The Non-Dairy Fairy: A Life Without Dairy, and Why it’s Actually a Blessing.
When I inevitably have to divulge to those around me that I
don’t can’t eat dairy, their first reaction is “That’s awful!”, and the second is typically “I like cheese too much”. Now let me tell you, in my 20 years of life and 18ish years of dairy consumption, I have consumed an inordinate amount of cheese, chocolate and ice cream. And you know what? I loved them.
Cheese and crackers were a childhood staple and my transition to university living was making the change from crackers to a decent bottle of red wine. Granted, the lack of dairy in my diet prohibits the ‘cheese’ part of a cheese and wine night, but the occasional night of overzealous red wine drinking minus the salty, nutty tang of a good cheddar is worth it. Let me tell you why.
My earliest memories are of birthday parties. Tables rife with sugar laden biscuits and cake, crisps and small triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Your typical 5-year-old birthday party spread, a delight for most hungry and energetic little humans, but I remember avoiding the sandwiches at all costs. The cheese ones gave me headaches and intense waves of nausea, which meant less pass-the-parcel and more pass the bucket. As I grew older, I noticed I felt my worst after breakfast, or after a big bowl of cheesy pasta. My stomach would gurgle and I’d have phlegm stuck in my throat, not ideal, even more so for the livelihood of my singing, which I did a lot of at the time. My choirmaster would tell me to never drink milk or eat chocolate before a practice or recital. “It muddies your voice,” he said.
When I moved in with my father aged 16, my increasingly prominent issues with dairy subsided because my father would only take skimmed milk. My headaches after bowls of cereal dissipated, so I ceased to suspect anything awry unless I’d just scoffed ice cream for breakfast (thankfully not my regular diet). Then I’d be back at square one. My lethargy, headaches and erratic digestive system didn’t go unnoticed, and I was paraded in front of doctors who would wonder why I was feeling so ill. My younger brother is intolerant to gluten; so the logical solution would be that I too was coeliac. I tried eating gluten free bread and cereal, but felt no better – just a little disheartened (because even in London, whole foods and tasty gluten free foods were not readily available). When I got to university, I tried losing the gluten again; it didn’t work. A doctor then suggested I cut out dairy in the same way that I had gluten for a while to see if it made a difference. Two weeks later and I had a diagnosis: lactose intolerant.
Fundamentally, my digestive system cannot process the lactose in dairy products. Interestingly, neither can approximately 75% of the earth’s population [source] who lose their lactose enzymes shortly after weaning. Humans are the only creatures on earth that drink the breast milk of other mammals, intended for their young, as becomes painstakingly obvious when you remember that this milk is secreted from their teats. We’ve built a huge, multi-million pound industry on the genetic and hormonal exploitation of cows, who are given hormones to produce up to 12 times as much milk as they would for one calf, and are artificially inseminated all year round to keep the cow lactating to maximise profit [source: Lyons DT, Freeman AE and Kuck AL. 199. Genetics of health traits in Holstein cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 74]. What cow have you ever heard of that’s had 12 calves at once? Naturally that is.
“dairy farms are tucked away so that you never see the horrors within…”
The point is that you haven’t. Hence the process is by definition unnatural. A cow’s body has to have either given birth to a calf, or been fooled into believing so in order for the cow to produce milk. In order to maximise profit, 97% of newborn dairy calves are separated from their mothers within 12 hours [source]. The recommended age of weaning, by farming industry standards, is 6-8 weeks in order to maintain humane and pain free conditions [source]. Pain in animals is measured by significant psychological and behavioural changes after incident. Mother cows will cry out for hours after having a newborn wrenched away from them.
As I understand it, dairy farms are tucked away so that you never see the horrors within; it makes all this easy to ignore. But, aside from the inhumane treatment of these living, breathing, pain-feeling creatures, there is something even more disgusting: the dire effects of dairy on the human body.
“If dairy is so unnatural and awful for us, why has it become a staple part of our diet?”
As mentioned, cow’s milk was, unsurprisingly enough, intended for baby cows, in the same way that human breast milk is produced solely for the benefit of baby humans. The breast milk of a different species will contain elements suited specifically to the young of said species, so it’s not actually such a shocker that lactose is indeed very bad for you. For example, milk contains a protein called Casein, which is proven to cause hives, stomach pains, bloating, bronchitis and asthma in those allergic. Now if we consider the aforementioned statistic, this is roughly 75% of the earth’s population. It is also incredibly common for a cow to be injected with a Bovine growth hormone (BGH) in order to maximise yield. However, BGH accelerates the development of IGF-1. If this all sounds like jargon to you, IGF-1 is a hormone known to increase cell division and risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer. And get this, IGF-1 isn’t eradicated in pasteurization. What is eradicated is the nutritional value of milk, and enzymes such as lactase, galactase and phosphatase which are naturally present in order to aid the breakdown of lactose. Cow’s lives can be shortened by up to 20 years through BGH injection. Just imagine what it’s doing to you and your body [source].
Obviously there is unpasteurized milk available and it is this unpasteurized variety which is often used in cheese… but the punches aren’t done rolling. According the FDA itself [source], one litre of milk sold in the EU is permitted 400,000,000 pus cells before it is deemed unmarketable. That is more than one pus cell per resident of the United States, which, incidentally will allow up to 750 million pus cells per litre. Yum.
Now if dairy is so unnatural and awful for us, why has it become a staple part of our diet? The reason most people are reluctant to give up dairy seems to be because consuming dairy has come to be comfortable. From thick, melted lashings of mozzarella on pizza, to cool, delicious ice cream on a hot summers day, dairy has managed to cement a position in the modern diet as necessary. But let’s step away from our romantic social reliance on dairy and coming to see the facts. Put frankly, the modern human’s relationship with dairy products is abusive. We are reliant on a range of luxury foods which do more harm than good to our bodies, and whatsmore drive us to abuse the biological features of living creatures for profit.
So before you roll your eyes and close this article, branding me a sanctimonious university student, consider checking the facts for yourself. You’ve read this far after all. You can find links to any of my more polemic declarations, and a little of your own research will no doubt unearth deeper realisations. There are tons of great foods that contain zero dairy whatsoever, and, if you’re one of the 25% who can stomach it, unlike me, accidentally eating a little is not the end of the world. Instead, maybe try consciously cutting down on dairy products, or at least be aware of when you’re eating them and if they are really necessary staples in your diet. Why not try coconut, hazelnut or almond milk? Have peanut butter on your sandwiches instead of cheese? Fruit and veg are completely dairy free, and couldn’t we all do with a reminder to eat more?
p.s. I can vouch that houmous and crudites make much better partners to red wine than cheese ever did.