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Vegetarians: How do you reconcile eating dairy?

Please note this is not a rhetorical, accusatory question.
I ask because I was a vegetarian for many years and have been a pescatarian for the past five.
Recently though I began re reading about factory farms
(started "Eating Animals") and started questioning my logic of not eating red or white meat but taking in dairy on a daily basis.

I find myself eating cheese daily, almost craving it. I've always comforted myself with, "well at least no cows are harmed" when eating or drinking dairy products.

Turns out, yeah they are. (Pardon me for my ignorance!)
So I'm a crossroads: Do I go whole (ahem) hog and eradicate all dairy--for the sake of being mindful about no animal products--or
should I stay pleased with just not eating red meat, pork, and poultry?

All of my friends eat meat of some sort and I want to avoid in-person, heated discussions about this. Hence my post about this topic.

Looking to pick some brains. Not eat 'em.

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  1. I think that if you consume organic milk and eat artisinal cheeses, you can avoid the worst sources of cow abuse.

    4 Replies
    1. re: pikawicca

      Thanks, pikawicca. I thought about that.

      In Foer's "Eating Animals", he dispels the notion about "free range" being more humane.
      Sometimes knowledge can lead to uncomfortable lifestyle changes.

      1. re: globocity

        "free range" really has to do with chickens, not cows. The issue with cows is feeding them growth hormone to maximize milk production. This leads to a variety of very nasty and painful ailments. Organic milk comes from cows that are not subjected to this torture.

      2. re: pikawicca

        pikawicca: if a lactating cow on an organic farm develops mastitis (very painful), they don't give antibiotics, rather often they give a bolt to the brain.

        1. re: westsidegal

          I was going to address the antibiotics in another post, but didn't have time.

          I'm not a fan of the "no antibiotics under any conditions" crowd. If a cow gets a scratch on her leg, will it not be treated with meds that will reduce infection?

          Farms that I am familiar with will separate the cow receiving medical treatment from the cows that are being milked- usually just with an ear tag, so that cow will not be milked with the others, and her milk will not contribute to the pool. She will be milked, because to not do so would be painful for the cow, but the milk will be tossed. When she is healed and off the meds (and they are cleared from her system), she will be milked with the rest of the herd. This is the way good farmers treat their cows.

          Organic- sometimes meeting that requirement means monitoring everything that the cow ingests. The down side of that is that unless the fields are organic, cows can't freely graze. I'd much rather see a Swiss Alpine cow on a hillside eating all kids of grasses and weeds and whatever else, than a cow with a diet restricted by a label.

      3. It's tough. To me it's not about being perfect but trying your best. As much as I'd love to be vegan I'm not sure I have the skillset, money, resources, nor health for it.

        I'm very diligent with recycling and minimizing waste. Very conscious of chemical use, Etc.

        I am a pescatarian as well. It's the only way my family can figure out how to feed me. And now it is a concern of my bf's family but I am trying to minimize my consumption.

        1. Admittedly, how we, as a country, can love "our animals" so much, and be so callously indifferent to the treatment of the animals we eat is pretty confusing to me.

          pikawicca makes a stab at the solution, that not all dairy animals are treated equally. There's that, for starters. I'm fortunate that I know firsthand the producers of every cheese I consume, and I know how they treat their animals. I think every consumer should attempt to educate themselves about where their food comes from. If that information is secret- then there's a reason for that secrecy. There are lots of ways to treat animals with kindness and compassion, and still have a dairy operation

          Keep in also mind that Foer has an agenda, which, while his positions have merit in many cases, he doesn't bother much looking at the situations that do not fit that agenda.

          The good side is that more and more, people are having this conversation. I can remember this topic being treated with heaps of ridicule only a few years ago, and when these come up now, a lot less so.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cheesemonger

            on the Los Angeles board, it may no longer be treated with ridicule, but it still is treated with heaps of disdain.

            when posters ask questions about what restaurants they can take their vegetarian relatives to, they are often given an answer that, in short says that any vegetarians in the party should be happy to just make do with a salad and a side dish,
            or "they can live without a protein dish"

            1. re: westsidegal

              As a pescatarian who has used chowhound to ask for restaurant recommendations for many places around the world, I'm surprised that you think people respond this way often. I've never gotten this sort of response. I hope it isn't just that I've been lucky about it. Maybe people figure as long as I eat seafood I'm not worth their ridicule?

              1. re: LulusMom

                I grew up eating meat. When people found out I was filipino they'd almost always ask "do you eat dog?"

                I never have and to me a cow, chicken and pig are not different from dogs.

