore raped) to make them pregnant, so that they will begin producing milk after having a calf.
Once milk production naturally decreases (around 10 months postpartum), the cow is forcibly impregnated again, a continuous cycle occurring approximately once per year to keep her as profitable as possible.
In her overall short duration of being a dairy cow (before being killed for meat after 4 or 5 years), the average dairy cow is sexually violated by industrial farmers between 3 and 7 times.
According to the USDA, a dairy cow should produce a calf at least every 12 to 13 months, allowing more time between pregnancies for cows that have a higher milk yield.
Dairy cows on factory farms do not make the choice to reproduce (and I imagine that if they DID have a choice, they would choose not to, knowing the fate that lies ahead for themselves and their babies).
Reason #2: If someone took your baby away from you unwillingly after birth, you would be heartbroken beyond belief.
Babies of dairy cows are removed from their mother within hours to days after birth, typically without time allowed for bonding or to go through the natural weaning process.
According to the Journal of Dairy Science, calves that are left with their mother for more than two hours after birth are at higher risk for infection; in other words, the pens where dairy cows are kept are so unsanitary that they are unfit for calves to stay in.
Female babies are removed from their mother to become dairy cows. Male babies are taken to become veal. “Surplus” calves are sold to slaughterhouses to be made into cheap meat and pet food. After all, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), removing the baby from its mother allows for all of the milk production to be sold for humans to drink — rather than consumed by the baby calf (for which it was made).
Mama cow remains confined in her pen, where she is pumped dry for human benefit. Baby calf is given colostrum and then pasteurized milk (made from dried powder or milk deemed unfit for human consumption) in its own pen, and is taught to drink it from a bucket. In the event that they are “slow learners”, they may be given a special nipple for their bucket.
The FAO states that “complete weaning” is the complete separation of mother and calf, the advantage of which is “that all of the milk produced by the cow is available for sale, and the cow and calf soon forget about each other” (please think about that statement as a mother for a minute).
In the 42 states in which veal crates are legal, veal calves are tied up by the neck with no room to move around, in order to prevent formation of muscle that would harden their soft veal meat; this is how they spend their four months of life before slaughter. They are castrated very young and their horn buds are burned off, frequently without use of anesthetic.
If this isn’t all heart wrenching enough, a study in the Journal of Brain Research found that mammals experience an increase in oxytocin (“the love hormone”) production with each subsequent birth; this means that the dairy cow likely becomes more bonded with each subsequent calf, resulting in an increasingly emotionally traumatizing experience each time one is ripped from her side.
Mother cows cry when their babies are taken from them, just as humans would.
Reason #3: Human milk is for baby humans; cow milk is for baby cows.
It’s a simple concept, or at least it should be. Baby mammals need their mother’s milk as their primary source of nutrition for at least the first year of life. If humans were meant to drink cow’s milk, it would be normal to see people pulling over to suck on cow udders as we drive by farms; and by that logic, we should all be nursing baby cows wrapped up in baby cow onesies.
Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against introducing cow’s milk until after the first year because of the issues it can pose to the human body.
To my point, KellyMom points out that “Cow’s milk is more specific to a baby cow than a baby human.” Infants given cow’s milk too early often experience a higher incidence of allergies, gastrointestinal issues, and diarrhea/vomiting as well as intestinal blood loss due to its difficulty to digest.
Because cow’s milk is so much higher in protein, it can be too hard on infant kidneys. Cow milk is deficient in vitamin C, E and copper. Its low level of vitamin C, paired with its high levels of calcium and phosphorus, increase risk for iron deficiency anemia by blocking baby’s iron absorption from other sources. It has also been linked to a higher risk for development of Type 1 diabetes.
Note: For mothers who are unable to breastfeed or provide enough of their own breast milk for their baby, please see my post on milk sharing and donation. Infant formula is of course another option, but this is a topic for another time as it is imperative to do your research regarding formula ingredients as well.
