a breakup story
DEAR DAIRY, I love you. I love your taste... but, it's time to break up.
This is what I did nearly two years ago and honestly, I have not looked back. But, let me set the stage first - I love dairy. Like, seriously, love dairy.
In the last trimester of my pregnancy, I drank a glass of whole milk and ate 2 Tate's Chocolate Chip cookies. Every. Damn. Day.
Since about age 16 one of my favorite traditions with my father has been to eat stilton and drink great port. Actually, come to think of it, most of my favorite traditions include a cheese platter.
I'm married to a Swiss man. Fondue, raclette, quark torte, milk chocolate....
Butter? C’mon, everything is better with butter!
I think you get the point. With Swiss, English & Italian influences in my life - I was built to run on dairy. Except, I wasn't. A few years ago I finally accepted the fact that the stress I felt in my stomach may actually be digestive issues rearing their ugly head. Bloating, cramping, gas, constant discomfort, stress .... This was all happening during what was becoming my own recovery and wellness journey and finally, I decided to embark upon an extensive elimination diet. I had long suggested others do them but honestly had never done one myself. It was time. I discovered a tremendous amount.
- Some foods are fine but not at certain times of the day.
- Some foods are fine but not when eaten with certain other foods.
- Some foods are incredibly nurturing and some wreck havoc on my body.
What I (sadly) discovered was that one of the biggest culprits of my discomfort was in fact, dairy.
My heart sank. How could that be? I’ve consumed dairy most of my life and it never gave me issues before. Milk does a body good, right? I need it for my bones, right? I will never be able to give up dairy long-term. I love cheese. I love milk. I love ice cream.
But, like a bad, one-sided relationship, dairy no longer loved me back. Shit. Now what?
I BEGAN GOING THROUGH THE TYPICAL 6 PHASES OF ANY TOUGH BREAKUP.
It’s not really dairy that’s the problem, it’s something else that’s being triggered by dairy. I’ll swap almond milk in my matcha latte, hold the cheese on my salad and I’m sure everything will work out and settle down. Yeah right! Instead of positively healing myself I simply felt like I was depriving myself.
Didn’t want to draw attention to myself or be the difficult one in restaurants. I already felt like a difficult dinner guest being a vegetarian, now what would people cook for me? I watched documentaries, read articles and even read The Cheese Trap in hopes that hardcore, science-backed evidence would show me how bad cheese was for me and I would not only be ok without it but also inspired to quit it for good. Nothing scared me enough (which is scary).
Cows milk is specially formulated, like human mothers milk, postpartum, to feed its offspring (a very large animal) for the very specific post-gestation period to ensure that the nutritional requirements are met during this very crucial developmental period. Baby calves are robbed of this mothers milk and instead fed a laboratory created formula to bulk them up even faster to expand the production as fast as possible. It's actually pretty sick when you think about it. It was never meant to feed humans. We shouldn’t be consuming this stuff anyway!! Didn't work.
I learned we don’t need dairy for our bones! What we’re after, is the calcium. So, how do cows create calcium? Well, they don’t create it, they eat it. Cows are herbivores and eat loads of grass which contains calcium. It then enters their bloodstream and into their mammary glands when the cow gives birth. Yup, so …. We’re drinking the breast milk of an animal who only eats plants to obtain a nutrient that is available in plants. Milk is also fortified with synthetic Vitamin D. The greatest source of Vitamin D is from the sun and as we don’t spend as much time playing outside as we used to, we need this. Milk also contains protein and carbohydrates and fat - which are interestingly also available in plants - think quinoa, sweet potatoes and avocado. And of course milk has water in it, approximately 87% of milk is actually water. It’s basically a very tidy fast food available via a quick pour into a glass. But, at what cost? The more research I did, the more questions arose. Yes, there are unquestionably positive attributes of drinking milk and consuming dairy but those positives also come with a tremendous amount of negatives.
It’s a controversial topic for sure but there are more and more studies out there pointing to negatives. Most milk contains lactose, casein, pus, hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol and a host of other by-products. There are links between consuming dairy and an increase in prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, Parkinson's disease, acne, eczema, type 1 diabetes, weight gain, degeneration of bones, antibiotic resistance and the list goes on. Perhaps some of these reports are wildly exaggerated but when you consider that 75% of the world's population (25% of US) is actually lactose intolerant, it makes you wonder why. Were we really meant to consume this stuff? Sure, it’s tasty AF but is it really doing a body good? Oh no, what are we doing to ourselves? Have you been sold a pack of lies??
As soon as I realized that dairy wasn’t a necessity and it’s just another vehicle for flavors we love, I began to explore dairy alternatives. I mean let’s face it, most people don’t eat raw chicken or pork, beef without seasoning or sauces is pretty bland. What we love, are flavors. So how can we recreate those flavors and experiences by using fundamental ingredients that are actually good for us, that don’t put a strain on the environment, that don’t use more land resources than are necessary and that don’t leave the earth more polluted than when we found it.
Getting Back in the Saddle:
You may never be completely over dairy, but if you find, like me, that it doesn’t do your body good, making small shifts one day at a time can have a huge impact. The more I swapped out, the better I felt. I have many clients that I’ve helped reduce their dairy consumption and it’s made a huge difference to their overall wellbeing, many noting clearer skin, more settled guts, and stronger immune systems in a matter of weeks.
Try Vegan Butter. They aren’t all created equal but I love Miyoko’s.
Make / order a cheeseless pizza - tomato sauce, sauteed onions, mushrooms, olives, fresh herbs, and greens are so freakin’ tasty. Cheese makes pizza tasty but oh so heavy.
Are you a latte drinker? Try an almond latte or an oat milk latte. Does it taste the same? Hell no. WIll you like it on the first try? Maybe not. By the second week, I believe you’ll actually start craving the flavor just as you do cows milk. Our taste buds are constantly evolving…. If we let them. Try Oatly oat milk or Elmhurst nut milks, more sugar than I'd prefer but great options for the early transition stages.
Love a great Bagel & Cream Cheese? Try Kite Hill's almond based cream cheese style spread. My kid prefers it to everything else!
Make a quick and easy cashew ricotta for your next lasagna.
Instead of mac n cheese for your kids make soba noodles with edamame - takes less time and is far healthier.
Instead of dairy ice cream try a dairy-free ice cream - did you know that Ben & Jerry’s now sells 9 different almond milk based pints - including coffee caramel fudge, chunky monkey, cherry garcia and peanut butter half-baked? There are well over 20 ice cream brands out there producing dairy-free ice cream. Try one!
Skip the cream sauce over veggies and blend up a little olive oil with loads of fresh herbs (think parsley, cilantro, and basil), a crack of salt and spoon it over your veg. Yum!!
Cream of Mushroom / Tomato soup? Try it with almond milk or soak some cashews for a few hours and blend with water and add to the soup.
Ready to Commit Again?
It was rough at times. It was painful, but I came out of this breakup far stronger. I have gained tremendous Kitchen Confidence and have inspired many around me to take a closer look at what they eat and to listen to their own bodies more and more. Now I make delicious nut & seed based cheeses at home all the time. I bring them to parties, I make them for cheese platters, I give them as gifts, I almost always take care of the plant-based / vegan dish. Some are insanely easy, some are time-consuming, some require special equipment but all are met with people being pleasantly surprised and polishing them off!
ON that note..... I’m hosting my first public Wine and Plant-based Cheese Workshop next month at Municipal Winemakers, here in Santa Barbara. If you’re interested in easy ways to crowd out dairy, I’d love for you to join in.