Dairy Confusion: What IS Milk?

“If nothing is lost except the cruelty, why wouldn’t we choose the new over the old?” ~ Jenny Brown

It’s A Girl Thang

Everyone knows it’s mammals that produce milk. Obvious similarities of mammalian sentience aside — avoiding pain and growing our species into the future — we also have hair and are adapted with a set of lungs rather than gills to breathe the atmosphere. It’s what distinguishes us from the others, adaptations to lives mostly on land.

Baby monkey nursing
(Photo credit: Wiki Commons)

Whether terrestrial or aquatic, only the mature female mammals produce milk — the ‘liquid flesh.’ Lactation begins with pregnancy and is continued after birth with a rigorously nursing infant. It is demand-and-supply in that if demand falters so does the supply, and the males of many mammal species inherently know this. They will intentionally kill nursing infants to re-boot the process, bringing the female back into estrus for mating.

Thankfully, for survival of the species, her instinct to protect her young is stronger than his is to mate.

Lactation is an energy-consuming process. Her kilo-calories are converted into a species-specific concoction of lipids (fats), carbohydrates, proteins, and antibodies among other nutrients to assure the offspring’s survival until it can eat on its own. Seal milk is for seal babies, as human milk for humans, and so forth; a seal pup would die on the milk of a human, the same for a human baby on seal milk.

Mammal milk is the original, natural and healthy food, we say, yet as adults drinking the stuff we casually dismiss that our mothers have weaned us already. As we drink milk or consume its by-products cheese, ice cream, yogurt or sour cream into our adult lives, we do so thanks to product abundance and our brains. We are all wired to get enjoyment from fats and sugars, a product of hundreds of thousands of years of survival on earth. Both of these are naturally abundant in some milks, particularly that of the cow.

Humans Don’t Drink Human Milk

If you asked a nursing friend to squeeze a couple quarts of her milk for you, she’d think you’ve lost your mind. We are evolved to drink human milk. So why don’t we?

In a short answer, free will.

Her precious energy stores and very nutritional well-being are sacrificed for those few ounces of liquid meat meant to nourish her infant(s). Allowing a corporation to extract her baby’s milk for sale and consumption wholesale by others would be at the peril of her infant — even herself.


 A ‘Natural’ Milk Diet
(*ahem* May have ‘mommy’ issues…)

Many around the world cannot drink milk at all past weaning: they are lactase/lactose intolerant. But for everyone else, a convenient genetic mutation allows consumption of milk well into adulthood. And consume they do.

We can thank our forebears for adapting stolen milk from other babies to assure our survival in the past. Domesticated mammals like cows and goats carried our nutrition with us as we moved and migrated — animal husbandry, it’s called. Even though these animals had no say in the matter, they were revered and cared for; their convenient milk calories could mean life over death during difficult times.

Today, the petroleum age amplifies this process on an unprecedented scale in our history.

Which Is It Milk? Or Milk?

Fossil fuel abundance for growing feeds and maintaining herds coupled with a growing taste and habit by consumers increased production of cow’s milk remarkably in only a few short decades. Much has been invested in the dairy industry since the 1950’s. Thousands of people’s jobs and livelihoods on family farms and corporations alike are heavily reliant upon the market’s success and continuation.

Being a food source, the US government subsidizes the inputs and commodity accordingly.

Today, dairy producers are at odds with makers of alternative milk products. They need to call it something other than ‘milk,’ they say, thanks to a somewhat specific and non-inclusive definition of milk as taken from the US Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations Title 21:

(a) Description. Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. Milk that is in final package form for beverage use shall have been pasteurized or ultrapasteurized, and shall contain not less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids not fat and not less than 3 1/4 percent milkfat. Milk may have been adjusted by separating part of the milkfat therefrom, or by adding thereto cream, concentrated milk, dry whole milk, skim milk, concentrated skim milk, or nonfat dry milk. Milk may be homogenized.

Soymilk producers have been working to change the FDA’s definition of milk for decades. With so many milk alternatives readily available today, traditional cow milk producers are becoming increasingly irritated with their loss in market share with what once was an industry they alone dominated.

Times have changed. People around the world have been drinking non-dairy milks for thousands of years. A definition from Merriam-Webster’s offers a wider and more complete description, food or no:


Perhaps the definition of milk should be redefined, or at the very least, the truths of animal milk more adequately displayed in the milk and dairy aisles. Distinctions between animal milk and their plant-based alternatives are offered below.

Full disclosure — milk and non-milks alike — might finally result in a less confused, more informed consumer.

You decide.

‘Milk Laws’: By Humans For Humans

The FDA imposes restrictions on foods for protection of the human consumer only. Cow’s milk being what it is — an excretion taken against the will of the species — these laws say nothing of the treatment of the cow. They say nothing of the treatment of the calf which must be taken from the cow from birth in order to ‘produce milk.’

Commercially produced nut and seed derived ‘milks’ are both safe for human consumption and free from the direct cruelty of others. Consumers who have allergies to nuts can drink alternatives extracted from hemp, rice, and oats, among others.

Taking From Another Without Consent

In America, farmed animals do not have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (however species-specific that may be) as the human. Bovine cows in the dairy industry, much like African slaves in our past, are solely the property of the humans who use them. They are treated as such even though they are sentient, gentle beings.

The mechanical pumping process forces a cow to produce more than 4 times the milk she would naturally, in a lifetime. She can only be depleted for so long before becoming ‘spent’ — usually around age 4 or 5. That is a mere quarter of what her natural, long-lived life of 20 years would otherwise be, the result of the  energy intensive body process known as lactation.

