Fighting About Dairy Foods: Nothing New

MilkmaidDairy farming is cruel! Milk is racist! Such fighting words about dairy foods are nothing new. Hot passions about milk weave through 10,000 years of human history. So why should issues about dairy in the brand new dietary guidelines surprise anyone?

Clearly, strong feelings about the first food we all consume will follow us into eternity.

Vital or Avoidable?

Many people cheered when Canadian dietary guidance stopped recommending dairy every day. But of course, dairy farmers did not.

Taking a cue from Canada, some groups argued vigorously that dairy should not be set out in the new U.S. guidelines as a vital food group. Some even argued that this designation is “a clear form of racism” because lactose intolerance is so common for racial and ethnic minorities.

In our own analysis of public input on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, comments about removing dairy from the guidance rose to the top. Content analysis told us this subject prompted the most input and a great deal of passion. The sentiment was most often anger.

In the end, those passions did not carry the day. The final guidelines call dairy a “core element for a healthy dietary pattern.” Lactose-free and fortified soy alternatives are acceptable, too. Dairy farmers are happy. Anti-dairy crusaders, not so much.

Is Dairy Farming Cruel?

Recently, the New York Times examined animal welfare issues that arise from dairy farming. Once again, passions about this subject are quite strong.

Third-generation dairy farmer Nathan Chittenden takes this subject quite seriously. He explains his feelings about it to the Times:

“I’m in charge of this entire life from cradle to grave, and it’s important for me to know this animal went through its life without suffering, I’m a bad person if I let it suffer.”

At the other end of the spectrum, though, activist Erica Meier is absolute in her opposition to dairy farming:

“People have this image of Old MacDonald’s farm, with happy cows living on green pastures, but that’s just so far from reality. Some farms might be less cruel than others, but there is no such thing as cruelty-free milk.”

It’s not likely that dairy farming will go away, but people do make choices about what to eat based on their values. So there’s no doubt that dairy farmers will have to adapt to public sentiments that run strong on animal welfare.

10,000 Years of Fighting about Dairy

Mark Kurlansky has written an authoritative history of this 10,000-year-old food fight. He says:

“It is the most argued-over food in human history, which is why it was the first food to find its way into a modern scientific laboratory and why it is the most regulated of all foods.”

So, no. Dairy is not going away. Nor will we likely ever stop fighting about it.

Click here and here for more on dairy foods and health. For more from the Times on animal welfare in the dairy industry, click here. And finally, for more on our history of fighting about dairy, click here.

Milkmaid, painting by Mykhailo Boychuk / WikiArt

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January 5, 2021