Opinionator, The New York Times – MARK BITTMAN – Jul 7, 2012
Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews.
…Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mother for almost all of human history, and fresh cow’s milk could not be routinely available to urbanites without industrial production.Go to story
You’re drinking it wrong
Milk has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, and here’s more, what what is the truth? Many people turn away from milk because they suppose they are lactose intolerant, even when most are not.
The term “lactose intolerance” has been bandied about since the 1960’s to assign a label to a range of symptoms perceived to be an adverse reaction to drinking milk: stomach upset, irritable bowels, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, wind and nausea. Insufficient lactase enzyme in the digestive tract contributes to indigestion of the lactose in the milk. It has been assumed that this is a genetic condition and that a wide band of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, and claims have been made that as many as 60% of the population are lactose intolerant. But in fact, medical studies have different interpretations of what constitutes lactose intolerance and whom it affects. DNA research only goes so far as to indicate that Northern Europeans and their descendants are born with the genes to continue to produce lactase enzyme through adulthood, whereas people from other parts of the world may be born with a programming that causes their lactase enzyme production to decline after weaning. Even so, most do not suffer from the symptoms that characterize lactose intolerance. This according to a panel of experts who met at an NIH conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health in February, 2010 (See the Panel Statement). The panel also noted that symptoms attributed to lactose intolerance may in fact be due to other digestive disorders.
From the health perspective, irrespective of so-called lactose intolerance, milk and other dairy products are still healthier than meat.
No doubt some instances of eating wrong food combinations could be mistakenly put down to lactose intolerance. When I was growing up, our mother insisted that we drink a full glass of milk with each meal, and usually this meant that we ended up drinking it all in one gulp at the end. Fortunately, my stomach was built to handle almost anything. But according to Ayur Veda, it is best to consume beverages before a meal, not during, and certainly not immediately after eating.
Also according to Ayur Veda, everyone fits to one of three body types: vata, pitta or kapha, and depending on your type, certain foods are good for you and others best avoided, or else any inharmonious effect can be neutralized by preparing in a particular way. For example, cow’s milk is recommended for pitta and vata types, but is not so good for kapha types; however it is good for all types who are breastfeeding.
Americans are accustomed to drinking cold milk that has been homogenized and pasteurized; however, in India it is customary to drink hot milk, usually sweetened with sugar, sometimes with honey. Cardamom, ginger or fresh cracked pepper can be added to dispel wind. Add a few strands of saffron to reduce mucus, blend with almonds for a mental boost. Srila Prabhupada said that cold milk is heavy and goes only to the stomach, whereas hot milk is easily digested and builds fine brain tissue.
Pure is better
Besides this, we should consider where our milk comes from and what goes into it. All milk is not alike. Cows fed on sweet pasture grasses will give milk that is quite different in quality from cows fed on highly concentrated, mold-filled feed laced with antibiotics, pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Remember, too, that the milk on the supermarket shelf comes from not one cow, but many, collected from any number of factory dairy farms in one big batch that is mixed (homogenized) and pasteurized, and then vitamin D (cod liver oil) is added. Quite different from pure milk.
The nature of milk differs amongst breeds and even colors of cows. According to The Healing Cuisine by Harish Johari, Ayurveda describes the properties and benefits of milk thus:
In general, milk from a black cow is highly praised and recommended. it is said that such milk is nectar; it relives wind, mucus and bile. It also relieves burning sensations, depression, heart disease, stomach troubles, kidney disorders, pain, jaundice, tuberculosis, anemia, pain from miscarriages, diseases of the uterus, chest troubles and fatigue caused by overwork.
Milk from a spotted brown or red cow cures problems of the bile. Milk from a yellow cow increases coughing, while that from a cow whose calf is dead creates mucus, bile and wind. Also, milk from a cow that has stopped feeding her calf before the calf is four months old is strengthening but hard to digest.
