I Need...Dairy

>> Saturday, December 6, 2008

When I wrote my post about going vegetarian a few months ago, it was the first time I'd thoroughly researched reasons to be a vegetarian in several years. Researching the subject reconfirmed my decision not to eat meat, but it also left me feeling really guilty that I still eat dairy products and eggs.

I tried going vegan early on in my years as a vegetarian, but that lifestyle change was short-lived, lasting barely a year. Frankly, it was just too hard. There are hidden animal products in foods you would think have no reason to have animal products in them. Like cold cereal, for instance. Bread. Tortillas. Even some so-called vegetarian cheeses are still made with rennet, which comes from the stomach of a cow. It took me forever to go grocery shopping because I had to read the label of every product I picked up off the shelf.

Then there were the intense cravings for cheese and ice cream every time I ate around non-vegans - including my husband who still kept cheese in the house and indulged in the occasional ice cream treat. I honestly don't crave meat like some vegetarians, but giving up cheese and ice cream was painful. And SoyDream just does not do the job.

So I gave up my short-lived veganism, rationalizing that my dairy consumption was a necessary, though admittedly bad, habit.

The problem with being a Conscious Shopper is that once you're aware of the dark side of something you're doing, it's hard to rationalize it as necessary. Dairy consumption is inextricably linked to the meat industry, and also has a list of problems all it's own:

  1. The bucolic image of a field of cows is a thing of the past. Most dairy cows today spend their lives in huge manure-filled feedlots or sheds where they are fed grain that has been treated with pesticides and fertilizer.
  2. To be able to produce milk, the cows are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination.
  3. After a cow gives birth, her calf is taken from her within a day. If the calf is a male, he is moved to a veal crate, where he will only live for a few months before being slaughtered. If the calf is a female, she'll grow up to be a dairy cow like her mother.
  4. To get the cows to produce more milk, many factory farmers inject the cows with a hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The FDA approved rBGH for use in the early 1990s with no prior safety testing, relying on the results of one study conducted by Monsanto, the creators of the hormone. In recent years, use of rBGH has been correlated to tumors and cancer in humans, although the health risks associated with the hormone are still being disputed. It is indisputable, however, that cows treated with rBGH have an increased risk of infected or inflamed udders, ovarian cysts, and reduced pregnancy rates.
  5. Dairy cows raised in factory farms have an average lifespan of 5 years, a quarter of the lifespan of a traditionally raised cow, and their lives generally end in the slaughterhouse.
  6. Unlike human waste, treatment of animal waste from factory farms is not adequately regulated. Animal waste is pumped into huge open pits where it releases methane gas, and much of the waste ends up running into water supplies.
For more information, check out these resources:

Go Veg: Dairy Cows
The Green Guide on rBGH
Pollution Locator: Animal Waste
101 Reasons to Go Vegetarian

So what's a dairy-loving eco-conscious animal lover to do?

Baby Steps
  • Avoid recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Many brands of dairy products are now labeled as rBGH-free.
  • Eat less dairy. Try eating more Asian or Indian cuisine, both of which tend to use less dairy.
Jogging Stride
  • Buy organic. Organic dairy cows are not given hormones or antibiotics, must be fed organic feed, and must spend a certain number of days in pasture.
  • Support a local small farm. Small farmers have trouble competing with the big factory farms, especially those that use growth hormones. Give a guy a chance!
  • Give organic soymilk or goat's milk a try. It takes fewer natural resources to grow soybeans or raise goats. You can even raise your own goats – I hear they make a great fossil-fuel free lawnmower!
Marathon Runner
  • Go vegan. I tip my hat to all the vegans out there, and if you think you can do it, go for it!

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Many mainstream grocery stores are now selling their own store brand of organic dairy products. They're still expensive, but cost less than the name brands. You can also save money by trying out some DIY projects such as making your own yogurt, soymilk, and even cheeses.

Where I'm At
I've started buying organic cheese, but I'm also trying to decrease the amount of cheese my family eats overall. In the past, we've tended to think, "If it tastes good, it will taste even better with cheese!." Also, being a mostly vegetarian family, we are big fans of the beans and cheese combination. To get around this, I started buying a smaller package of cheese, and when we run out, that's our cheese quota for the week.

