Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Great Dairy Debate

I've never been much of a milk drinker so giving it up wasn't a big sacrifice. Cheese, however, is another story. I love cheese. I mean really love it. But after doing some research on the treatment of dairy cows I've decided that if I'm to make a difference at all and try to make some changes to how these animals are treated, I needed to give up cheese too, along with yogurt and ice cream.

According to GoVeg, "The 9 million cows living on dairy farms in the United States spend most of their lives in large sheds or on feces-caked mud lots, where disease is rampant. Cows raised for their milk are repeatedly impregnated. Their babies are taken away so that humans can drink the milk intended for the calves. When their exhausted bodies can no longer provide enough milk, they are sent to slaughter and ground up for hamburgers."

The life expectancy of dairy cows is 4 to 5 years, only 1/5 of the normal life expectancy of a cow. They are continually impregnated with their calves being taken away from them when they are only a day old. The calves are the ones that should be nursing on their mother's milk, not humans. After birthing, dairy cows can lactate (produce milk) for up to 10 months, at which time they are impregnated again and the process starts all over again. As far as the babies go, female calves are either slaughtered or raised to be dairy cows and males calves are most often raised as veal. They are chained up in tiny stalls so that they cannot move around, keeping their flesh tender and they remain there for up to 4 months, being fed a milk substitute that is designed to make them gain up to 2 pounds per day and that is purposefully low in iron. This is in order to keep them anemic resulting in pale flesh.

Then there is the environment to take into consideration. Cows - both dairy and beef - contribute to over 18% of the world's carbon dioxide; more greenhouse gases than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined. In California alone, cows excrete more than 18 million gallons of manure daily, polluting rivers, streams and groundwater. 

There are many reasons to decide to give up dairy. Whether it is for environmental reasons, because of allergies, to avoid unnecessary hormones or to take your stand against animal cruelty, the decision is up to you. But there are alternatives out there and lots of them. Soy milk, ice cream, yogurt and cheese are delicious (just be sure it is non-GMO), rice milk and almond milk are also very good. My personal favourite is Blue Diamond Almond Milk (particularly the chocolate!). 

As far as cheese, I thought it would be very difficult to give up but then I discovered Daiya Cheese products. Shredded flavours in cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack, this "cheese" has the taste and texture of real cheese - it even melts like real cheese - yet without the fat and cholesterol of dairy cheese. 

When it comes to ice cream and yogurt, there are several dairy-free alternatives on the market. My favourite ice cream alternative is So Good. It is rich, creamy and absolutely delicious! And for yogurt, my preference is Olympic brand. Their "soyogurt" comes in a variety of flavours.

If you are concerned with your dairy intake, the treatment of the cows and other animals that provide us with dairy or the toll it takes on the environment, think about some non-dairy options the next time you visit the supermarket.