The writing is on the wall – drinking milk that comes from animals is coming to an end.
A recent article by Plant Based News suggests that 1 in 3 Brits now drink plant-based milks. While in America, almost half of all American households are purchasing plant-based milk.
The uptake of plant-based milk seems to be growing exponentially.
Milk made by mammals to feed their babies is a wonderful piece of evolution that’s been around for tens of millions of years. Milk gives baby mammals a fantastic start in life. The composition of milk differs from species to species depending on biological requirement. At some point in a young mammal’s development, they are weaned from drinking their mother’s milk and switch to the normal adult version of their diet, whatever that is, be it grass for cows or fish for seals. Humans too, in our evolutionary past, would have been weaned off milk at a young age and stopped drinking it completely.
When you think about it, adult humans drinking the milk of other mammals is bizarre.
Firstly, it’s from a completely different species. Imagine for a moment, a fully grown human man suckling on the udders of a cow. It’s a weird image.
Secondly, milk is for baby mammals, not adults. Drinking mammal milk into adulthood is unnatural. Humans have had to evolve to be able to tolerate milk-drinking into adulthood, with many remaining lactose intolerant. Bear in mind that evolution is a slow process and we’ve essentially ‘only just’ started down this road; hence high levels of lactose intolerance.
It’s often said that humans are omnivorous and have eaten meat for millions of years. This is probably true. But it’s not true for consuming the milk of other mammals. This dietary habit has only been around for about 8000 years, since humans domesticated certain animals. So while meat-eating could be viewed as natural, milk-drinking is relatively unnatural.
Another cruel element of the dairy industry that people often forget, or more likely choose to ignore, is the fact that a baby mammal has to be killed so humans can drink the milk instead. This is a rather unpalatable reality. It’s no wonder people don’t want to think about it. That alone should turn people off from consuming animal milk.
Another cruelty comes from the fact that cows are bred to produce high milk volumes. This adds stress to the animal and causes welfare issues.
Dairy farming is also hugely unsustainable. At a time of dwindling planetary resources, we need to focus on how we use the planet for human benefit and also how we can best preserve functional ecosystems and stave off the growing tide of extinction.
There are currently around 270 million dairy cows in the world. Total cow numbers are about 1.5 billion.
In the US, 144 litres of water is used to produce just 1 litre of milk. More than 93% of that water is used to grow feed for dairy cattle. Scale that up to a global level and that represents a huge stress on freshwater supplies.
The impact on climate change from dairy is enormous. If dairy cows were a country, they would have the same climate impact as the entire United Kingdom.
Livestock in general take up a staggering 77% of global agricultural land. I’ve not been able to find a figure for the amount of land area taken up just by dairy cattle, but with 270 million of them, it’s going to be pretty massive.
Then there’s the pollution from dairy farming. In New Zealand, where they have more cows than people with a herd size of around 6 million, pollution from nitrate run-off is an enormous problem.
And so the good news – Plant-based milks are an obvious substitute for animal milk.
People quibble about the use of the term ‘milk’ for plant milks, but so what? Flexibility is part of the joy of language. Meanings of words change over time. Nothing stays the same. I’m more than happy for the use of words like ‘milk’ ‘cheese’ ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ for non-animal products because those words encapsulate and describe these things rather well.
Plant milks win out over animals milks. They are more sustainable with a lower impact on the planet; it means freeing up land for better food production or making more space for wildlife. They are arguably more healthy, particularly in terms of lactose intolerance. And once you take away all the animal suffering from dairy cows, plant-based milks represent a kinder and more compassionate way to live and to interact with our world.
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