Should I Eat This? Part 6: Eggs & Dairy

By Jane | October 7, 2012

Caged Chickens In Syria

Lots of people are quite happy to imagine going meatless. But when it comes to dairy products, they would rather lose an eye than lose eggs, cheese, and milk from their diets.

True, eggs and dairy pack a nutritional punch; they are a great source of calcium and protein.

They are also a great source of ice cream, cookies, and nacho cheese dip. This is why people think vegans are crazy.

Is it crazy to avoid dairy products and eggs? Or is it crazy to eat them? That’s for you to decide.

Is It Bad For The Environment?

Remember all those factory farms we talked about back in Should I Eat This? Part 4.0: Meat & The Environment?

For the most part, the farms that house dairy cows and laying hens create the same kind of concentrated waste that contributes to poisoned rivers and soil at a local level, and climate change at a global level.

Environmentally speaking, there is very little difference between chowing down on a chicken breast or an omelette.

Is It Cruel?

Many vegetarians (me included) stop eating meat because they don’t want to kill animals. It’s easy to convince yourself that milk and eggs are animal-friendly, because you don’t have to kill the animals to get them.

It took me almost 20 years as a vegetarian to realize that the cows and chickens who make chocolate chip cookies possible live and die for our pleasure, just like the animals we slaughter for meat.

That Omelette Has A Death Toll
It should have been pretty obvious all along. I mean, if only the lady chickens can lay eggs, what happens to their brothers?

Yes, you guessed it. Hundreds of millions of fluffy little chicks per year are killed within a few days of their first breath. Most meet their maker in one of three ways:

  • By mass electrocution on electric plates
  • By suffocation in big plastic containers
  • By maceration – kind of like pouring a pile of live baby chicks through a wood chipper

Goodbye useless male baby chicks.

Then again, maybe they’re luckier than their sisters, who suffer the cramped, dirty, and inhumane conditions of a factory farm until they’re no producing quite enough eggs per week. Once they’re too old to produce enough eggs fast enough to maximize profits, they’re killed and replaced with a shiny new laying machine.

Milk The Not-So-Magnificent
What about milk? The white elixir that has graced the upper lips of so many stars also has a dark side.

  • Dairy cows are kept constantly pregnant so they will continuously produce milk. Imagine being constantly pregnant your entire fertile life!
  • It’s OK though, because they’re really only kept pregnant for 4 or 5 years. When they stop giving enough milk, dairy cows are slaughtered (natural cow lifespan is around 20 years).
  • Calves are taken from their mothers as soon as they are born. When people tell me drinking milk is natural, this wholly unnatural practice is what always springs to mind.
  • Female calves may be raised to produce milk, but they are not raised by their mothers. And they don’t get to drink the nutritious mother’s milk – we drink it instead.
  • Male calves are disposable. They are either killed or shipped off to become veal calves – and we know how cruel veal is.

That’s a lot of killing for a totally unnecessary drink.

If I Don’t Drink Milk, My Bones Will Melt!

The brilliance of the dairy lobby knows no bounds. Through decades of aggressive marketing, they have most people believing the only way to have healthy bones is to consume lots of dairy products.

They’ve even managed to convince parents that even if you add a bunch of sugar and strawberry flavoring, milk is still good for your kids.

Yikes.

The truth is that about 60% of people are lactose intolerant. These people can’t really digest dairy and yet they are not squidging around boneless like The Blob.

Why?

  1. Dairy is not the only place to get good quality calcium. There is calcium in kale, spinach, beet greens, chard, broccoli, mustard greens, and collards for a start.
  2. The added calcium in soy or almond milk is just as good for your bones as the one in cow’s milk (or any other animal’s milk, for that matter). Nutritionist Andy Bellatti

  3. Calcium is only one important ingredient in bone health. You also need fun things like Vitamin K, C, magnesium, boron, manganese – none of which milk provides.

But I Couldn’t Live Without Cheese!

I have said this sentence hundreds of times in my life. I meant it too. But guess what?

You can live without cheese. Lots of people do, and you are no different than them.

Cheese is the number-one source of saturated fat in the American diet. PCRM President Neal Barnard, M.D.

In other words, not only can you live without cheese, it’s pretty likely you’ll live a longer, healthier life without it.

What Can I Eat Instead?

Cheese, Glorious Cheese
There is no substitute for cheese. There, I said it. I love cheese and I’ve tried all kinds of cheese replacements: from cashew, to tofu, to oil-based. There are some tasty, creamy replacements out there, but they’re just not the same.

