Myth #1: Organic Milk Doesn't Have Hormones Or Increase Your Cancer Risk
Not only is being constantly pregnant while they produce milk uncomfortable for the cows — it also might be pretty bad for humans who drink their milk.
Myth #2: Milk Is Good For You
In reality, milk actually has far more health risks than benefits. As we saw above, studies show that milk appears to increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer. But the health problems that milk creates don't end there: Three-quarters of us actually lack the enzyme to properly digest cow's milk and thus suffer digestively even if we're not lactose intolerant (though we might not realize how much we're affected until we cut out dairy and find ourselves less bloated, with clearer skin).
Milk also contains allergens and is one of the most common food allergies. One study removed dairy from the diets of 48 people suffering from either migraines or asthma — and 33 of them reported their condition improved significantly.
Then there are the more serious health risks: Over 100 studies have found a strong correlation between Type 1 diabetes and the amount of milk consumed by children. Another study conducted on 7,500 men showed that those who drank more than two glasses of milk a day were twice as likely to develop Parkinson's disease as those who didn't.
Myth #3: You Need Milk To Get Enough Calcium & Prevent Osteoporosis
Anyone who grew up with the food pyramid probably believes that drinking milk is the best way to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis.
In reality, this myth was created by the dairy industry — dark, leafy veggies are actually a far better source of calcium. On average, we absorb just 30 percent of the calcium found in milk, yogurt, and cheese; but we absorb twice the amount of calcium if we eat veggies like kale, broccoli, bok choy, spinach and lots of other plant-based foods that are really good for you in lots of ways. As the chart above shows, you can also easily get all the Vitamin D and protein you need without dairy or meat.
Furthermore, milk might actually increase your risk of breaking bones. A Harvard Nurses study of 77,000 women that spanned 12 years found that those who consumed more than two glasses of milk a day actually had a higher risk of breaking a bone than women who drank one glass a day or no milk at all.
Myth #4: Cows Need To Be Milked Anyway
Female cows produce milk for the same reason human females do: to nurse their young. The sad truth is, whether the milk you drink is organic, local, or chock-full-of-rBST, it is the result of baby calves being torn from their mothers so that you can drink the milk instead.
In order to produce enough milk to meet human demands, dairy cows are kept pregnant or lactating for the majority of their lives. It is anything but natural. "Cows are not 'designed' to produce milk like that. They do not give milk because they are happy. They do it because we force them to," Desaulniers writes.
Cows born with one or more extra teats (which is not uncommon) often have them cut off by farmers so that their udder is better suited for the milking machine. While a cow nursing her calf would naturally produce seven kg of milk a day, we make them produce 27 kg. As a result, female cows often develop mastitis, a painful infection nursing women will be familiar with — and die at an average age of four from exhaustion or slaughter.
Myth #5: At Least Dairy Cows Get To Live
"We must face the facts: There is no moral distinction between milk and meat," Desaulniers writes. "The same animals are milked, then sold, then finally slaughtered ... legal scholar Gary L. Francione sums it up perfectly: 'There is probably more suffering in a glass of milk or ice cream cone than there is in a steak.'"
In the United States, The Animal Welfare Act, which is the main piece of legislation prohibiting animal abuse, exempts farm animals completely.
Myth #6: The Cows Don't Know Any Other Way
Cows might be "domesticated" but that doesn't mean they don't have natural life cycles of their own, like dogs or cats. Much like us, cows would naturally nurse their young for six to nine months, weaning their babies gradually. Heifer (female) cows stay with their mother for life. (And you thought your mom was clingy.)
Myth #7: Organic Milk Is Produced Under Better Conditions
Despite the happy cows on our cartons, organic milk certification has more to do with what kind of grains the cows eat than it does the way they're treated.
Myth #8 Eating Local Dairy From The Farmers' Market Is Good for the Environment
Unfortunately, you can sometimes actually have a larger carbon footprint from eating locally because the production processes of small farms are not always efficient enough to cancel out the footprint of shipping done by larger brands.
Beyond that, the environmental footprint of dairy in any form is huge — cheese has the third-highest carbon footprint of any food, second only to lamb and beef. As most of us know, grazing cows emit a huge amount of methane, and there are far more dairy cows emitting the gas while producing milk for us than there are cows being slaughtered for meat.
In fact, studies show that if you even went vegan for one day a week, you would have a greater positive environmental impact than if you were a locavore (someone who eats everything locally) seven days a week.
Myth #9: Milk Has Nothing To Do With Feminism
I think Desaulniers puts it best: "As with sexism or racism, carnism [the ideology of consuming animals] is based on the idea that 'this is how things are.' In many cultures, it is 'normal' for women to be treated as inferior to men ... In all these cases, the 'norm' conceals an ideology (sexism, racism, carnism) that seeks to make us accept values as mere facts. Yet we are perfectly free to choose to combat these ideologies if we believe in a few principles, like welfare, justice, autonomy or compassion. I think it's even a moral duty."
It can be empowering to realize that your feminism and sense of social justice can apply to all living beings. If cutting out dairy altogether feels like too big a leap, perhaps start with one day a week, and take it from there. Remember, your environmental impact will be significant — and you might be surprised at just by how great you feel, both physically and ethically.