Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico
Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico

Dairy products – good or bad? Healthy or harmful?

There are people who do not consume dairy products because they don't like them, or because they are allergic, or because they do not have access to qualitative or ethically acceptable dairy products.

Others oppose completely against the use of dairy products because they do not know to distinguish between livestock mass-production and peasant livestock farming. Thus are created arguments like: Milk contains hormones and/or antibiotics (what is as naive as rejecting all vegetables because "the vegetables" contain pesticides). For self-sufficient livestock farming such arguments are silly. It is clear that no one with a minimum of information can say that dairy products are only good or are only bad.

Some people after eating a lot of cheese do not feel well because of the excess of fat and proteins and then, instead of moderating themselves, reject cheese completely. It is not astonishing that consumerist people who do not know to savour, only to swallow, get to the conclusion that cheese is not good. We have to take into account that cheese is a concentrated product which provides a lot of energy. A person with no physical activity cannot stand great amounts of such concentrated foods. Who moves forward with fossile energy, does not need as much energy in his food as someone who moves forward with the energy of bread and cheese, for example by bicycle. And some people with a dualist thinking do not know moderation but only the choice between an excess of cheese and no cheese at all.

Other people have so much hatred against dairy products that, in order to spread out their hatred, they pick up and repeat whatever absurd argument comes their way. Here are some of them:

1. We can live without dairy products.

True, we can. If we eat other animal products, first of all fish (or if we take to dietary supplements based on petrol), we will miss no essencial part of nutrition for doing without dairy products. We can as well live without embracements. We can live without music. Who wants, may feel free to do so. But why impose it on others? Is there a reason why everyone needs to have the same nutrition habits?

2. In many cultures milk has no tradition.

No doubt about this fact. And do those of us who are living in a culture which does have this tradition (like on Ibiza with its great livestock tradition, which contributes considerably to the ecological diversity) have to stop it because others don't have it? Do the Japanese have to stop eating seaweed because many cultures don't have that tradition? Does everyone need to have the same nutrition habits? In anthropology this is a wellknown phenomenon: People with difficulties with those around them and their culture dream that in unknown cultures everything is better. It is quite funny if this argument is used by a vegan. Veganism cannot boast any tradition (the traditional Indian vegetarianism is usually linked to a high appreciation of milk). It is justified rather as an antithesis to an excessive consumption of animal products, usually markedly antitraditionalist. Such a justification may hold valid for a protest movement, not so much to emancipate oneself and to build up something sustainable.

3. Milk contains bacteria.

Well, as for raw milk, luckily so. This argument plays with the idea of many unschooled people that "bacteria" is a synonym for "pathogens". In fact we have bacteria in the intestines, which support us in our digestion. And just such bacteria are found in milk (provided the cow or goat is of good health). Raw milk with its bacteria and enzymes is a lot more digestable than dead milk (pasteurized or even ultra-heat treated). In cheese bacteria are added and their development is controlled. Lately there are hints that dead milk without bacteria and enzymes provokes many diseases, even does not apport calcium to the body but takes it out and so contributes to osteoporosis. And some people who believe they don't tolerate milk, try fresh milk, are enthousiastic and tolerate it perfectly. So, what bad is there in the probiotic bacteria in the milk? This argument is funniest if it comes from someone who eats spirulina, not knowing that it is a bacterium.

4. Cow's milk contains caseine, which is used to produce glue.

Is that meant to be disgusting? Will we stop eating potatoes because glue is produced from their starch? By the way, in lesser quantities there is caseine also in human milk.

5. We humans are the only species that drinks milk of another species.

That's not exactly true. The argument can, however, be taken seriously, provided it comes from people who do not cook their food, do not wear clothes and do not drive because other animals don't do so.

Let's be honest: No one ever stops eating dairy products for any of these motives. They are only pretences to justify a hatred against one's own culture and its milk consumption. It is too obvious that those arguments have been launched by the soya industry in order to discredit the competition. All our lives we have learnt that dairy products are healthy and now that the soya industry tells us that their genetically modified products are better, we believe them? Well then!

However: The dead milk from the supermarkets, for many people the only one at their reach, is not comparable with the lively milk that kept a part of humanity healthy during millennia and that keeps us healthy in self-sufficiency. And one can question seriously if it is suitable for human consumption. Well, reality in the country is far away from those snobby discussions. The in favour of or against milk-giving livestock for self-sufficiency will be made according to practical criteria, like if we have space for them and if we want to be for them day after day, which is a serious commitment. On the other hand, the livestock facilitates the cultivation because it provides us with fertilizer and maybe labour force without fossile energy. And if we make cheese, we can feed the pigs on whey and we'll get the best pork meat.