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Food For Thought: Why Does Our Milk Come From A Cow? (Part One of Two)

By Serge Bielanko |

Thirsty, kid?

Things are changing fast around my house.

All of the sudden we have like five or six cartons and containers of ‘milk’ in the fridge. We have the red-capped stuff from the supermarket. And we have some of the dark blue capped stuff, too.

Then we have something called “Silk,” a soy milk. I think we have a chocolate version of that as well. If you move some things around in there, slide the Sriracha and the jar of olives over towards the Tupperware of leftovers, you’ll also find some almond milk hanging out with a thing of coconut milk.

My oh my.

What the hell is going on in here?

Well, as it turns out, my wife, like quite a few 21st century moms, has had a kind of epiphany lately; a nutritional “awakening,” if you will. While I’ve been busy eating the same old stuff, the same old way, Monica has been researching the white stuff.

Now, at first I was a bit skeptical.

That’s probably not unusual.

I mean up until pretty darn recently, milk meant one of two things for us here in America. First there was the milk that my wife, a 125 pound human made on her own and fed to our young children through diligent breastfeeding. It is, according to most doctors/experts/and people in-the-know, the absolute best kind of milk that you can give to a baby, bar none.

That is something we can all agree on, I think.

But then we have the other kind,  the kind that comes from a cow, that humungous lumbering farm animal whose sole assigned purpose in our  world, as far as I can make out, is  to produce as much milk as possible before she dies, so that it can be marketed and sold to an entirely different species (us) for mass consumption.

It’s sort of comically irritating to wake up from a crazy deep sleep, rub you confused eyeballs, and mutter:  ”Where the hell am I… what the heck is going on?”, don’t you think?

But that’s the feeling I’ve been having lately as I see all these different “milks” competing for space in our family fridge.

My wife, having taken a notion to read up on what we are feeding our two kids, ages 3 and 1, is mostly to blame for my conundrum, I guess. But that’s okay, because up until now I had never actually given much thought to the question that is currently eating my brain.

And that’s this.

Why do we as human beings go from ingesting our mother’s breast milk, the purest, most obvious choice of vitamins and calcium and other good stuff, during the first year or two of our lives only to switch to the milk of the big bovine for the next six or seven decades of our time on Earth?

Think about that for a second, if you will. It’s at least a little mind blowing, isn’t it? I mean, why is the cow the chosen one? Yes, its milk provides necessary calcium and Vitamins, I’ll give you that. But couldn’t there be other choices a well, choices that are just as good…or even better?

I’m pretty curious.

A recent article over at Salon.com raises this exact question and as I was reading it the other day I found myself even more drawn in to the cow question. Writer Benjamin Phelan points out that, “Worldwide, there are about 6,000 mammal species, each with its own unique milk, but Americans get at least 97 percent of all our dairy products from one animal.” He then offers an intriguing examination of what other animals have to offer in the whole milk department.

Goats for example, Phelan writes, produce milk which is,”tangier, richer, and, to reasonable persons, much tastier than cow’s milk. The superior flavor owes a great deal to the fact that goat’s milk does not separate; the cream is knitted into the milk.”

That last fact caught my attention mainly due to the fact that, when you consider the very nature of business-minded American entrepreneurship, it would seem like a more savvy economical choice to pick the milk that is the easiest to separate from it’s cream, right? And that would be the cow’s.

So, if that is a big deciding factor right there, it make me wonder a little. What are the real reasons we, as Americans, really only think of one thing when we hear the word “milk”?

Mark Bittman, a renowned food writer and the author of one of the best cookbooks I have ever come across, recently penned an opinion piece for the New York Times that takes a closer look at many of the cons associated with our life-long love affair with cow’s milk. Boldly titled, Got Milk? You Don’t Need It, Bittman’s article is a personal account of his own digestive struggles throughout much of his life. Struggles, he indicates, that may well have been the result of American dairy products.

Suffering from chronic upset stomach woes as a child, and then chronic heartburn as a teen, Bittman tells of how he tried everything from Tums to pumps to a multitude of doctor’s visits to alleviate his symptoms without any avail. Only when he decided to experiment with giving up milk and cheese and the like did he find that his symptoms vanished almost instantaneously.

And yeah, he points out that his is not a stone-cold case of “milk is definitely bad for us,” but by the same token, he hits upon one other really interesting fact.

Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9,” he writes.”This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews.

That is a pretty astounding revelation.

Especially when he goes on to mention,”The myplate.gov site helpfully suggests that those people drink lactose-free beverages. (To its credit, it now counts soy milk as “dairy.”) There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage; the site simply encourages us to switch to low-fat milk.

Switch to low-fat milk?

No mention of water?

Once again, we are being advertised to in the subtlest of ways.

Is there a real push to sell us all of that cow’s milk that big money-making companies are producing? Are cows monopolizing our sippy cups?