Making Milk
Making Milk (Without the Mammary)

Soy beans, oats, almonds, and rice are already grown for direct human consumption. Turning them into ‘milk’ by extracting the proteins with heated water requires no theft or animal abuses and is easily done commercially — even at home.

Rape By Any Other Name Is Still Rape

Lactation for dairy cows doesn’t happen automatically: it must be forced. Insemination requires a human’s hand and instrument to guarantee pregnancy, most certainly against her will. For a second pregnancy, her milk is already being taken regularly from her daily by machines. Her sole purpose — which is to provide milk for humans — requires that this process be repeated throughout her entire life. She is property and has no say in the matter.

Lactation is not required for plant-based alternatives. Therefore rape of another being is omitted entirely in their production.

Illusions Of Grandeur: The Happy Cow Myth

When a cow is free to range and roam and graze as a herding ungulate, one could say she is happy. When she is allowed to socialize with other individuals, mate with males whom she chooses, and raise and nurse her babies until she decides they are done, it could be said she is a happy cow. When she successfully avoids predation and instinctively protects her offspring from harm, it could be said she is happy.

A happy cow living the good life (of a cow) would die a ripe old age of around 20 years, raising several young in the process. Industry would have for believe this is the norm for farm- or factory-raised dairy cows.

It is not.

Depiction of a ‘Happy Cow’
(Photo Credit: Borden)


A ‘Happy’ Dairy Cow
(Photo credit: Wiki Commons)

Mastitis: Pus and Blood

Overuse or inefficient use of the mammary gland often leads to mastitis, a painful infection of the milk ducts. It is accepted in the dairy industry that cows will contract this illness during their lifetimes, are treated with antibiotics for it, and are continued to be pumped of their milk regardless. In fact, there is even an acceptable level of blood and pus in all dairy farm extracted milk for consumption by humans.

As plants do not have a circulatory system or infections which produce white-blood cells (pus), there is no blood or pus in plant-based alternatives.

Male Dairy Babies Can’t Make Milk

It’s not the veal consumers that perpetuate veal. With sex being a 50/50 game, roughly the same number of male calves are born into existence with each female one. Males, however, are a necessary yet irritating consequence of dairy milk production (this goes for bovine cows, goats, sheep, any animal used for its milk). Dairy consumers perpetuate veal production as male babies will never lactate. Veal is the market for these babies.

For those uncomfortable eating male babies directly, veal production and its terribly cruel conditions could become outlawed without ill effect. However, males born to dairy cattle are not bred for their ability to grow ‘meat’. As these beings cut into the profits of their dairy caretakers, there would have to be replacement market for them to exist.

So far, there is not. Helpless sentient, living male babies are a by-product — waste — in an otherwise profitable business.


On his way out, probably
(Photo credit: Wiki Commons)
to become someone’s ‘baby’ steak.

Suffering is not the exception to the rule with profit-making dairy milks: suffering is the entire process. Mammal mothers are wired to protect and care for their young. Having a baby taking away at infancy would be considered a crime for a human. Cruel and unnecessary practices as this should be criminal for any mammal species.

In any animal use industry, it is both the consumers and producers who enjoy all of the benefits. With the consumer, benefits are purely pleasurable and unnecessary. Discounting nursing infants, dairy milks and their form are no longer required for human survival.

Plant-based, non-dairy alternatives are varied as the plant world and by their very design, abundant and cruelty-free.

Related Posts:

Cruelty is no longer necessary for milk products.
Be an informed consumer; make the right choice.

Go Vegan!

13 thoughts on “Dairy Confusion: What IS Milk?

  1. Love this! I’ve just spent the past month living and volunteering at a farm sanctuary and have just written a similar post, the way we treat these beautiful animals is beyond me! Great post! Amy


    1. Thank you , Amy, for stopping by and for your advocacy for exploited animals. You are welcome to link to your post here. Feel free to come back and add it to a reply. My best ~ Shannon


  2. Love love love this. Finally someone said it!! Great piece of writing and will definitely send this people’s way when they ask me why I don’t have dairy anymore.


    1. I am glad you enjoyed it, Daniella. It’s been several years in the making and the recent news article tied it together nicely. Feel free to share — awareness is key.


  3. Feels strange, but I never made the connect between milk and perpetual pregnancy until my first job out of college on an educational farm in Vermont. Seeing the newborn calves separated from their mothers right away and fed from a bottle (eventually switched over to formula) was eye opening to say the least. Like you mentioned, there’s a strong push to sanitize the process, promote images of happy cows and turn our brains off from compassion for the food we eat. Thanks for an informative and well written article 🙂


    1. Vermont is Dairy Metropolis. Great pains are taken to shield the consumer from the truth, yet truth comes out regardless. In Texas, it’s beef cattle. I didn’t lift the veil until late in my 30’s.

      For those who think that raising animals for their flesh is cruel, at least they live their days pretty ho hum until that one bad day (slaughter) arrives. Dairy is a lifetime of bad days for mothers AND babies. So unnecessary.

      That we accept this is okay is the reason, I believe, racism and sexism will never cease to be among our own kind.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Can you believe it’s been in the draft folder for years? The NPR article poked my rear end like a hot iron.

      I am the lone vegan among community, friends, and especially family (many of whom also follow the blog). Striking a balance between advocacy and education makes it difficult not to come off as preachy. My family are big on ‘choice,’ and they see veganism as such.

      I want them to know what it is they are really choosing. Thanks for coming by, Andrew.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The industry lobby goes through great pains to keep the veil in place. I agree with them only in that truthful advertising — not just nutritional labeling — should be a requirement in the ‘milk’ aisle. It would be better if they completely separated dairy from non-dairy. Glad you woke up when you did, Pam! It took me longer…


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