What's the Deal With Dairy?

"You have to drink your milk if you want to grow big and strong!"

We all remember our parents saying this at one time or another. When I was growing up, it was my Midwestern grandmother who repeated this mantra endlessly. However, I was always more petite than my 6 foot 2 inch 300 pound linebacker cousin who always found himself last at the table with me - my reason being I hadn't touched my plate while he was finishing a third helping - and I doubt milk had anything to do with it.  

Recently, a friend drew my attention to the treatment of cows in the dairy industry, and I was appalled by what I discovered. After doing some research, I learned that the milking career of a cow is harsh, short, and often violent. 

* Mammals only produce milk during and directly following pregnancy. All dairy cows are female, and are forcibly impregnated over and over again to ensure their continued milk production. Continuous successive pregnancies are physically difficult for the animals.

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* A cow's lifespan can be around 20 years if the animal is healthy and given proper care. The average life span of a dairy cow? Five years. During this time, she will carry on average four calves to term and spend most of her life in a space too small for her attached to a milking apparatus. Almost all dairy cows are eventually killed for consumption - this usually occurs when the cow becomes so exhausted, she can no longer stand unassisted.

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* Calves are taken away from their mothers within hours after birth. This is distressing to the mother dairy cow, and can cause illness and undernourishment to the calf due to extreme stress. 

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* Commercial dairy farming forces cows to spend most of their lives indoors on concrete floors in uncomfortably over crowded stalls. The average cow in the dairy industry is forced to produce 20,000 pounds of milk in one year. This is more than double quotas from 1960. Continuously keeping a cow hooked into a milking machine can cause mastitis - painful swelling in the udder caused by bacteria which can lead to pus and blood filled blisters. These can then contaminate the milk as well as cause the animal extreme soreness. 

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Even if the industrial dairy production farms gave every animal proper treatment, large scale dairy farming is still unsustainable.

Image result for forrest1. Deforestation and Livestock: Due to their size and requirements for space, cows need more land than crops do. In developing countries in particular, rain-forests are being cleared to make more space for cattle pasture. Cattle also require caloric intake in order to produce milk, resulting in almost 60 million acres of farmland in the United States alone dedicated to producing hay for livestock. This compares to only 4 million acres used to grow crops for human consumption.

Image result for water foot2. It leaves a large water footprint: Livestock farming is one of the biggest consumers of freshwater on the planet because not only do the animals need drinking water, but any crops farmed for their consumption must be irrigated as well.

3. Generates Waste: Factory livestock farms produce a lot of waste that pollutes rivers, contaminates groundwater, and kills marine life. In fact, livestock farms create more than 100 times the amount of annual waste that humans do.

Image result for global warming4. It is speeding Global warming: Cattle produce a significant amount of methane gas as they digest. The methane is emitted into the atmosphere where, on a large scale, it contributes to global warming. Just one dairy cow can produce about 75 kilos of methane a year. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

5. Soil Erosion: About 60% of U.S. pastureland is overgrazed, and the rate at which soil degradation occurs is accelerating each year. It takes about 500 years to naturally generate one inch of top soil. Fertilizers can be used in the short term to replace some of the nutrients that are found in top soil after the organic decomposition process, but it is not a complete nor sustainable solution.

Fear not milk lovers! Options for more sustainable milk are available at your local grocery store. Many of these alternative products are delicious, as well as more environmentally friendly. Some even have more nutritious benefits per calorie than cow milk!

1. Shop from your local farmers market or Family operated business - because milking does not have to be done on a large scale, smaller, local dairy farms treat their animals more humanely than their corporate counterparts.

Image result for soy milk2. Soy - soy milk can be made as a dairy milk or a soy beverage depending on how much of the bean is used. Producing soy milk takes about one third of the water needed for the same caloric expenditure of dairy milk.

3. Almond - It takes 4 liters of water to produce one almond. However, if the nuts are not imported but are grown locally in the United States, this is still a more sustainable alternative to dairy milk.

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4. Coconut - Coconut farming requires less water and less land than any of the other dairy milk alternatives because the plants grow in tropical and sub tropical areas. 

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5. Rice - Like almonds, rice 

requites a lot of water to produce. It is still more sustainable and cruelty free when compared to dairy farming. 

6. Hemp, Cashew, or Oat - Other plant based milks that you can find in a grocery store, or even make yourself! 

Your grandmother still may not believe you, but there are a lot of other yummy, healthy sources of calcium that will help you grow big and strong - sustainably.