That Darn Dairy Industry that Fooled Us All.
When I make the drive from home (Pittsburgh, PA) to Bucknell (Lewisburg, PA), I pass numerous billboards sponsored by Allied Milk Producers’ Cooperative, Incorporated. According to their website, the organization is “a non-profit group formed to promote the use of dairy products.” The advertisements say things like “Milk: It keeps your body in tune!” and “Cheese: A slice of good life.” One that particularly bothers me pictures a child eating an ice-cream cone and features a caption saying, “For the health of it.” My point here is not to put down the dairy farmers, because until proven otherwise, I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe they truly believe in the integrity of product. Rather, my point is to illuminate yet another way that false notions of dairy products are perpetuated.
The dairy industry spends over $160 million in advertising costs each year. The industry’s primary vehicle for transmitting its messages is the public school system. In a 2003 Unified Marketing Plan designed to help increase dairy demand, the industry listed initiatives and strategies “to guide school-age children to become life-long consumers of dairy products.” These strategies included conducting and publicizing research favorable to their own products. It’s really quite brilliant, actually. We don’t think twice about the fact that milk is required in school lunches, or question who is running the “Got Milk?” campaign. It’s not scientists or nutritionists who are running the campaign and promoting dairy products, it’s the dairy industry itself! When explaining these programs to the public, the industry refers to it as nutrition education, but in their industry press-releases or official reports to Congress, they rightly describe all school-related activities as marketing activities. But the dairy industry doesn’t target only children—it also spends $4-5 million a year to fund research projects aiming to find something healthy to talk about regarding its products. This “science” is what they target towards adults; this is where the information in commercials or advertisements touting the health benefits of dairy come from.
To put things simply, the dairy industry is rich and clever. They have lots of money and lots of power, and they have done a great job of misleading society to think that dairy is not only healthy, but worthy of being its own food group. To anyone who was unaware of this fallacy, don’t feel bad about yourself. It’s really not your fault. For the majority of my life, I was under the impression that things like skim milk and greek yogurt were health foods, and consumed copious amounts of both. When we grow up in a society filled with messages convincing us that dairy products are beneficial to our health, we assume that this is fact and give no critical thought toward questioning its validity.
I mean, if we don’t consume dairy products, where will we get our calcium? How will be build strong bones? We’re doomed, right?! Wrong. Clinical research in numerous studies has actually found that milk consumption does not bring bone protection benefits. In fact, some studies have found that dairy actually has negative effects on bone health! Furthermore, the highest rates of osteoporosis are found in the countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption. While research is not 100% conclusive on why this is the case, it is most often attributed to the acidic nature of the protein in animal products. When consumed, animal products create an acidic environment in the bloodstream. In response, the body leaches calcium from the bones in order to neutralize the acid. Consumption of dairy products, especially those which are low- or non-fat (meaning they have a higher percentage of protein), can actually lead to lower levels of calcium in the body. Calcium can be found in a variety of other, healthier food choices such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, other leafy green vegetables, and beans; and these plant-based sources don’t come with the negative effects that dairy products bring.
Dairy products have also been linked to increased susceptibility to Type-1 diabetes, cancer (especially prostate cancer and breast cancer), acne, migraines, arthritis, and more. Adding to their danger, dairy products can be very addicting! Casein, the protein in dairy products, is most concentrated in cheese (it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese). When we consume cheese, the casein is broken down during digestion and forms casomorphins—yes, “morphins” like morphine—which have an opiate-like effect within the body. This is why so many people feel addicted to cheese—they probably are. Though it can be hard to give up at first, you can find solace in the fact that your tastebuds adjust after about three weeks. So if you can get over the initial hump, you’ll be good to go!
Plus, dairy products can have a frighteningly high fat content. Have you ever thought about the fact that milk helps calves to grow from their 60-80 pound birth weight to a 1,000 pound cow in a year? For the calves, it’s healthy. For humans… not so much. Of course, there are low-fat dairy products out there, but these products still have a long list of negative effects (such as what is mentioned in the previous two paragraphs).
Unfortunately, however, the people and organizations who know the truth about dairy have nowhere near the money or leverage that the dairy industry has. Therefore, the message that gets publicized is that which the dairy industry itself pushes and promotes. (Side note: Right now, I am in the process of writing my thesis on including nutrition education in the school curriculum. I was reading a study the other day that documented a nutrition education program used within a particular school, and one of the listed curriculum materials that the study used was written by the dairy industry! Oy vey. See my point here?)
However, there is hope. There are a number of ways that the information is making its way into the mainstream. For example, through documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Got the Facts on Milk?; books such as The China Study, Engine 2 Diet, My Beef With Meat, Breaking The Food Seduction, and many more plant-based nutrition books; and the work of people/organizations such as Jeff Novick, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, Dr. Esselstyn, Engine 2 Diet, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, TrueNorth Health Center, Sprout’d, and many others. Slowly but surely, the truth is being spread.
Plus, there is a growing abundance of non-dairy alternatives to help people make the move away from dairy products. Most grocery stores carry at least soymilk and almond milk these days, and many have rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, flax milk, and more! In addition, we have a ton of wonderful plant-based recipe bloggers sharing amazingly delicious plant-based recipes that offer tasty alternatives, such as Engine 2’s Macaroni Not Cheese, Happy Herbivore’s Low-fat Vegan Nacho Cheese, Dreena Burton’s parmesan cheese substitutes, Susan Voisin’s Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce, or Cathy Fisher’s pesto. Things like french toast, mashed potatoes, cookies, and carrot cake can be made without any dairy products too. Basically, I’ve found that anything that can be made with dairy can be made just as well—or even better!—without it.
The dairy industry is a big villain to take on, but I believe in us. If we band together, I believe that we can make an impact. We CAN make a difference. So ditch the dairy! This alone will have positive effects, for that is one more person voting (via grocery bills) against the dairy industry. And you never know, maybe you will even influence others to ask questions or think twice about their own consumption habits.
A new favorite—and very fitting—quote of mine (which I first saw on this Herbivore Clothing Company sticker) is “The world will change if we do.” So, come on, everyone! Let’s change the world :)
Almond milk mustaches all-around!
[Note: There are a number of other issues with the dairy industry’s practices (i.e. the environment of factory farms, the use of chemicals and hormones, the artificial insemination procedures, etc.) but these are not something that I went into in this particular post.]
Barnard, Neal D., and Joanne Stepaniak. Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons behind Food Cravings– and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003
Dahl-Jorgensen K, Joner G, Hanssen KF. “Relationship between cow’s milk consumption and incidence of IDDM in childhood”. Diabetes Care 14 (1991): 1081-1085
Dairy Management Inc. Press Release. “Dairy checkoff 2003 unified marketing plan budget geared to help increase demand in domestic and international markets.” Rosemont, IL: January 24, 2003.
Goldhamer, Alan, DC. “No Body Needs Milk.” T. Colin Campbell Foundation. N.p., 2008. Web.
“Health Concerns About Dairy Products.” PCRM. Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine, 2012. Web.
McDougall, John, MD. “Dairy Products and 10 False Promises.” The McDougall Newsletter 2 (Apr. 2003)
McDougall, John, MD. “When Friends Ask: Why Don’t You Drink Milk?” The McDougall Newsletter 6 (Mar. 2007)
Sonneville KR, Gordon CM, Kocher MS, Pierce LM, Ramappa A, Field AE. “Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents”. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published ahead of print March 5, 2012.