Reason #4: Ever had a plugged duct? Or worse, mastitis?
Lactation is a supply and demand process. The more baby drinks, the more milk is produced; the less baby drinks, the less milk is produced. This is why your nurses and lactation consultants are so adamant about you nursing or pumping frequently immediately postpartum – so that your baby will have enough milk.
When there is an imbalance between milk production and removal, the milk ducts can easily become backed up, creating a knot or “plug”. Speaking from personal experience, this is more than just a nuisance. If a plugged duct is not released, it can turn into mastitis, a breast infection requiring antibiotics (or even hospitalization) to treat.
Dairy cows are hooked up to machines to remove their milk. Dairy cows today produce 6-7 times the amount of milk they did 100 years ago, thanks to things like genetic modification and (thankfully decreasing due to consumer demand) cases of hormone use; this equates to about ten times the amount of milk that their calves would naturally need if allowed to nurse them. They are made to produce milk for up to 305 days per year.
Unfortunately, some farms overuse antibiotics, when the cows may not be ill but are at risk of becoming ill, to prevent mastitis (antibiotic resistance crisis, anyone?).
Mastitis is common among dairy cows because of the environment in which they are kept. The cycle of pregnancy, lactation, and mechanically removed milk from over-stimulated udders producing way too much. It is uncomfortable, dangerous, and cruel.
Along with frequent overuse of antibiotics, much of the dairy industry uses other techniques, such as “torching” of udders (which they claim to be painless) to reduce the prevalence of mastitis among their cows.
Reason #5: Once you and your baby are done breastfeeding, you get to experience the joys of toddlerhood and your newfound boob freedom.
After a few years of constant milk production and having their children taken from them, when dairy cows are no longer of use to dairy farmers, they are sold to become hamburger meat — and they probably never know what ultimately happened to their babies (because remember, according to the FAO, “out of sight, out of mind”).
A typical dairy cow career is 4 to 5 years. It is important to note that the natural lifespan of a cow can be up to 25 years.
Imagine the bond that develops between a mama cow and her babies when she is allowed to nurse them and raise them in the natural, unconfined environment. I’m not a cow, but I would bet that it is reflective of the relationship between us and our own babies.
How can we treat dairy cows like this, yet be so fervently against rape of each other, abuse of domesticated animals, and outraged when children are kidnapped?
The commercial dairy industry makes no sense in a compassionate world.
As mothers especially, we should know better — and we can do better.
What You Can Do Right Now
Switch to dairy alternatives.
I’m a big proponent of “voting with your dollar”. It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction when I go to the grocery store and not a penny of my money is given to the dairy industry (at least, not on dairy products directly; where money goes is questionable when the food system is saturated with large profiting companies that have their hands in multiple industries).
Luckily, going dairy-free is becoming much more accepted in our society and, because of growing demand, more companies are creating non-dairy alternatives.
The great news is that many of the alternatives on the market today have comparable, if not better, nutritional composition. Below are some of my personal recommendations. Give them a shot next time you have a recipe that calls for milk, cheese, butter, cream cheese or eggs!
Daiya – yogurt, cheese, dressings, cheesecake, pizza
Kite Hill – cheese, cream cheese, yogurt
So Delicious – yogurt, ice cream, milk, creamer, frozen dessert
Silk – milk, yogurt, creamer
Dream – milk, yogurt, ice cream
Blue Diamond – almond milk
Field Roast – cheese
Follow Your Heart – mayonnaise, cheese, dips, sauces, dressings, spreads
Earth Balance – butter, dressings, baking spreads
So, please think about everything that went into that gallon of milk, container of yogurt, or tub of ice cream next time you are “voting with your dollar” at the grocery store.
And mamas, think about this as an extraordinary opportunity to teach our kids about compassion for all living things.
Tell Me Below:
- Have you ever considered this perspective before?
- What, if any, non-dairy milk alternatives have you tried?