Milk Matters

Milk factory. Photo from The New York Public Library

Last November I decided to learn a bit more about water conservation. After all, this past summer we went 50 days without more than a trace of rain here in Austin, Texas. When picking up the book Taking on Water at the library, I intended to get some ideas on how to save water in the bathroom, laundry, or similar areas, and there were indeed some good insights there. But one thing that stuck out was the whopping amount of water that it takes to produce meat and dairy products. To produce one pound of beef requires 1800 gallons of water. One glass of milk requires 30 gallons of water.

Seeing the harmful effects of meat and dairy in this context just adds onto issues like methane emissions, excessive cow excrement, huge monoculture crops for feed, deforestation. I had already cut down on the amount of meat I eat and have also been mostly successful at sticking to grassfed, but it was time to do more.


To try and get my husband on board, we watched the documentary Cowspiracy. And I stopped by the library and checked out a related book recommendation — The China Study. That first documentary had left me a bit defensive because although it started out well enough with the facts, it ended by pretty much saying that you’re an absolutely horrible person if you ever consume any milk or dairy products. The China Study wasn’t quite so damning but instead discussed scientific studies done which suggested that from a nutrition standpoint animal product consumption may not be required for human health and in some cases is likely harmful. There are a number of refutations of those results out there, but they’re targeted at the second part of that equation. Not many are saying that meat and milk are required.

In grade school I was taught that milk was critical to good health. It even had its own block on the food pyramid. And just now I’m finally learning that it’s not even necessary. The amount of protein I consume daily is more than enough, and it’s possible to get all the calcium I need from produce. Fewer calories dedicated to milk means I can get more diversity in the food I consume. Harvard’s alternate nutrition guidelines list milk as a water alternative, recommending limiting dairy to at the very most two servings per day.


I’m not an activist for animal rights. And I’m still not quite convinced that drinking two tall glasses of milk a day will kill me. But I am an advocate of wasting less.

As I mentioned in my New Years Resolutions post, my general goal for the year is to consume less meat and dairy to conserve resources. For the first two weeks of the year, my husband and I followed a plant-based diet and the amazing thing was that it was fine. I didn’t miss meat and I didn’t miss dairy (other than when I ate unbuttered popcorn). Making my morning oatmeal with milk turned out totally fine. And I’ve never been a huge cheese fan. I’m not perfect, I’m sure to still have a pad of butter on special occasions when I can fully appreciate it. But it’s good to not have to lug home an extra half-gallon of milk from the grocery store for my consumption.

We have delicious tap water here. Tap is terrific!


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