The milk from a young cow is sweet, like elixir, and cures disorders created by wind, bile and mucus. That of an old cow, or one over three months pregnant, increases bile; it is dehydrating and creates irritation in the throat. This milk is not recommended. if it is not boiled within three hours of being drawn, the milk becomes heavy and creates wind, bile and mucus.
Hot milk cures diseases caused by excess bile (pitta) and excess mucus (kapha). Cold milk is strengthening but increases mucus. It is hard to digest and also slightly constipating.
In rural India, many families keep at least one cow (poorer people keep buffaloes instead and utilize their milk). Morning and night they milk the cow, bring it to boil three times, and drink it pure. If there is any remainder, they convert it to yoghurt or cook it down into kheer or khoya for making sweets. Soured yoghurt is churned to butter, the whey is used in cooking or to make fresh cheese. If there is sufficient quantity of butter, it is reduced to ghee and stored. There is no wastage at all. In the rest of the world, dairy farmers cull cows and dump milk to artificially prop up market prices, but there is never an excess of milk in India. The cow is revered, and every drop of her milk is utilized.
All over the world, people living in urban and suburban environments buy their groceries in supermarkets or neighborhood convenience stores, and they have no way of knowing what breed or color of cow the milk came from or even what the cow ate or whether it was treated with antibiotics. In America and Europe, very few people elect to purchase raw milk (and go to great lengths to source it). And it’s true that most of the milk supplied to cities in America comes from factory dairy farms. It is not necessarily true, however, that without industrial production of milk there would be a shortage. It has been shown that milk yields from cows who are fed on grasses and allowed to roam in pasture are higher than from cows who are kept confined and given only feed. Dairy farms in Europe and UK are able to supply not only the local markets, but also export to the other end of the Earth.
There is no trouble with milk production; the trouble is in the economic model. Dairies can be profitable without industrializing them and regularly killing off the cows and throwing away the milk. The key is in recognizing not only the value of milk and utilizing it to make so many other products, but also recognizing the value and role of the cows (and bulls) in human society.
Modern industrial crop husbandry revolves around consumption of resources, rather than management and conservation of resources, and the meat industry is at the heart of it. It takes something like 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat, and more food crops are grown for feeding slaughter animals than for feeding humans. Not only do the animals directly consume vast quantities of water (average of 2500 gallons of water for 1 pound of meat); growing grains for feed sucks up even more water, and animal waste runoff pollutes streams, rivers and lakes. Intensive farming robs the soil of nutrients, which are then replenished by nitrous fertilizers, which ultimately harm the soil composition and pollute the aquifiers. Eventually food shortages and high prices will plague urban dwellers, as more and more crops are grown for meat production and energy conversion, and fewer crops are grown for food.
Srila Prabhupada points out the contrast between this unsustainable model and that of the Vedic agrarian model in which the cow and bull act as partners to mankind in food production. The cows and bulls used to enrich the soil wherever they roamed with their urine and dung, the bulls were harnessed to plough the earth, grind food grains and pull carts, and the cows freely gave generous quantities of milk. Even when they no longer gave milk, they were cared for until their natural death, respected as one of seven mothers . Food grains were plentiful, and distributed amongst humankind, not for fattening animals for slaughter. Even in China, most people will not eat beef, because traditionally the cow has been regarded as a friend and helpmate to man, more valuable for its milk than for its flesh.
Milk is a perfect food. Its protein is more easily assimilated and converted to energy than meat. Kill a cow, and the carcass will feed only so many people once. Keep a cow, and she will give milk enough to feed a family every day for several years after a single calfing.
And contrary to what Mr. Bittman says, cow’s milk has played an important part of human civilization throughout the ages—in India right from ancient times, in Rome and Greece, in Europe, Britain, Skandinavia, Russia and China, carried over to America and Australiasia from Europe.
1. The seven mothers are: one’s own birth mother, the wife of the guru, the wife of a brahmana, the queen, one’s nurse, mother earth, and the cow.