Is Dairy 'Natural'?

Is drinking cow's milk "natural"?

It probably depends on your definition of "natural." Is it "natural" just because everybody does it? Or does "natural" mean something more ingrained and timeless, like what's best for our bodies and our environment?

A vegan is someone who avoids any type of animal exploitation. Practically, this means not eating animal flesh (meat), not consuming their bodily fluids (milk, dairy) and not using them for clothing (fur, leather) or any other by-product (gelatin, honey). As a vegan, I often encounter people who understand why I might not want to eat meat, but are completely perplexed as to my decision to abstain from dairy.

I'm often asked, "Why is drinking milk bad for the animals? How will you get enough calcium? Won't you get brittle bones? "

The practical implications of drinking dairy in an age of factory farming are vast and awful. Cows are consistently and systematically abused. Their tails are cut without anesthesia, a practice called "tail docking." They are artificially inseminated by painful means and they are eventually slaughtered for meat. They are forced to produce an unnaturally high level of milk, causing mastitis, a painful disease which contributes to swelling in the udder. They are often injected with growth hormones, which can increase health problems and in turn, pain.

Even worse, cows who collapse from injury or sickness are often kicked, dragged or pushed around slaughter facilities. These cows are known as "downers" and are all too common in the dairy industry.

Because the animals must be kept pregnant in order to produce milk, they frequently birth calves. These calves are separated from their mothers immediately after birth. Female calves are destined for a life in the dairy industry, just like their mothers, and male calves are sold for veal or beef.

Factory farming is bad for everybody: the animals, the environment and humans.

But aside from the cruel details of factory farming, there's also the broader, more general consideration of humans drinking the milk of another animal. Did you know we are the only mammal on the planet that drinks the milk of another mammal? We're also the only mammal to continue drinking any milk into adulthood. Calves are just like human babies: they need their mothers' milk. If we are drinking it, it means they aren't. Far from feeling terrible that we're stealing milk meant for baby cows, we actually consider it "natural." Seems a bit strange when it's put that way, doesn't it?

Interestingly enough, dairy milk is also bad for our own bodies. The "Got Milk" campaign of the 1990's did a good job of convincing consumers that cow's milk was the best way get the calcium they needed. This claim is far from the truth. Dairy doesn't actually prevent osteoporosis like we've been told, but in fact, it causes it. Dairy makes us fat, it raises our bad cholesterol and it contributes to heart disease and cancer. In the modern age, our dairy is loaded with puss, blood, hormones and antibiotics. Sounds kind of gross now, doesn't it?

The truth is, drinking cow's milk and eating other dairy products isn't "natural" just because everybody does it. It's worth noting that many people would shudder at the idea of squirting bodily fluid from an animal directly into their mouths, but those same people drink milk freely and happily because it's packaged to look pretty and marketed to us as a health food.

Consuming dairy may be one of the worst things for our human bodies, our environment and the life of the animals. It's time for us to get off the teat and ditch the dairy habit, for good.