The Post-Milk Generation: Ditching the Dairy Once and for All

With International Coffee Day happening on the first of the month, and with cafés reopened post-lockdown for a comforting taste of the old barista trade, some of us might once again be at that dithering point when at the front of the queue and our brains suddenly think, “Which ‘milk’ do I ask for?”  Milk in inverted commas, of course, because enlightenment over the true effects of the dairy industry have now reached far and wide.  Despite farmers in the main pledging to graze their herds out of doors for more days a year (up to 200 days per annum), very few of us are still sipping cow’s milk, or even goat’s milk (as was a thing for a while, until news broke over the summer of the outrageous abuse that the animals were suffering on the farm of the UK’s leading producer, as reported by The Independent). 

One (self-centred) reason for this is that we are aware that the naturally occurring hormones in such non-human animal mother’s milk can adversely affect the human brain as pertains to mood, can adversely affect our bodies as a whole as well, causing skin problems and weight issues and digestive problems.  The casein in dairy, the protein content, is highly addictive (not to mention the bonding hormone, oxytocin, which is released when a calf suckles; or when a machine massages a bovine teat).  Like most addictions, there are side effects, inclusive of aggression and depression.

The West’s food history in the last 5,000 years has charted milk’s use in keeping people alive in Eurasian cultures, people with a historical practice of milking cows (and sheep and goats), who have retained the lactase enzyme (which digests the sugar lactose) well beyond the childhood years.  Those of other ethnicities generally lose our naturally occurring lactase around the age of 4 years.  Nonetheless, in Eastern religious and spiritual practice milk has a place (in worship of Hinduism’s elephant-headed god of wisdom, Ganesha, for example). 

Milk is not what it once was.  Commodification in Great Britain from 1850 onwards resulted in infections due to long-distance transport, yet when sterilization and pasteurization from the 1920s ameliorated that, still physiological problems seemed to result from its consumption.

Fortification of alternatives, therefore, is a boon.  The 20th October is World Osteoporosis Day (WOD), with its campaign motto of “That’s Osteoporosis” (most notably on the poster “When a sneeze can break your bones”).  WOD aims to raise awareness over prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, osteoporosis being an increasing global problem.  Affecting one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50, sufferers must deal with incredible pain as a result of more easily broken bones (or fragility fractures).  The peak ages for bone development take place in adolescence (14 years old for boys, 12.5 years old for girls), while bone tissue loss begins after the age of 40.

Despite the detractors, veganism or at the very least a dairy-free lifestyle does not necessarily mean poor bone health.  Far from it!  In 120g each of tofu and raw broccoli, there is to be had 126mg and 112mg of calcium, respectively.  At the same time, shitake mushrooms are the fungi to opt for in terms of vitamin D content, sun-dried shitake holding 16 times the amount of vitamin D in comparison to fresh shitake.  Meanwhile, protein-a-plenty can be found in lentils, beans, and nuts, and bone health’s crucial micro-ingredients (magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, and carotenoids) are found in more than plentiful quantities in fruit and vegetables.

Milk is not what it once was.  Commodification in Great Britain from 1850 onwards resulted in infections due to long-distance transport, yet when sterilization and pasteurization from the 1920s ameliorated that, still physiological problems seemed to result from its consumption.

Fortification of alternatives, therefore, is a boon.  The 20th October is World Osteoporosis Day (WOD), with its campaign motto of “That’s Osteoporosis” (most notably on the poster “When a sneeze can break your bones”).  WOD aims to raise awareness over prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, osteoporosis being an increasing global problem.  Affecting one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50, sufferers must deal with incredible pain as a result of more easily broken bones (or fragility fractures).  The peak ages for bone development take place in adolescence (14 years old for boys, 12.5 years old for girls), while bone tissue loss begins after the age of 40.

Despite the detractors, veganism or at the very least a dairy-free lifestyle does not necessarily mean poor bone health.  Far from it!  In 120g each of tofu and raw broccoli, there is to be had 126mg and 112mg of calcium, respectively.  At the same time, shitake mushrooms are the fungi to opt for in terms of vitamin D content, sun-dried shitake holding 16 times the amount of vitamin D in comparison to fresh shitake.  Meanwhile, protein-a-plenty can be found in lentils, beans, and nuts, and bone health’s crucial micro-ingredients (magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, and carotenoids) are found in more than plentiful quantities in fruit and vegetables.

