Sometime ago I had an encounter with two people at a grocery store that has stayed with me ever since. The date, time, and exact location are irrelevant, as this conversation could have taken place anywhere in the world.
Misinformation is pernicious like that. It perpetuates slowly yet pervasively. It’s effects can be quite damaging, especially when it comes to health.
So on this day, I was running into the store to grab a few snacks and water bottles with my oldest child. With my two younger children happily playing at their grandparent’s house, she and I were headed to a dance competition for the day. As we hurried through the aisles grabbing dried fruit, nuts, and the rest of our refreshments, we were met with two very short lines at the cash wrap, each with only one person ahead of us. As we set our items on the conveyer belt, I heard the gentleman in front of me tell the cashier that he needed to “lay off dairy” to try and deal with his digestive distress. He was purchasing no less than 3 different types of “lactose-free” milks, yet all were still produced from cows. The gentleman went on to explain that he didn’t understand how milk could be an issue as it “does a body good” but that he was desperate for relief.
As the cashier nodded her head in response, I gently mentioned “perhaps you might consider giving up dairy for a bit all together. It seems as though your body might know something that you don’t.”
He met my gaze with a friendly, if not puzzled smile, and asked what I meant. I went on to explain that many people have issues digesting dairy and that he could easily cut it out of his diet by using plant-milk alternatives.
“Well, what about you? Do you eat dairy?” He asked me with heightened interest.
“No. None of my family does anymore. Not even my 3 kids.” I replied. “In fact, we eat a whole foods, plant based diet and it’s been truly amazing the difference that it has made to our heath.”
“Plant based?” He asked. “What does that mean?”
“Well,” I continued, “It basically means that we try to eat mostly whole plant foods.”
His look of interest continued, but his eyebrows furrowed with confusion. “So you only eat plants? Like no meat?”
“Yes! A whole foods, plant based diet is basically a healthy vegan diet.” I smiled. As the man swiped his credit card through the machine, I could see his mind trying to formulate a response.
“So how long have you all been vegan?” He asked, clearly interested in more information.
“My whole family switched——“
“OH MY GOD!” The woman at the adjacent cash wrap interrupted exasperatedly as she turned to face us. “Do NOT ‘go vegan!’”
I was taken aback as the woman began to launch into a heated monologue about how “self-righteous, protein-deficient vegans” should stop spreading their “propaganda about how dairy is bad” because “no one wants to hear it.”
The man, who had at this point had finished checking out and stepped forward to collect his bags, was then lead swiftly by the arm into the parking lot by this woman before I had a chance to say another word. The cashier apologized for the woman’s outburst as she began to ring up my items. Still a little shocked by the exchange, I finished checking out and led my daughter out of the store and back to the car. As we walked through the parking lot, we could see the man placing his items in his car while the woman continued her passionate tirade.
As I drove off, my heart sank a bit, knowing that whatever that woman was saying was not going to be beneficial to a man seeking help for his digestive issues. I felt upset, knowing that I had beneficial information for this man, but my lack of time prevented me from helping him. Even worse, I felt incredibly sad for this woman who had obviously been wronged by other vegans in the past and still clung furiously to false information.
For months I have thought to myself all of the words that I should have said to this woman, so full of anger and misinformation. So today, my dear readers, I say them to you as penance for my previous silence.
Dear woman at the cash register,
I can see that the topic of diet is a heated one for you. In a world where so many chose apathy and lack passion for anything, I applaud your zeal. I am so saddened to hear that you have such a poor opinion of those that chose to live a whole foods, plant based vegan lifestyle. Based on your fervent speech, my guess is that someone living that lifestyle has wronged you in some way, and for that I apologize. However, in forming such a strong prejudice against this lifestyle, you yourself have fallen victim to very harmful false information perpetuated by very powerful industries which seek not your heath, but your wealth.
I apologize if my answers to this man’s ernest questions in some way offended you. I was not trying to convert him to veganism. While I firmly know, based on the myriad of current research, that a whole foods, plant based lifestyle is the healthiest way to live, I am fully aware that it can be a big change for many (especially those eating the Standard American Diet). My interest in educating this man was in helping him address his digestive issues with one simple dietary swap. I was not preaching at someone who “did not want to hear it,” but was rather answering the questions of someone in desperate search for answers not given to him by the medical community.
As I walked to my car, I heard you tell this man that his digestive orders would be healed by “raw dairy” and that lactose-intolerance doesn’t exist. I’d like to let you know, with no disrespect, that studies have shown that some 30-50 million Americans are in fact, lactose-intolerant. That is a very large amount of people that suffer from a condition that you claim does not exist.
The man you were speaking to was African-American. Did you know that based on current research around 73% of African-Americans are lactose-intolerant? So statistically speaking, it is highly likely that cutting out dairy products would be beneficial for that man. As humans, our bodies are genetically programmed to stop producing lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down the lactose in milk, after infancy. Interestingly, we are the only species on the planet that drinks milk past infancy and the only one to drink the milk of another species. When you think about it this way, it makes sense that this man’s body was fighting to digest something he was never meant to consume.
You see, dear woman, the problems with dairy consumption go so far beyond whether or not this man has an intolerance. The raw dairy that you suggested will still raise his risk of prostate cancer by 30-50%, partially due to the fact that dairy increases the body’s level of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), which is a known cancer promoter.
Raw dairy, even if it’s grass-fed and organic, will still contain animal hormones, namely estrogen, which promotes hormonal cancers, especially those of the breast, ovary, and prostate.
Raw dairy is still full of saturated fat that is linked to everything from heart disease, to diabetes, to kidney disease, to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and even to Alzheimer’s.
Raw dairy still contains the opioid casomorphin, or protein fragments derived from the digestion of the milk protein, casein. This highly addictive compound has been linked to crib death, Type 1 Diabetes, and Autism.
Raw dairy still leads to an overly acidic body. In order to buffer the acid in the bloodstream, our bodies call upon our most readily available acid buffer, calcium, and pulls it from our bones to restore a ph balanced system. So instead of protecting against osteoporosis, dairy actually contributes to its formation.
Raw dairy still contains dioxins, powerful persistent pollutants that can cause reproductive and development problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and can cause cancer. Dioxins bio-accumulate in the cows flesh and secretions. It would take a human 14 years to breathe in the amount of dioxins a cow ingests in eating grass in a single day. Environmental pollutants are not discriminate and don’t skip over the fields where the organic, grass-fed, raw dairy cows graze.
Raw dairy is just as unsustainable for our planet as conventional dairy. Animal agriculture creates over 51% of the global greenhouse gas emissions due to methane production. Yes, you heard me right, cow farts are hurting the environment, with grass-fed cows producing 40-60% more methane gas than grain fed cows and using 35% more land and 30 % more water.
All of these issues with dairy extend to all of the products the industry creates with it as well. Cheese, yogurt, butter, sour cream, ice cream, and whey protein all have the same ill effects.
My concern for this man had nothing to do with my beliefs, but everything to do with my knowledge of the health disadvantages of dairy, not only for him but for our planet. My interest was in spreading a message of health and hope with one single dietary swap.
Though I am sure that I may never see you again, I hope one day, woman at the cash register, that your eyes are opened to the reality and the truth of the issues with dairy consumption. I’d love for you to take that passion you have for raw dairy and channel it toward sharing with others the health benefits of plant-based milks which have none of the detriments. I’d be elated to hear you tell others how cutting out dairy has helped you lose weight, heal your asthma and allergies, balance your hormones, and clear up your child’s acne.
On the chance that I do see you again, let’s go out for a decaf almond-milk latte sometime.
It’s on me.