What’s wrong with milk anyway?
‘But what will you eat?’
‘What about protein?’
‘Can you really live without cheese?’
Well, I’ve been vegan for a couple of days and I’ve already had to field several comments like those above.
And I have to admit, I’ve asked myself the same questions! Especially the cheesecake one…..
The most common question I’ve had to deal with so far though is the possibly also the easiest to answer – ‘what’s wrong with milk?’
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with cow’s milk. Absolutely nothing.
It’s nutritious, it’s delicious, and it’s full of calcium. It’s wonderful – if you happen to be a calf.
It should be obvious, and yet it’s not.
I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent and compassionate individual and yet it has taken me 29 years to fully question the provenance of the contents of my fridge. And now that I have found some of the answers, there can be no going back.
A bit about me.
I was vegetarian for 13 years until temporary wheat intolerance, a hectic schedule, a relationship with a committed carnivore and (I’ll admit) an attack of sheer laziness combined to lead me from the straight and narrow straight into a plate of chicken wings.
Five years, a marriage and a baby later and I realise that I am only eating meat because I think that I need it to feel healthy. I do not particularly enjoy it and I loathe cooking it. My husband will be the first to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at cooking it! In my paranoia over food poisoning, I overcook chicken to the point that you’d need a hacksaw to cut it. My meat sauce for pasta just tastes weird.
That’s it, I’m giving up meat. Later. I’m seven months pregnant and am too scared to make the jump yet.
Fast forward to pre-Christmas 2010.
My baby is here but I’m breastfeeding. Yet another excuse to put off the transition back to vegetarianism. Until I happen to click on a video of Christmas turkeys lined up for the seasonal slaughter.
So I’m a veggie once again. It’s easy enough. I know the ropes. I realise that the reason I felt so unhealthy the last time around was not due to any nutritional deficits in a typical vegetarian diet but rather the result of a lazy student living on pasta with cheese, pizza with cheese and stupid amounts of cheap wine and even cheaper vodka.
It’s not enough for me though. I’m older and wiser. And I’m a mother. I notice a couple of vegan recipes while I’m online. I start to wonder why vegetarianism paves the way for veganism. What’s wrong with milk anyway?
I start to read about cows forced to endure pregnancy after pregnancy, about calves ripped away from their mothers at only one or two days old. The males are useless to the dairy farmers so they are killed or sold on for veal.
I remember the feel of my babies kicking inside me. I picture their little faces the day they were born. I gaze adoringly at the boy I carried for nine months and love with all my heart.
What if someone had taken him away from me? I can almost feel the pain in my heart when I think about that horrific possibility. I can hear the way he cries for me when I leave the room even for five minutes.
And more importantly, I know how wonderful it is to feed him, how much he needs the milk I produce for him and how much I need to feed him. It’s a primal thing. It’s instinctive. And yet, by consuming milk and cheese, by feeding these to my children, I am putting other mothers through exactly the kind of pain I can imagine feeling at the loss of my babies. I am depriving them of the joy of feeding their children, or fulfilling the most basic of needs for all mammals.
Emotional claptrap I can hear some of you cry. Maybe. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still somewhat hormonal after having my little one.
Luckily, there are a whole host of other reasons to give up milk, so even if I do turn into a cold-hearted Cruella De Ville after my hormones settle down, my vegan resolve should still hold!
Blood and pus: Don’t read any further if you’re squeamish.
Dairy cows are forced to overproduce milk. This leads to infections. This leads to blood and pus making their way into the milk supply. This then splashes on to your cornflakes in the morning. Still hungry?
Lactose intolerance: humans just aren’t designed to drink milk after the first few years of life, and certainly not milk from another species. A frightening number of us suffer lactose intolerance, some without even realising. I was diagnosed with IBS years ago and have endured it throughout most of my 20s. A few dairy free days, however, and my symptoms have disappeared. Result!
There are probably a hundred more reasons to give up the white stuff but for me these are the most convincing arguments – and should be enough to make me step away from the Brie.