I’m reading a very dramatic book right now called The First Forty Days, which is about “the essential art of nourishing the new mother,” based primarily on Chinese practices. In it, there is a short section that extols a virtue many health food evangelists, supporters and curious observers alike have come to adopt: stay the hoot away from milk and its sister products (see: cheese, cream, yogurt, my dignity).
The book is gentler and tells me that if I love yogurt (I do), I can still have it, but that if I can help it, I ought to have a goat’s milk varietal as opposed to the inferior cow’s milk. This rhetoric about dairy is absolutely old news, but I remember when my mother force-fed me milk, practically shrieking about its purported benefits for my bones and blood pressure and growth and so forth, so how did it happen that, over the course of the last decade, we have effectively abandoned this theory to shun the white liquid, put a red X over it and declare it poison? Who’s to say that, in the next 10 years, we won’t do another 180, find ourselves under strict parental requirement to drink milk once again and feel like we are back in the car-shaped twin beds of our youth?
Determined to find out, once and for all, how bad milk really is, I recruited myself to join the Boston Globe’s spotlight team and conducted an intricate investigation that required months of undercover work, a budget of nearly $75,000 and a timespan of 18-months to get the appropriate research in place. Or rather, I drafted responses from unassuming, likely unqualified-but-still-definitively-worthy Instagram passersby. Why the crowd-source? Because milk facts are confusing and different doctors exhort different protocols. As such, I wanted to know what my Friends from The Internet had to say. They’re the more legitimate (and definitely venerated) opinion anyway, no?
The responses (all 286!) fell into three buckets that can be encapsulated by three disparate categories: the self-interested physical effects, the morality question and one we will call: farming in America sucks.
The Self-Interested Physical Effects
At least 30% of those polled cited how terrible dairy made them feel. Many articulated feeling tired, bloated, sluggish or generally unlike themselves, while almost all who fell into this bucket shared some version of an anecdote about skin breakouts clearing up completely when they cut milk products from their diets. Let us not forget, too, that lactose intolerance is an extremely popular condition in the United States. More popular than like, Balenciaga footwear.
The Morality Question
This category represents opinions that are diametrically opposed to the notion of consuming milk from another mammal and/or past the period of our reliance on breastmilk. “Who are we (other than literally the only mammals who do this) to continue drinking another animal’s milk once we have completed the tango with our own mothers’ milk?” asks this subcategory. It is a question worth canvassing, but one that does not come without its own hypocrisies given the rising popularity of camel’s milk and raw dairy among the same evangelists who reject cow’s milk.
Farming in America Sucks
I suppose this is similar to morality question #2, given the treatment of animals on American farms and what they are fed in order to produce most efficiently and quickly. There are also studies aplenty that look at a number of the hormones found in some United States cow-made milk, and to read about their associated risks seems reason enough to stop consuming that shit.
Even though there is a lot of information to consider when you’re just trying to be a Greek goddess and eat your damn Chobani in peace, there are also manifold benefits to the consumption of dairy if you are lucky enough to find yourself exposed to milk that has not been contaminated (see: the protein, the calcium content, and the apparent correlation between full-fat dairy and better ovulatory fertility).
My biggest qualm with milk, however, has long been the hypothesized correlation between dairy and cancer, but the research is inconclusive, and in some cases shows that “the proven health benefits of dairy foods greatly outweigh the unproven harm.”
Plus, according to a biology student who answered my Instagram plea, the risks are mitigated if you ingest in moderation. Boring! (But familiar.)
So, who wants to go get a Yoo-hoo?
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.