The answer to this question is the reason that I am transitioning into veganism. Before conducting research for this article, I had no idea the toll that milk and eggs took on their producers and consumers. Now, I can hardly believe that I let myself eat milk and eggs without questioning their contribution to my diet. I had always been told that milk is an important source of calcium and eggs are an important source of protein. After learning the truth, I'm willing to search near and far to find any and all alternatives. I have realized that I want nothing to do with the animal-based part of the American food industry, not only because of the harm done to animals, but because of the harm done to the human body in consuming them.
Harm to Animals:
To begin, the living conditions for hens in battery cage facilities are inhumane and unsanitary. Peter Wenz, in his essay “Against Cruelty to Animals” cites a description of a typical hen battery cage by Miyan Park. After visiting a facility, she related that “an egg-laying hen requires 290 square inches of space to flap her wings, yet each bird is allotted an average of 52 square inches...in which she eats, sleeps, lays eggs, drinks, and defecates” (qtd. in Wenz). Furthermore, the environment of the battery cage facility is contrary to that of nature. The hens stand on wire meshing, unlike natural earth. Feather loss is common due to the inevitable rubbing up against the sides of the small cages. These close quarters are also breeding grounds for bacteria.
Dairy cows face a similar lackluster quality of life. Cows forced to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk (i.e. the modern dairy cow) can become malnourished because they lose more nutrients through their milk than they ingest in their feed. As a result, these cows are more susceptible to disease. Factory farms also employ selective breeding, feed dairy cows grain instead of grass (what their natural diet calls for), and expose cows to longer periods of artificial light to make them produce more milk. Unsurprisingly, the life expectancy for stressed cows is less than those who are not stressed.
Perhaps the largest example of animal cruelty -- to both cows and humans -- is hormone injection. The most famous hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, artificially increases milk production by ten to fifteen percent.
No wonder almost every heifer from sea to shining sea is injected with this hormone. Of course, as with most artificial products, rBGH comes with its risks, for both cows and humans. In 1991, Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group, reported serious health problems with rBGH-injected cows in a Monsanto-financed study at the University of Vermont.
The study uncovered problems like “a drastic increase in the number of deformed calves and dramatic increases in mastitis, a painful bacterial infection of the udder which causes inflammation, swelling, and pus and blood secretions into milk” (Sustainable Table). To treat mastitis outbreaks, the dairy industry relies on antibiotics. Critics of rBGH point to the subsequent increase in antibiotic use and inadequacies in the federal government's testing program for antibiotic residues in milk (Sustainable Table). The FDA relies on pasteurization to kill off bacteria, hormones and antibiotics in milk (Sustainable Table).
Harm to You:
The research part of this article is brief because I know that this is the research you expected. It is the research that you have already done yourself. However, when I started watching Forks Over Knives just to see if it would even slightly apply to this question, I was surprised to learn about the adverse effects of animal-based products on the human body. Red meat is not the only killer, overconsumption of dairy products and eggs can be just as lethal. Dr. Colin Campbell's book, The China Study, shows a correlation between overconsumption of animal-based calcium and cancer. Personally, I have not read Dr. Campbell's book in which he outlines, experiments, and proves this theory, but I did learn a lot from the movie version. (That has to count for something, right?) I'm not going divulge the entire contents of Forks Over Knives or The China Study because I encourage you to watch/read for yourself.
Even the personal stories are convincing and compelling, and far more believable than the before and after pictures in a Hydroxycut commercial. These personal stories strongly impacted me (a writer whose favorite subject besides vegetarian/veganism is herself) because the first way I judge a food is by how I feel after consuming it. This, to me, is the most base and natural statistic a person has, and all you have to do is Google inside yourself. Now, I don't know about you, but I personally feel weighed down after drinking a large glass of milk. The dairy sloshes around in my stomach, making me feel sick. I am not lactose intolerant, but my body reacts negatively to this foreign, white substance.
Milk, in my opinion, is a “foreign” substance because humans are the only mammals that drink another mammal's milk. I, along with most scientists, believe that the human body is not made to drink cows' (or any other animal's) milk. If we were, there would be no such condition as lactose intolerant and we wouldn't need cows' milk to be pasteurized and homogenized in order for it to be safely consumed. This is just one person's answer to a complicated question. For me, a glass of milk and an omelette aren't worth the harm done to the animals or my body. What are some of your favorite milk and egg substitutions/alternatives?
“Against Cruelty to Animals” by Peter S. Wenz
Forks Over Knives
Photo credit:cc:commons.wikipedia.org Fir0002