As a cheesemonger and dairy lover, I have to put a couple things straight, here. Firstly, the only foods that “aren’t natural” are ones chock full of human-made synthetic flavorings, preservatives, and colors. Animal milk is perfectly natural to eat, just like other allergen-potential foods like nuts, fish, and eggs.
The development of lactase, the enzyme that breaks lactose into its component sugars, is a fairly recent development in human evolution. When I say recent, though, I mean that it’s first appearance in human digestive tracts occurs around the same time as domestication of animals, thousands of years before modern day. It’s a necessitated evolution brought about by the development of agriculture and the shift from tribal migration to settlement.
The presence of the gene that expresses lactase is very much dictated by one’s cultural background. Asian-Americans don’t frequently express it because their ancestors lived in a society that was less focused on lactating animals and more focused on work animals, poultry, and aquaculture. Me, being of distinct Eastern European descent, can digest dairy like a pro, able to put down a good pint of ice cream before feeling any ill effects. (And that, likely, is from the overdose of sugar and fat, not from lactose.) Milk allergies vary widely by ethnic descent, genetic expression, and childhood exposure to dairy, and can be palliated with lactase supplements, buy choosing an alternative source of dairy such as goat milk, or by consuming dairy in a form in which lactose has been broken down, such as lactose-free milk or a delicious, caramelly, crumbly aged gouda. (The aging of cheese includes the breakdown of lactose by lactic acid bacteria. The older the cheese, the less lactose it contains. Nifty, right?)
Milk is not unnatural. Milk is not bad for you. Milk contains many vital nutrients, including calcium, phosphorous, selenium, and more than a few vitamins. Energy from milkfat is also sustaining and pretty easily broken down in comparison to animal and vegetable fats, though not as much as fish oils and certain plant oils. (Olive oil, I’m lookin’ at you, old friend.)
I can, however, agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments provided in this infographic about rBGH. This hormone, totally unnatural unlike the milk it forces into production, can have grievous effects on animal wellbeing and health, putting cows at GREAT risk for mastitis, a crippling inflammation of the udder that leaves an animal bleeding from the teat, unable to walk, at risk for a host of other ailments, and dead if not properly and promptly treated. Additionally, rBGH swells the udder, leaves the cow with a hormone imbalance that forces them to drop milk year round (which is NOT natural, for the bovine-uninitiated), causes them to drop pus with their milk (GROSSGROSSGROSS), and can have adverse effects on reproductive health, including stillbirths, underdeveloped young, and sterility. rBGH can also affect the insulin production of humans that drink rBGH treated milk, leading to an increased risk of diabetes.
Yeesh. Not good stuff, right? Unfortunately, mass milk production necessitates the use of rBGH to turn a profit. Consumer demand and the hilariously low margin on fluid milk would leave dairy farmers flat broke if they didn’t turn to rBGH to increase yield. It’s one of those necessary evils of modern American society, just like 24-hour news networks and a two-party political system.
You have a choice, though. Educate yourself. Do your reasearch. Seek out rBGH-free milk and products made with rBGH-free milk. Read labels. Do a google search on a milk brand before you buy it. There’s rBGH-free brands available in most stores. Ronnybrook and Hudson Valley Farms spring to mind for the NYC crowd, both high quality, sustainable productions that refuse rBGH. The trade-off: you’ll be paying a pretty penny, $4.99/half gallon most places. Alas, that’s the (literal) price of conscientious eating. Ice cream lovers, choose the old standby Ben & Jerry’s; they’ve been rBGH-free since anyone knew what rBGH was, and manage to keep their prices reasonable, to boot!
Don’t be scared by scary statistics presented in a pretty infographic! Milk is not some devil-fluid out to sicken the populace and destroy us all. It’s a healthy, natural animal product that some people have a hard time digesting due to their genes, albeit one whose demand has cornered farmers into using unnatural means to keep up. By all means, reject rBGH, but don’t be afraid of dairy!
Any additional questions or comments, hit up the ask box or email me at email@example.com. I’m happy to answer!
(Oh, and for those of you wondering why I took the time to rebut this pretty diagram, my life [and paycheck] depends on the love of dairy. I studied dairy science in college, have hands on experience tending and milking cows, and generally know what’s up with lactose and rBGH. This information comes from my own knowledge and experience, and I’m not one to sit by quietly as someone slanders my passion.)
Reblogging for infographic and for curdbird’s input. Both totally interesting and valid.