Milk is touted as very good for health. We Indians have a long tradition of drinking milk, it is celebrated in rituals and folklore, it is used as part of the 'abhishekam' for gods, the phrase 'milk and honey' connotes a land of prosperity, all mothers want their children to have their milk before they go to bed, it is thought to bestow health and strength, and of course, calcium.
Is all this hype justified?
The milk that we talk about is cow-milk or buffalo-milk, the milk that a mammal produces for its calf. Nature intended it for consumption of the young one, of the same species, till it is weaned. In short, are you a cow, and are you still a baby? No? Then don't have milk, goes the argument which does have a lot of merit. A lot of human adults the world over have lactose intolerance, meaning they just don't have the ability to digest milk. The solution to this is not to have milk with the lactose removed, or some such abomination in the form of denatured food as the modern food industry would lead you to believe, but to avoid milk altogether. Since the adult human does not need milk, this does not create a problem. Have you heard of anyone having a problem because of not having milk? In fact, the composition of milk is full of things to make a baby cow grow. Since a baby cow grows to beyond hundred kgs in a few months from birth, it must be packed with growth hormones! But whether these growth hormones are meant for human beings becomes, on a moment's consideration, clear. Now, that is the view from the Naturopathy camp.
The Ayurveda and Indian traditional camp differs. Milk is celebrated in India. This view is mainly from the Aryans who settled in north India, for whom cattle were a source of livelihood and sustenance. They developed the enzymes to digest milk (most Indians can tolerate milk, which is different from say, the Chinese, most of whom are lactose intolerant), and in a land of bountiful rains and verdant forests, with ample grazing for their cows, this made sense.
But, when they said milk is good, what did they mean? Modern corporations have a way of expropriating any word and attaching it to something else, and confusing us into thinking that both are the same. What we call milk nowadays is not milk at all, but a dead, harmful, manufactured product that should not be consumed, let alone fed to babies.
What did they mean when they said milk? They meant milk from cows which are uniquely tuned in to the local environment, in our case 'humped' A2 cows. They meant cows that ate grass which grew naturally, and cows that grazed on open grasslands. Any food that was fed to these cows in their pens was just hay, and oilseeds and specially formulated cakes, and these were all from natural sources. In those days when there were no chemical fertilisers this meant organic as well. The cows were looked after like a part of the family, and their emotional well-being was ensured. The milk was extracted and consumed locally without transporting long distances. If the cow was sick, it would not be milked. The milk would be brought to a boil (which is very different from the process of pasteurisation) once before being used, or, even used raw. As I am writing this, I am imagining a cottage in the jungle, set in rolling meadows with forests for a backdrop, and cows grazing in contented peace. The Ayurvedic ideal of milk, when it says that milk is good as food, is milk produced in that kind of setting.
What is today's reality? Cows are penned in industrial-type enclosures. When animals are kept in such close proximity, they tend to fall ill, and to prevent that, their food is laced with antibiotics. These antibiotics are consumed by us later of course. The cow is just another milk producing machine. Now, machines need to be more efficient, so the cows are cross-bred from high-yield Holsteins or Jerseys which are foreign breeds tuned only for higher yields – any tuning of that kind is sure to have costs elsewhere. The food, apart from being laced with antibiotics, is now changed to corn, if it is cattle being bred for the sake of beef, and in some cases, for milk as well. The famous Bovine Encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, struck because cows were fed with left-over parts of chicken-intestines, since… protein is anyway protein, how does the source matter! As to the cow being a happy emotionally well-adjusted cow, forget it. You don't think in those terms when it comes to your factory's machinery, do you?
There is the other model that now works in India, of milk co-operatives. Milk is collected from across the country-side from various farmers. Here of course, you cannot control the quality of cow, nature of cow from which the milk comes, or health of cow. Milk from good cows, bad cows, diseased cows, mad cows are all mixed together into one bunch. Oh, and I forgot, in order to make sure these cows produce more milk, they are injected with Oxytocin, a hormone which causes contraction of the uterus, thus increasing milk production. Or, I believe, it is now called Bovine Recombinant Growth Hormone. What the cow eats and ingests is going to be what you eat, since the cow's milk is a product of what the cow is fed. Now, the milk from these cows is collected from all around the countryside. This will have to be transported to the factory. Now milk in a moving truck with curdle, how does one prevent that? Easy, just mix some urea in it, so what if urea is a chemical fertiliser. And then once it reaches the plant, you need to now ensure that all the bad germs are killed – of course there are bad germs. So you pasteurise the milk. Unfortunately, anything that kills the bad germs will also kill the good germs, just like antibiotics destroy all the good gut bacteria in our stomachs when we have them. But then, the milk industry does not have a choice. They need to collect milk from long distances, package it, and transport it again for long distances to reach the customer. In the process, whatever makes a profit for the industry is good for health, and whatever does not, is bad for health. A new definition for what is healthy! But don't tell me you didn't suspect this? Don't tell me you believe all that they tell you about healthy food nowadays through their advertisements ("eat healthy, think better") and disguised as 'scientific research'?
Pasteurisation is murder. But then you cannot rest there can you? You have to ensure that the carcass is truly dead. Customers started complaining about the yellow stuff floating on top of the milk, which is basically the cream and fat that separates. So what does the milk industry do? They 'homogenise' it, a very innocuous word – did we tell you that the more innocuous the word the more you have to suspect that something is wrong? They pass the milk through a fine mesh which is measured in microns. With a pressure of 2400 psi, which number doesn't make sense, unless you think of the fact that the pressure in your car-tire is 40 psi. This pulverises the milk, shatters its structure, so to speak. Now, the body will not even recognise it as milk! And havoc ensues, within your system, without even your being aware of it.
And we take this 'manufactured product' called milk, which has long since ceased to bear any resemblance to milk, and we call it milk. And we feed it to our babies. We feel that if we don't have milk we won't get our calcium – another myth fostered by advertising just like the salt and iodine thing - when, in fact, pasteurised milk depletes the body of calcium and leads to osteoporosis. What we are consuming is manufactured, industrial sludge.
But, you say, but, even if I buy your argument, where do I get organic milk from grass-fed cows in the city? You don't? Well then, go back and look at the beginning of this article. Milk is not required for the human body. Stop having milk.