Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dairy-Free but not Desperate?

Hard to Give Up

If there is one barrier that stands between me and veganism, dairy is thy name.

I know, I know: milk is what mothers make to feed their babies, and what kind of adult animal drinks milk?  Well, cats will drink milk if you offer it to them.  I suppose that aligns human adults a tiny bit more with the obligate carnivores.  For better or worse, I love dairy and wish the production of milk for human consumption were less riddled with cruelty.

Three aspects of milk production are particularly awful to me: the idea of turning an animal into a milk machine (i.e., dairy cows), taking newborn babies from their mothers, and sending babies off to slaughter to become veal.  I feel ashamed that even though I’ve been a vegetarian for over ten years, I never made the connection between the veal industry and the dairy industry.   It’s hard to argue against the systematic relationship: milk production requires pregnancy, pregnancy produces a baby, and something must be done with all those babies!  It’s not uncommon for a mother cow to nurse her newborn calf for only a day or two before the calf is taken away, and the mama cow’s milk, instead of feeding her baby, is pumped out of her for human consumption.

It’s not hard to imagine how emotionally devastating it must be for dairy cows to lose their calves over and over again.  I believe that animals have emotions, and a mother’s desire to nurse, protect, and teach her baby is probably hardwired into mammalian brains.  I’ve always thought that the idea of eating veal is repulsive and cruel, but why did I never make the connection between dairy and veal?  My guiding vegetarian philosophy is a no-kill ideal: I eat animal products that don’t require the death of the animal.  I was fine with eating eggs and dairy (you need live chickens and cows for these things!), but I didn’t eat meat, animal-based broths, or gelatin.  And if on the rare occasion I did decide to consume one of those things, I wanted to know what I was consuming.  I never wanted to fall into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” pattern of ignorance because I needed to feel like I was making an informed choice.

All of this is to say that even though I love dairy, I am deeply troubled by the cruelty of dairy production.  I’m not sure that I’ll ever give up dairy completely, but perhaps I will eat less of it, which is better than nothing, I suppose.

Here’s my plan of attack for living without dairy for the month of April.

* Milk.  I’m already an enthusiastic consumer of non-dairy milks.  I like soy, almond, and coconut milk, and I’m getting ready to live without dairy milk in my coffee, thanks to Kate’s suggestion to try the full-calorie Silk soymilk (thanks, Kate!).

* Butter.  Two words: Earth Balance.

* Cheese.  Oh, boy.  I love cheese in its many tangy, creamy, stinky, funky varieties.  But I’m going to experiment with homemade nut cheeses, avocadoes, and tofu as cheese alternatives.

* Yogurt.  This one’s tough.  I’ve never tried any of the nondairy yogurts that are on the market; JD tells me that coconut milk yogurt is amazing.  I think I’ve seen it at the natural foods store, so I may give that a whirl.  I know that there are soy and almond milk yogurts too.  Are they any good, dear readers?  Do you have any specific brand or flavor recommendations?

* Buttermilk.  This one’s easy.  Buttermilk shows up a lot in baking and pancake recipes.  To make a vegan buttermilk, all the recommendations I’ve seen suggest adding a sour liquid (such as lemon juice or vinegar) to a nondairy milk and letting it sit for 15 minutes or so.  I think the ratios can vary, but in The Cornbread Gospels, Crescent Dragonwagon recommends 1 tablespoon of lemon juice mixed with enough plain soymilk to equal 1 cup.  Stir with a fork a few times, and you’re good to go.

So I’m taking a few deep breaths and telling myself that soon I will be dairy-free, but with all the delicious options available, I will not be desperate.  I hope.


Chrissy (The New Me) said...

There is no better thing in the morning than coffee and almond milk. I love to drink mine 3/4 coffee, 1/4 milk. Divine!

Also, Earth Balance rocks. You'll be fine in April!

Laurie said...

I recently read an (old) article in Walrus about palm oil production and its impact on already endangered species. The first ingredient in Earth Balance is palm fruit oil. I wonder if palm oil and palm fruit oil are the same thing? If so, Earth Balance doesn't seem much less cruel than butter.

I'm beginning wonder if there are any really cruelty-free options when it comes to our food. Someone or something always seems to suffer. The newest cruel-food scandal in the news here has been the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers. Sigh.

Each new story gives us facts for making informed choices, yet somehow it seems harder and harder to make a decision. I'm looking forward to reading about your journey through this labyrinthine issue.

JD said...

Laurie, this is a very good point. Almost everyhting is cruelty inducing to the earth when done on a massive industrial scale. Unless you grow it yourself, you are affecting the environment in unknown ways. Palm oil is actualyl a huge concern, as vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest are being cleared for palm plantations. You might be better off eating the real butter or cheese if the dairy production is in the USA, which is much more heavily regualted. Just saying, there are no get out of jail free cards when it comes to our food.

Rosiecat said...

Chrissy, I will try your coffee/almond milk ratio! I've got to have my morning coffee, vegan or not.

Laurie, you bring up a good point. I have also heard rumblings about palm oil sourcing and migrant farm workers. In Michigan, there are a lot of orchards in which the fruit is picked by migrant workers. I suppose the best we can do is to choose the least cruel, least damaging option!

But to come back to the point about palm oil, and to address your point, JD, the Earth Balance company is actively working to source their ingredients sustainably. Check it out:

Considering that a lot of people buy Earth Balance because they have a commitment to environmentalism and sustainability, I believe that Earth Balance is walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Their company will go out of business otherwise!

JD, in general I agree with your point about not having a get-out-of-jail-free card, but American ranchers have a pretty bad track record when it comes to sustainability. The American West has been ravaged by cattle herds, destroying much of the native plant and animal life. Much of this destruction has happened on so-called "public lands" that have effectively been monopolized by ranchers for profit.