Climate Impact of Excessive Consumption of Dairy Products 


By Padma Garvey, MD, Hudson Valley, NY

 

Padma was born in Nellore India and grew up in Pittsburgh. She earned her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992. She is a full-time gynecologist in the Hudson Valley area, married to her physician husband for 25 years. She has two kids in college. She practices yoga and is dedicated to teaching people about the benefits of a plant-based diet.  She has a website (www.drpadmagarvey.com).

Editor’s Note: This is a complex topic on many measures. As the author herself notes in the short write-up below, “[G]lobal hunger has very little to do with lack of food and more to do with a lack of access to it,” which means a lack of affordability for the working poor in a country like India. While malnourished infants and young children from poorer families in India do not get even one banana a day or one glass of milk or yogurt a day, upper income families are submerged in dairy products, with cheese being the latest entrant in India. Still the author’s point is valid that these upper income Indians will be helping themselves and the environment by consuming less dairy products.

A few years ago, I went to India with my mother for a visit.   On that visit, I noticed an alarming number of obesity clinics, heart centers, fast food restaurants, and of course pollution.  I also noticed that milk consumption had increased substantially, especially in the forms of butter, ice cream, and cheese.  I started to wonder how the dietary habits of one billion people could impact the environment, agriculture, and animal welfare.  I wondered what had to be done to keep up with the rising demand for milk.  How many cows did it take? How much hormonal stimulation did it require? How much machinery was necessary?  And what was happening in America where diary consumption is one of the highest in the world?

India sprang from an ancient civilization that reaped enormous benefits from the domestication of cattle and the consumption of milk.  The unprecedented access to a highly nutritious food was no doubt the reason for an emergence of a religious and moral philosophy whose central God figure was a cow herder.  It was no doubt the reason for the adoration and the worship of the cow, and the commitment to protect it. Well-fed people can make the moral leap to advocate nonviolence against animals and a vegetarian lifestyle.  It is no wonder, then, that India is where the first notions of moral and sustainable eating came to be.

Nowadays, global hunger has very little to do with lack of food and more to do with a lack of access to it.  We can and do make enough food to feed everyone.  We are trying to feed the world on the backs of animals by eating their meat and drinking their milk. The idyllic image of the happy cow, herded by beautiful maidens along green grasses is not how most cows, in America or in India, find themselves. Dairy farming is a round-the-clock operation where animals are housed in small cubicles, attached to milking machines for hours at a time.  There is no joy in their lives.  They are carrying the weight of the world’s bellies on their udders and are a major contributor to green-house gases.

The countries with the highest rates of breast-, prostate-, colon-, and uterine-cancer have the highest rates of dairy and meat consumption.  The resources required in land, water, and fuel are enormous.  This places an undue burden on the environment as well.  It might be time for Hindus to, once again, take a moral leap and abstain from dairy consumption as a way of protecting the cow and our planet.   ♣

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