                Makes me wonder if those same people would ask
                "Why the hell don't you eat meat?"
                "Well... Do you eat dog?"

                1. re: youareabunny

                  Sorry to hear that people treated you that way. Absolutely horrible.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    People just find the need to make such comments. I feel more badly for them

            2. re: cheesemonger

              Your post is really motivating and informative. Thanks for sharing!

            3. A potential solution would be to find a middle ground- switch to some of the delicious almond milk or coconut milks that are made now, buy tofutti cream cheese, make cashew cream instead of sour cream, and purchase quality cheese from small local farms.
              It will not be cheap. But maybe that's a good thing.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Ttrockwood

                at this point, the 365 brand of soy milk in the refrigerator section of whole foods tastes BETTER to me than milk ever did.
                also, when i cook with it, it doesn't curdle.

                for frozen desserts, my local gelato joint always carries at least three flavors of sorbetto that are vegan including a chocolate sorbetto made with dark european cocoa powder;
                also,their raspberry sorbetto is amazing.

                1. re: westsidegal

                  Next time you are at whole foods be sure to try one of the many coconut milk based ice creams- luna and larry's is my favorite brand, and almond dream is also great.
                  I have been dairy free for nearly 20yrs and now there are more delicious non dairy choices than ever available!

              2. Go the whole hog, I say. We made the transition. I missed cheese big time, but a year later, life is good, and I feel better health- and heart-wise.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Full tummy

                  Been vegan for two months now. I do not crave cheese--in fact the thought of eating it repulses me.
                  I feel good about not eating animals.

                  My eczema, chronic for eight years, completely cleared up. As did my adult acne and stomach pains.

                  1. re: globocity

                    I have to say that for the first year, if I was out and there was cheese, I indulged. But now, I'm only fleetingly tempted. Moving on to other things is no longer a problem.

                2. Before my husband and I became vegan two years ago, we closed our eyes and ears in order to eat dairy. At a certain point, that was no longer possible, and we became vegan as a result. Absolutely no judgments of those who consume dairy, as we did for most of our lives. Becoming vegan took some planning and research, but it is now a pretty easy lifestyle to maintain.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: noya

                    I actually became lactose intolerant not long after becoming a vegetarian ..... 20 or so years ago (!) and the non dairy options now make it really easy (and delicious!) to avoid dairy. I have even converted my omni parents who now prefer almond milk or coconut milk :) every bit helps....

                  2. I think you have to pay careful attention to the sources of your food and their practices and buy and eat accordingly. Organic isn't nearly as important as "pastured" and humane, IMO. Avoiding factory farmed products at all costs is a great start.

                    I figure I was born atop the food chain and using critters for food is legit, but poisoning and tormenting them, the environment and ourselves with bad practices is not.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: mcf

                      +1, mcf! I think for organic milk, part of the USDA organic requirement is a minimum of 4 months/year pasture time. That's good news!

                      1. re: Science Chick

                        It's better news if they're eating sileage the rest of the time. I guess 4 mos is all they can get in some areas due to climate?

                        1. re: mcf

                          Yes, exactly...I think they also have to get fresh grass when not grazing. California cows get far more than the required, apparently.

                        2. re: Science Chick

                          You got me curious on that point, so I looked it up. Not less than 120 days per year on pasture, and grazing must account for at least 30% of their intake during that time. (Source: http://
                          bit.ly/19Twu1a )

                            1. re: Science Chick


                              "Farmers in more temperate regions -- such as California and the Southeast -- will be expected to let them eat au natural far longer than the minimum 120 days."

                              It's a shame that expectation isn't set out in the regulations, you know? There's nothing stopping Organic Mega-Corp from feeding grain as the majority (over the course of the year) of the animal's diet, housing for the majority of the year on dry lots, then slapping a pretty picture of a cow nomming grass on the bottle, along with a premium price tag. The typical consumer sees an organic certification and assumes a certain level of welfare standards, but the legislation just doesn't back that up. 245 days a year off-pasture is a seriously shitty thing to do to a cow. Not that that's unique to the USDA's organic regs -- regulations around the world are similarly hopeless. Sucks for legitimately higher-welfare producers, too. They're competing in the marketplace against the big boys and their "letter of the law" operations, and the only difference the casual consumer sees is that one product has a higher price tag.

                              I have no idea what the solution to this is, beyond tighter regulation which is unlikely to happen. New, higher-level certifications with stricter standards that actually match up with consumer perceptions and the marketing spin? "Level 12 OrganicDoublePlus Milk: our cows don't eat anything that casts a shadow. Serving suggestion: pour over hand-crocheted chia sprouts."