A central concern, of course, is the cruelty issue when considering the dairy industry: if left to live free in and with nature, a dairy cow would live for up to 25 years; on a dairy farm, the normal maximum longevity is 5 years.  It might just have something to do with the fact that dairy cows in the modern world have been purposefully bred to produce 10 times more milk than is biologically natural…

We need no further impetus to fill our cups with sweet caffeine each morning (or afternoon) – but what of de-dairying the accompaniment, our added milks of choice?  Certainly, alternative milks are not what they used to be: in a very good way indeed.  Long gone are the times when the decision was like a coin, the heads-or-tails options solely soya milk or rice milk.  Now, it never ceases to amaze just how many plant-based sources can offer a ‘milk’.  But one must ensure that even those choices remain sustainable.

PETA recently reported on the enslavement of macaques in Thailand, trained to harvest coconuts for human consumption.  This caused a boycott on a couple of Thai coconut product-specific companies by some 17,000 stores globally.  Leading supermarkets worldwide made this decision, including most of those that operate in the United Kingdom.  The move garnered the support of the environment minister Lord Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds.  The top exporter of coconut milk on the planet, Thailand’s coconut trade is estimated to be worth US$400 million: needless to say, it was quite the blow.  The trainers of the monkeys, interestingly, compare what they do to cattle-farming. 

Vegconomist reported back in early summer that the Swedish brand Oatly has been running its “Transfarmation” campaign, assisting farmers in transitioning to crop cultivation in lieu of livestock.  Their sustainability drive in agriculture has directed consumers towards the rise of the “Post-Milk Generation”: fewer and fewer of us are opting for dairy milk, instead electing to go the plant-based route, both with Oatly products and those of its competitors.

A study published in the Journal of Life Cycle Assessment found that butter production is 3.5 times more damaging to the environment than vegan alternatives.  Another study by Steven Chu (Nobel Prize-winning physicist) found animal agriculture to have far more of a negative impact on the environment than even power generation.  As Oxford University researcher Joseph Poore put it, a “vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.”

Of course, there’s the ongoing debate about whether alternatives should be permitted to use the words ‘milk’ or ‘cheese’ (or ‘steak’ or ‘burger’) – and so on and so forth – when it comes to competing with the livestock industries in a planet-friendly, plant-chomping way.  But that hasn’t stopped an avalanche of developments in the dairy-free alternative sector.  For instance, Canadian brand Nuts for Cheese became the first certified Fairtrade vegan cheese in July, its ingredients (“cashews, coconut oil, coconut milk, turmeric, and black peppercorns”) all sustainably and socially responsibly sourced.

ABC News reported at the start of the year that Australia’s animal agriculture sector needed to meet “consumer attitudes to animal welfare” or risk losing $3.2 billion within the next decade.  Yet, most recently, Australian cattle farmers were up in arms over JAT Oppenheimer marketing “Wagyu ‘beef’” made from tofu under the brand name V Meat.  Unlike its bovine counterpart, V Meat Wagyu ‘beef’ doesn’t cost $100 a steak; like its animal-derived predecessor, it retains that “distinctive smell” and marbling effect (according to JAT’s managing director, Wilton Yao).  A competitor in the Wagyu, um, stakes is Waygu (note the subtle spelling difference): developed in Japan using Japanese ingredients (in particular, the special teriyaki sauce), it is manufactured by Vancouver-based Top Tier Foods.  According to Vegconomist, Waygu impressed even the world-renowned Master Chef Hidekazu Tojo.

October is very much the month for mindfulness – over what we choose to fuel our bodies with, at least.  With 1st October marking World Vegetarian Day, the 4th World Animal Day, the 7th World Habitat Day, and the 16th World Food Day the relationship between humans, animals, and the planet is clearly a (worthy) preoccupation.  But with the 14th officially marking the start of Chocolate Week (to which we say, “Hurrah!”), it is worth reiterating that that doesn’t have to necessitate the cruelty of dairy ingredients.  Independent health food shops are nearly overflowing with cruelty-free, animal-friendly options these days: pop to your local high street, don’t forget your mask (not the Halloween kind), and enjoy browsing the vegan chocolate choices today.

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