In the milk department, I've decided to splurge on the Maple View Farm milk. It's a dollar more expensive and not organic, but I discovered that I can buy it at the farmer's market and return my glass bottles there. Plus, it tastes really good. I also discovered this week that my kids are big fans of soymilk. First Son actually begged me to buy it for him at the grocery store today.

I'm still trying to work out the ice cream issue...

Photo by JelleS


Leigh,  December 6, 2008 at 9:46 PM  

I agree that this vegan question is difficult, and makes it nearly impossible to eat with other people, unless you cook for them. We've switched to soy milk completely (for about five years), but cheese is so hard to not eat and the soy kinds taste like chalk. I think you're right on to cut down on the "cheese on everything." One of my favorite things is to use soft tofu in lasagna instead of ricotta. They're about the same nutritionally (fat/protein), and it tastes really the same. And often the block of tofu is cheaper than the tub of ricotta.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper December 7, 2008 at 10:13 AM  

Leigh, That's a great suggestion to use the tofu in place of ricotta. Are you guys completely vegetarian? Or do you eat meat sometimes?

LEigh,  December 7, 2008 at 5:54 PM  

I never eat it. Patrick eats fish occasionally and is partial to raw fish. I didn't grow up that way. :) He doesn't eat any other meat. I love cheese and could never give it up, I think. And eggs have such good binding properties for baking. Like you, I think reading every single package would be a drag. Good luck with your dairy lowering forays.

Maren Hansen December 7, 2008 at 7:46 PM  

Wow, what a great post. One question: is rBGH the same as rBST? I noticed that TONS of dairy products now are rBST-free. Oh, and a very cheap place to buy organic milk is Costco. Sadly, it's in the TetraPak which many places don't accept for recycling.

The main reason I am going organic is for my girls' sakes. I think a lot about the rising rates of feminine cancers, endometriosis, etc, and strongly believe that it is correlated to all the hormones in our food. Since I have endo, and Derek's grandma's both had it, and Derek's grandma had pre-cancerous breast cysts, I am trying to be CAREFUL! Thanks for a super post, Erin.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper December 7, 2008 at 8:28 PM  

Maren, Yes rBGH and rBST are the same thing, just different name. Thanks for pointing out the health reasons for going organic!

Jo,  December 8, 2008 at 1:21 PM  

Finding a way to make "cheesy" pasta was a must for me on my way to being vegan. I discovered these mixes from Road's End Organics, and have had great luck with them:

wstropp December 8, 2008 at 5:25 PM  

My family loves dairy as well! There's a great organic milk on the market: Heritage Organic Milk. It comes in all the usual ways and they even have one with Omega 3-DHA that helps support eye, brain and heart health. Not only is it great milk, the company is great too. It's family owned, eco-friendly, and they understand what a conscious eater (or drinker) is looking for. It's not just about the organic label...we want the animals treated humanely, we want the company to see the big picture! Can u tell I'm excited about it. :) I have a coupon for this milk so I'll add the link.I am also a mother of 3 under 6 and the grocery bill is a tough one. Here is the coupon:http://bricks.coupons.com/Start.asp?tqnm=rkgedeq 51718956&bt=xs&o=541 12&c=SH&pp=QdlqfxC4
FYI- They also own 8th Continent Soy Milk!

Marilou Garon June 25, 2009 at 2:16 PM  

Hi, this comes late but I just found your post! I completely understand the dairy dilemma, and I have resolved it in these ways: I buy raw milk from a local farmer, and when I can't do that I buy local organic. I make my own yogurt from that milk, as well as some easy cheeses (The Home Creamery is a good book for recipes). I also bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker last year for 50$ and it's superb! We can make fantastic ice cream, some recipes just require milk and no cream so even though it remains a special and occasional treat, I know what's in it. There is a great coconut milk ice cream available at health food stores as well, made by those who make Soy ice cream (can't remember the brand...). It's pretty epxensive, but it tastes great and is a good dairy-free alternative. You can also make food processor ice creams by simply processing frozen fruits (bananas, mangoes are especially good)and eating it on the spot! Thanks for your blog, I look forward to coming back.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper June 25, 2009 at 3:35 PM  

Marilou - Thanks for all the suggestions! We have an ice cream maker also and for awhile we were making ice cream a lot. My only complaint about that is that homemade ice cream gets really hard in the freezer if you try keeping it for more than one day. Have you had that problem also?

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