And what about all of these alternatives hanging out in my fridge these days, these soy milks and almond milks and the like?

Are they safe? Could they possibly be better in some ways than what we all grew up drinking, than what the majority of us are still feeding our kids?

Or have we been drinking cow’s milk for so long for a reason… absolutely certain that it is the one and only choice to get the critical job of raising healthy children done?

I’ll take a look at those questions in Part Two tomorrow.

Until then, I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.

Info sources: Slate.com, The New York Times

You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.

And on Facebook and Twitter.

Keep up with Babble.com on Facebook.

More from Serge:

Watching You Watching Me: Our Family Through The Eyes Of Our Pet Fish, Fishley

15 Reasons To Love Kids & Their Pumpkins

20 Ways The Internet Has Changed Parenting Forever

Young At Heart: 15 Ways Having Kids Made Me Young Again

Was I Wrong to Post This Picture of My Daughter and Myself on the Internet?

More on Babble

About Serge Bielanko

sergebielanko

Serge Bielanko

Serge Bielanko writes about fatherhood for Babble Dad and about marriage stuff for Babble Voices at He Said/She Said. His writing has appeared in Esquire and The Huffington Post, as well as on his personal blog, Thunder Pie. He lives with his wife and two kids in central Pennsylvania. Read bio and latest posts → Read Serge's latest posts →

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7 thoughts on “Food For Thought: Why Does Our Milk Come From A Cow? (Part One of Two)

  1. Krystan says:

    I’ve been saying this for almost two years now. My two-year-old daughter has a dairy allergy, but it wasn’t discovered until she was 3 months old and I decided to take matters into my own hands and eliminate dairy from MY diet to see what would happen for her. She suffered from gas, heartburn and severe skin rashes (luckily nothing terrible like her throat swelling shut). Our pediatrician had us giving her all sorts of medicines to treat the symptoms, but was clueless as to the cause. In desperation, I contacted a lactation consultant and talked about what was happening, and she told me to cut the dairy. What really stuck with me was when she said, “We are the ONLY animals on this earth that routinely consume the milk of another mammal. It’s just not natural.” I discussed the possibility of a dairy allergy with my doctor and she dismissed me, but decided to go ahead and give it up anyway. Within two days, the rash started to fade, she was no longer fussy, gassy and suffering from heartburn (what my doctor decided was just a simple case of “colic”), and we went on to have a happy baby who’s personality changed in a heartbeat. I had a completely different baby.

    Since then, I’ve given up most cow’s milk in my life, and in our family’s. We cook with vegetable-based vegan butter, she drinks vegetable-based soy milk (and so do I), and we are all happier. I noticed that I didn’t get as many stomach issues, too. The benefits spread to the whole family!

    Now, I love my cheddar cheese and nachos and cheese dip as much as the next gal, so I still indulge every once in a while, but it just makes sense to eat the milk we were supposed to eat, and save the rest of it for vegetable-based products that have the same nutrition we need.

  2. Krystan says:

    Also, whenever I have a friend who has a baby that seems to suffer from “colic” or gas/heartburn/other digestive issues, I suggest they cut back on dairy or try to eliminate it from their baby’s diet… and guess what?! It seems almost every time, things improve for mom and baby when they give up the cow’s milk! Little bodies aren’t made to break down any other milk besides their mother’s.

  3. MonicaBielanko says:

    Dairy products are harmful.

    Dairy products contain mucus and often the body will develop a cold or “allergies” to fight the invasion.

    Cow’s milk is meant to grow a 90 pound calf into a 2,000 pound cow. Do we really need that?

    We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk as adults.

    We are the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species.

    Many green vegetables (broccoli, kale etc) and seeds and nuts can provide more calcium than milk.

    We have been told our whole lives we need milk for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. It’s a racket from a multi-billion dollar industry. Milk doesn’t prevent osteoporosis and some studies have shown milk actually leaches calcium from the body.

    Even if milk were good for you, by the time factory farms finish with it you end up drinking antibiotics, pesticides, steroids and hormones. Plus, once it’s pasteurized pretty much anything beneficial in the milk is mostly gone.

    Dairy products have been linked to acne, anxiety, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, headaches, heartburn, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoporosis, allergies, ear infections, colic, obesity, heart disease, cancer… The list goes on.

    That’s not to mention how horrifically milk cows are treated with metal suction cups attached to poor, sore, infected udders and milked and milked and milked beyond anything that is normal.

  4. Sarah says:

    The documentary Forks Over Knives talks all about this. I highly recommend watching it–it pretty much revolutionized the way our family eats (including our 10 month old).

  5. Reese says:

    My family drinks goat milk. It’s easier to digest and ours doesn’t have hormones or antibiotics. I love almond milk too.

  6. I think this site holds some really great information for everyone :D . “As ill-luck would have it.” by Miguel de Cervantes.

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