The author in Lowell, Vermont
When I was growing up in the 1970s, my 2nd oldest sister (I had 4) hitchhiked up to Vermont one year and without really trying (things just worked out that way for her), got a job working and living on a dairy farm, tending a herd of cows. I would visit her there from time to time, and our family remained friendly with the farmers — the Hodgemans — until they died. That’s me in the photo hugging a newborn calf in the barn — I swear its body is there somewhere! The Hodgeman’s ran what would be considered by today’s standards a very small farm. Their one barn had something like 20 or 30 cows max, and Thurston had a pasteurizer right there in the front of the barn that he used to process the milk before he sold it. Of course, Joyce always kept a pitcher of ice cold, freshly milked milk in the fridge. Everything seemed wonderful on the farm — the air smelled crisp and clean, the green hills stretched endlessly in all directions, and the cows, which were milked by hand, seemed like an extension of the family.
According to the USDA, there are 25% fewer dairy farms in the United States today than there were in the 1970s. Midsized family farms are disappearing, increasingly being replaced by fewer but larger industrialized, or “factory” farms where livestock is concentrated and confined to small areas. These animals do not graze for food, food is brought to them. Most will never feel the warmth of the sun or breathe clean air. They are deprived of exercise, fed drugs to make them fatter and are genetically altered to make them produce more. Calves (like the one I’m hugging above) are separated from their mothers at birth — males, which are of no use to dairy farmers, are sent to slaughterhouses to become veal, while females are raised to replace older dairy cows, which are then sent to slaughter. The abuses rendered on these animals is well-documented. Far from the convenient marketing descriptions of “happy” and “laughing” cows, these animals are doomed to short, miserable lives of immeasurable suffering. All while the small, family dairy farms struggle to keep up.
Then there is the question of whether we even need milk at all. Research shows that a large number of adult humans are lactose intolerant. Many children suffer from milk allergies. Lots of people, including me, have reported that giving up dairy has reduced or even cured life-long gastrointestinal issues. Long touted as an important source of calcium, milk is nevertheless not the only one — there are many plant-based sources too. Green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, greens and parsley are excellent. A single navel orange contains 60 mgs. One ounce of sesame seeds has almost the same amount (280mgs) of calcium as a cup of milk! Soybeans? 260 mgs per cup. Almonds, white beans, figs, tofu, sunflower seeds, and whole grains such as quinoa and amaranth, too, contain calcium.
Add to this the fact that there are so many substitutes for milk in your supermarket today, and it sure does seem possible that milk could be headed for obscurity. Almond milk, soy milk, and rice milk are the most common and all can substitute for milk in baking. I personally am partial to hemp and coconut milk, myself, and use them both as a base for smoothies and on cereal.
If you are primarily plant-dominant, or moving in that direction, it’s important to realize that milk can “hide” in all sorts of products under different names, like lactose, casein and whey, so be vigilant and read labels.
“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” ― Franz Kafka