Why I'll Never Give Up Dairy

As a child, I would only eat white food. I was chronically fussy - not about the colour, but about the texture of what I was eating. Occasionally I could switch it up, but only when textures were separated from each other to preserve simplicity. For the most part of my first 18 years of life, I survived on white pasta, chopped apples, white bread, and milk. Without knowing it, I looked for an element of consistency and control in what I ate. I was always a skinny child, but I was never unhealthy. The classic symptoms of a sheer lack of nutrients didn't apply to me - my hair was shiny, my skin was clear even as a teen, my teeth were strong and my bones were solid. It wasn't my love of pasta that kept me alive all that time, it was the four pints of cow’s milk per day that flooded me with the energy to pick all of the vegetables out of my dinner every night.

I can remember the first mixed salad I ever ate. I was in college and I was so proud of myself that I relayed the experience to my boyfriend, friends and mother. Look - Look what I did! I ate all of these vegetables and meats mixed together! I developed a love of flavour when I became a vegetarian. I had added plain chicken and spag bol sauce to my dietary mix and knew that cutting them out would mean I would be left only with a new world of colourful, confusing food to discover. I won personal victories with veg-packed omelettes, fish and seafood and grains I had never heard of. I needed protein, so I convinced myself that I liked beans and nuts, until one day I woke up and loved them for real. I don't need four pints of milk per day anymore, but without them I wouldn't be here.

Similar to the memories of discovering a love of food and taste, I remember clearly discovering that milk was bad and glutenous. I was in my early twenties, at coffee with a friend. I ordered a latte and was told that I should order a cappuccino instead - much less fattening. Up until then, I thought people were vegan only for issues of animal welfare. I soon learned that giving up dairy was just another form of self-denial, dietary control and food obsession thrown upon an audience made up of primarily young women. 

Through societal pressure, I am a slim woman who can't help but feel guilty about eating chocolate or putting one sugar in my coffee. According to 2018, I am also supposed to feel guilty about cow's milk, despite the fact that it is one of the best sources of nutrition on the planet and will likely never be replaced. I am a pescatarian now - doing what I believe to be my part for the animals - and have no desire to advance to veganism. Nonetheless, I question this about myself every day when I'm bombarded with physically perfect vegans on social media who, willingly or not, make their entire audience think 'if I give up milk, maybe I'll look like her'. Veganism is very often promoted not as an animal rights or social justice act, but as a component of health and fitness plans. Even now when I order a coffee and attempt to enjoy it, I treat milk as an indulgence, only buying lattes on the weekend and americanos during the week. I'm all too aware of a scale of acceptance that an old co-worker alerted me too, ranging from bad to good - latte (very indulgent), flat white (middle ground for a treat), cappuccino (these are even served in smaller cups, so you know you've hit the jackpot), americano (symbol of no-nonsense, weight-losing machine). 

The human body is designed to get pleasure from food. Sweets and candy were designed to exploit this, but milk wasn't. Milk is the natural thing that we were all raised on. Like a lot of other people, I would probably look great if I lost 5-10 pounds, especially given that I'm already of slim build. But those five pounds - those are my life. They're what I get from dairy. They're eggs at brunch with my girlfriends, late dollar pizza in Manhattan, a latte while I read my book on a Saturday morning in a Brooklyn cafe, the wine and cheese nights I had with an ex-boyfriend and the butter popcorn I share on movie dates. I could give up dairy and look great, but I wouldn't recognize my life and being thinner would make me less whole. 

Obesity epidemics have made us forget that if you don't suffer from weight issues, dietary restrictions aren't healthy. Cultures of fad dieting and cutting-out have disastrous effects on the mental health of the groups most impacted by them. They're just another standard that we need to meet in order to achieve a conceptual perfection that we don't need. Denying yourself milk is denying yourself protein, calcium, iodine, vitamin B, potassium and phosphorus. If you need to give up these things in order to look a certain way - then odds are you were never supposed to look that way and when you do you'll likely be miserable. And you might be able to find those nutrients elsewhere, but if you're negatively impacting your mental health and bodily acceptance just to deny yourself the original source, then is it really worth it?