Changing my mindset on dairy

I’ve been trying to cut down on eating dairy and finding it surprisingly hard. I gave up meat many years ago so it’s not a huge change and I don’t understand what’s holding me back.

There’s lots of recent research that shows eating a plant based diet is one of the top things we can do to address climate breakdown. The Drawdown project rates it as number 4 in their list of most effective solutions to addressing global warming (after refrigeration management, onshore wind and reducing food waste). Cattle farming constitutes 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions through feed production, digestion producing methane and manure decomposition. It’s also responsible for many other environmental issues: deforestation, habitat loss, soil loss, ammonia emissions leasing to acid rain.

There are also many animal welfare issues with the dairy industry and when I’m confronted with it the facts it makes me wonder how I’ve ignored it for so long. Cows are usually inseminated 3 months after giving birth so they give birth once a year and then are slaughtered after 3 or 4 lactations as their milk production goes down after that. Calves are removed from their mother within hours of birth (compared to suckling for up to a year naturally). Conditions can be poor with cows not spending enough time outside and unable to behave naturally. 40-60% of cows get infected each year with mastitis (baterical infection leading to inflammation of the udder) and a third to a quarter are lame due to poor conditions. I’m sure there are farmers who take good care of their cows but even then, the fact that they need to be constantly producing milk is an inescapable fact of the industry.

I’ve been a vegetarian or pescatarian since I was 11. As I family we didn’t eat a lot of meat but it was my choice to change my diet because I was deeply concerned with animal rights. I don’t remember it being difficult or missing meat and it’s now been my way of life for so long that I haven’t thought about it for a long time. About a year ago I decided I wanted to reduce the amount of dairy I eat as well. I’ve done a little bit – swapped to mostly oat milk, swapped to coconut yoghurt – but not much and nowhere near completely cutting it out. That wasn’t my goal but even so, it’s pretty dismal progress. Why is that?

(Side note: I have been getting milk from the milkman in glass bottles and I can’t find oat milk in glass bottles at the moment so I’ve re-introduced more packaging into the house. This just highlights the problem with how to solve multiple issues and the trade-offs involved.)

None of the rest of my household share my goal so maybe it’s too difficult with cooking? I’ve tried one vegan cheese and didn’t like it so maybe I haven’t found the right substitutes? Or that I’m thinking about substitutes at all means I haven’t changed how I think about vegetables? I’ve been trying to get single-use plastic out of the house at the same time so maybe it’s been too much to do both at once? Or I’m ignoring the uncomfortable facts because I like cheese? Or maybe I just didn’t commit to it fully.

It made me think about hearing Steve Howard, ex-CSO of Ikea, speak last year. He was talking about setting sustainability targets for Ikea and that they found that if they set targets like “reduce waste by 50%” (I’ve made that target up) then lots of people tried to come up with a reason why they should be in the 50% that didn’t do anything. Consequently they decided to go “all in” and moved to longer-term 100% targets because it changes the conversation – it becomes about how to achieve a radical change not about half measures.

So I’m going to take Steve and Ikea as my inspiration and go all in – aim to eliminate diary completely from my diet and see if that means I actually change. I’m done with ignoring the facts and the misalignment with my values. All tips, recipes and suggestions gratefully received.

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