Milk. It does a body good?
Milk. It does a body good?
When I was a small child, maybe one year old, my mother could not figure out why I cried all the time. Then one day, she caught my brother who is one year older, sneaking into my room, robbing me of my milk bottle, drinking it all and then placing the empty bottle back in my crib. Ahhhh that’s why she is always crying! This has been my excuse as to why I love milk so much- because I did not get enough of it as a child. And I know that I have loved drinking milk since I was born anyway right?
But it was when I was visiting and volunteering at a dairy farm in Germany and learning all about how my absolute most favorite drink was collected, that my ideas about this started to change and evolve. One day I was invited to go into the cow pen, and was taught how to “milk” the cows. This was quite the experience I must admit and not one I would enjoy doing everyday. After that morning, I started asking questions to the farm owners. Questions like “How much milk does a cow produce? And how often or for how long?” What I learned both shocked me and made me feel something like “How did I not know this before?! Duh!!”
The truth is, cows are artificially inseminated (made pregnant) so that they start producing milk which they do for about 9 months (enough time to feed their calf). After the calf is born, it is separated from the mother, although at this particular small family farm with only 50 cows, a careful watch is kept on which calf belongs to which mother, and big baby bottles are filled with the mothers milk and given to the calf who now resides in a separate pin on his or her own.
When I asked about what happens to the calves, I was told that the male cows will ultimately be taken to slaughter one day, and the females will be put back into milk production. I asked how many times the milk producing females at this farm have been pregnant, and the farm hand explained by pointing some of them out. He said, “Well she has had 6 so far, and this one over here, she has had 9” and so on… So after the 9 months that she is naturally producing milk for her calf, and her production dries up, she is made pregnant again and the cycle continues? “Correct” he says.
What a life I thought. The female cows are quite literally “milk machines”. Another thing I learned about milk that has me question wether I would like to continue supporting this industry and putting it in my body is what cows milk consists of. Cows milk is much different than the milk from a human mother in that it is composed of nutrients that encourage the quick heavy weight gain and bone growth that a baby calf needs. Human milk on the other hand is formulated to encourage brain growth before body weight and bone density. This makes sense as cows need their bodies and to grow quickly as they are usually considered prey animals and need to move their bodies quickly when they are young in order to avoid being eaten by other animals.
After learning these things first hand and having a direct connection with the animals, my perception about milk has changed. I do still crave milk from time to time, and wonder if it is the milk I crave, or am I just drinking a memory? I have found alternatives such as Soy Milk, Rice Milk, Almond Milk, and Oat Milk that I am experimenting with now and am enjoying these new flavors guilt free. I also learned something else which is making the transition easier to make.
Did you know that the human body stops producing the lactase enzymes needed to break down the milk properly between the ages of 2 and 5? Most people who have bad reactions to milk aren’t actually allergic to it, in that it’s not their immune system that’s responding to the milk. Instead, people who are lactose intolerant can’t digest the main sugar lactose that is found in milk. The undigested sugars end up in the colon, where they begin to ferment and produce a gas that can cause cramping, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. If you’re American or European it’s hard to realize this, but being able to digest milk as an adult is one weird genetic adaptation.
What have you learned in your own experiences about something that goes against what had been the truth in your life for a long time? Do share your thoughts on this post by clicking on the comment button below!