The commercial vegan cheeses (like Teese and Daiya) melt and stretch and do all kinds of cheese-like things. The problem is (besides the weird flavor), they’re highly processed, ingredient-heavy, oily, non-nutritious lumps of fakery.

Good thing we have just established that it is rather easy (and good for you) to live without cheese.

The White Stuff
Milk is much easier to replace. My variety of choice is almond milk. It tastes good, is actually white (not grey like some soy milks), and is yummy on cereal.

Now if I could just get my local coffee bar to stop burning it in my latte!

No Eggs Over Easy
For baking, eggs are totally easy to replace. Check out this cheat sheet. And in case you haven’t heard, vegan cupcakes are the best.

What Else Should I Know?

Cutting out eggs and dairy is often the road to a much better diet.

Think of all the times someone brings a cake to work, or your family stops for ice cream, or you just need to grab a slice of banana bread with your morning coffee. Baked goods are an everywhere, every day, easy-to-grab calorie and sugar bomb.

I was never a big eater of sweets, but just quitting eggs and dairy cut out at least one helping of cake, pie, cookies, or other sweet from my diet every day. That’s a lot of crappy food I no longer eat – and no longer want to eat.

You might think it would make me feel deprived. Instead, I always feel lucky that I have a good excuse to say no, instead of politely consuming things my body doesn’t want anyway.

Sources and Resources

Find out a little more about the dairy lobby in Dairy Lobby Tries to Ban Soy ‘Milk’, on Mother Jones

Perfect, delicious, wonderful, yummy vegan pizza crust recipe

More calcium talk from Andy Bellatti in Beyond Milk: There’s Much More To Bone Health than Calcium and Vitamin D

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Should I Eat This? The Complete Series

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11 comments

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  8. Comment by ann

    ann Reply October 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I’m not vegan (but i was and may be again) but the two almost-clinching arguments against needing milk for strong bones is “how much milk to buffalo/elephant/cows drink and do they get osteoporousis?” and “what species drinks the milk of another species after they are weaned?”.

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM October 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      Ha. I’ve never heard “do elephants get osteoporosis” before. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t know if they did. The weirdness of drinking another animal’s milk really hits home to people once you tell them you can buy women’s breast milk online. Somehow we think *that* is the most disgusting thing ever, but drinking a cow’s milk is totally natural and yummy. People are weird.

  9. Comment by Chris T-T

    Chris T-T Reply October 7, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Powerful insight, as usual Jane.

    I’d love to know your thoughts on home-grown or ‘Hen Heaven’ style eggs. More and more people in the UK keep their own hens as pets (and learning tools for children) and then eat the eggs. Although this is still fundamentally a captive animal (and the associated death of male chicks is I guess still a major issue) these people feel they are not exploiting in the same way. I know one family who are vegan apart from their own hens’ eggs.

    Also, further into a moral grey area, here (Brighton, UK) we have a couple of places who buy ‘end of lay’ hens before they’re slaughtered, to give them a comfortable ‘retirement home’ (an endeavor sincerely motivated by animal welfare rather than any desire to exploit the hens) – then subsidise the work by selling the eggs they still produce. Because at ‘end of lay’, in fact hens still produce perfectly good eggs, just not quite so many to maximise the profits of mainstream egg producers (and, as they get older, with slightly less strong shells).

    I’ve even seen these advertised as ‘vegan eggs’ since they would argue they’re produced entirely without cruelty as a bi-product of providing an otherwise murdered hen a nice retirement home.

    So. Is there such as thing as a ‘vegan egg’?

    • Comment by JaneM

      JaneM October 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      I wouldn’t say there’s such thing as a vegan egg. An egg is an egg, no matter which hen it came from. However, I have far less problem with the idea of eating an egg that’s produced in someone’s backyard, than one being produced in a factory somewhere. This, to me, seems close to the natural order of things. The hens get to behave like hens, and people behave like people. Most people I know with chickens in their backyards treat them with love and kindness – basically they are pets who produce eggs.

      Personally, I still am not thrilled with the idea of eating an embryo when I have so many other options that aren’t animal-based. But if the choice was between that or being hungry (I’m thinking, for example, if I were travelling somewhere where I had limited access to different kinds of food), I’d definitely eat that egg.

      Ultimately, anyone who is looking at different ways of sourcing food and treating animals – ways that don’t depend on the bizarre system we have somehow managed to “normalize” in the Western world – should be applauded. These are the folks that are on the forefront of change.

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