This post is going to be a copy-pasta job. I know this is cheating, but it’s either this or no posts. Maybe some more posts later, but my track record for the moment isn’t too hot.
So anyway, I wrote this back when I was being vegetarian – so, when I had a reason to know about it. I was getting tired of vegans hijacking the vegetarian forums, and saying things like, ‘milk is murder!’ and telling us we were not trying hard enough – if we were truly committed to the cause, we’d be full vegans rather than half-hearted vegetarians.
Edited for context (originally a post on a forum)…
Most humans lack the enzyme to break down lactose. This makes most humans lactose intolerant, it’s just that there are varying levels of reactions to the lactose. Some people will feel really sick, something akin to a stomach bug, some people experience respiratory distress, some people have the lactose pass right through their system without them ever feeling an ill-effect.
We’re so obsessed nowadays with labeling ourselves as one thing or another. “I’m lactose intolerant so I can’t have dairy” or “I’m gluten intolerant, so I can’t have anything with gluten”. Actually, wheat is not a really positive thing for humans to eat either, if we’re going to get technical. Our bodies aren’t set up to break down wheat proteins, which is why there are more and more people showing gluten intolerances. Some people are affected more than others.
Basically, milk is not what’s bad for you. It’s what they DO to the milk that causes the problems. The milk that comes out of the cow is a healthy thing for humans to partake of. It contains not only lactose, but also the enzyme required to break down the lactose. Through the act of pasteurising the milk (which is required by law here in Australia) this enzyme is removed, and with it the ability to break down the lactose.
The reason that it’s illegal to sell un-pasteurised milk is because of problems that occur when cows are fed on grain rather than grass. Grain that has mould on it (a common occurrence in most large dairy farms that feed their cows on stored grain) can pass bacteria through the milk, and humans drinking that milk can get sick from it. They decided to, rather than solving the problem by not feeding the cattle grain in the first place, heat the milk to extreme temperatures and strip it of it’s natural composition. This meant that the bad bacteria and cultures were removed, but so were the necessary enzymes.
If you live on a farm, have a cow that eats fresh grass and other good things, and you milk that cow, then the milk you can drink from it is very nutritionally beneficial. The protein-to-carbohydrate ratio and vitamins and minerals, not to mention active white blood cells, are some of the reasons why milk has been such a big part of a lot of traditional diets for thousands of years.
I’m not saying that you can’t live without milk – of course you can. I’m just saying that some of the reasons put forward to condemn the product are a bit under-researched, facile and obnoxious.
The real problem is not the fact that people consume milk, and saying “milk is murder!!!!1!!one” is pretty much having the opposite effect I think those who say it intend. The problem is those aspects of the dairy industry that perpetuate the horrible treatment of cows and calves, and fail to give the public proper information about what they’re consuming and that there is another option. If we had the option of purchasing milk from cows left to graze the fields, feed their calves, and go through natural cycles of life, and without the pasteurisation, that would be a much better alternative to drinking milk from cows that have horrible things done to them.
A similar thing happened with chickens. I like eggs. It doesn’t mean I’m eating undeveloped chicken foetuses. For years and years we owned chickens that roamed our backyard and provided eggs on occasion scattered through the garden. There was no rooster around, so the eggs were unfertilised. The only reason I don’t still have my own chickens is because I live in the city now and there are rules about what sort of animals you can and can’t have in close proximity to other people. You have the choice here to buy free range, organic eggs, or the cage eggs which are cheaper but I will never buy personally. We should be given a similar choice with milk.
No, a vegan diet is not impossible, but neither is it the only humane way to sustain yourself.