Tuesday, June 18, 2013

0 Cheese, Please: A Cautionary Tale of a Dairy-Loving Lass and Her Ensuing Internal Conflict :-D (Part 1)

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Since this post has expanded from its original conception, I've decided to break it up into multiple, more easily digestible parts. :)



I grew up in an area with lots of dairy farms and so, not surprisingly was raised in a cheese-a-holic family. :) You could probably toss a wheel of cheese into the air like a frisbee, and it'd land on a cow. Lol. Our town had one particularly excellent ice cream place, which was also a dairy and restaurant and -- you guessed it -- there was a large replica of a white and brown spotted cow on top of the building. :) College students who attended the nearby university used to love playing the following, very memorable prank: they'd unhinge the cow from the top of the restaurant and then would place it in various locations around campus. When you're going to school in a small town, apparently this can provide endless hours of amusement. ;) While removing the cow from the top of the building might've looked like a herculean task, it was later discovered that the cow was actually made of a styrofoam-like material. So, it didn't require "Man of Steel" strength to remove it, after all. :) The restaurant eventually had to close, which was a very sad day for the town, as not only were we losing the place where most of us got our milk and ice cream, but many of us felt like we were also losing a little piece of the town -- the place was an institution and so many of us had formed fond childhood memories there. Before the place closed, I think my mother was singularly responsible for buying the very last of their exceptionally delicious peanut butter ice cream. :) It was rich and creamy, and had these thick, luscious ribbons of peanut butter spun throughout. Seriously, to this very day, aside from one other place in my state, I can honestly say that I can't even think of one place in my home state that even comes close to matching how good their PB ice cream was. In fact, it's probably the best peanut butter ice cream I've ever had, and believe me I've tasted enough PB ice cream to know the difference. ;) Anyhow, I'll stop waxing poetic about the myriad virtues of their PB ice cream. You get the basic idea. :)

My mother's family also grew up in an area with excellent dairy farms, and there was one dairy, in particular, that used to make excellent buttermilk. It had these wonderfully tasty, golden orange flecks in it. (No, the flecks aren't some weird aberration; that's the "butter" in the buttermilk. :-D Not very many places seem to offer it this particular way anymore, probably because it's freaked out one too many people. Lol.) And while a large majority of Americans probably think of buttermilk as an ingredient, we grew up drinking it. When we'd go to visit our maternal grandparents, our grandma would buy it for us as a special treat. And of course, since we were from the "land of pretzels and potato chips," our grandmother would typically serve us glasses of buttermilk accompanied by pretzel rods.

Growing up, if you'd have opened our refrigerator, it was almost certain that you'd find skim milk, buttermilk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, butter, and multiple kinds of cheese. In fact, the inside of my parents' fridge still probably looks like this, even though I've tried to encourage them to reduce the amount of dairy they eat for various, and quite valid, health reasons.

Later in life, I stopped consuming as much dairy, as it stopped agree with me. This didn't happen overnight, but over the years, I began to notice a gradual change in my body's response to it, which became particularly self-evident over last 5 years. More and more, it seemed to wreak havoc with my respiratory system, not to mention what it did to my gastrointestinal system. (Don't worry, I won't elaborate any further. Hahaha.) This was particularly true of milk, cottage cheese, regular yoghurt, and (GASP!) ice cream, although cheese, especially hard cheese, and sometimes also Greek yoghurt, didn't seem to bother me so much. It was then that I started to notice that I would cough quite a lot after consuming milk and regular yoghurt. It felt horrible to cough so much, not to mention, I had to avoid it completely when eating in public so as not to be disruptive to the other diners. :) And while I'd never been diagnosed as lactose-intolerant, nor did I exhibit any of the symptoms, nonetheless, dairy had still apparently taken its toll. So, I made the decision to cut out all dairy from my diet altogether, and for a very long time, this also included cheese. 

Upon making these changes, it was clear to me from the start that I'd just have to make sure I was getting enough calcium from plant-based food sources. And here's an added bonus: As I later found out, consuming plant-based forms of calcium is actually a way more effective means of getting calcium, as plant-based calcium can be actually absorbed by our bodies at a much higher rate than the calcium contained in dairy products. (This is due to latter's problematic calcium-magnesium ratio and the presence of vitamin D, both of which hinder the absorption process. This is an important point, but let's put a pin in that topic for now, because I'll be revisiting it in greater depth a bit later.)

The great thing is that there are lots of calcium-rich plant-based foods from which to choose: cruciferous vegetables (especially broccoli and Chinese cabbage), okra, rhubarb, taro (particularly the Tahitian variety), soy-based foods, figs, dried fruits, quinoa, grains (like brown rice, amaranth, corn, and wheat), nuts (particularly almonds and Brazil nuts, and to a lesser extent, hazelnuts and pistachios), seeds (particularly sesame, flax, and pumpkin seeds), legumes (like garbanzo, kidney, great northern, navy, and French beans, and black-eyed peas), blackstrap molasses, hijiki (a brown sea vegetable), herbs (like savory, celery seeds, thyme, and dill), and leafy greens (like spinach, collards, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, beet greens, and various lettuces, etc.). So, since I love all of the above foods, I knew that getting enough calcium from plant-based foods was going to be a piece of cake. (Well, not literally, unless we're talking rice cakes, which, as far as I'm concerned, are the bane of all rice products -- i.e., evil, tasteless torture devices repackaged as low-calorie, low-fat hockey pucks, er, I mean, snack food, that I wouldn't feed to my worst enemy, that is, unless I wanted them to permanently lose the will to eat. Hahaha. I'd only eat them if I was stranded on a desert island, and that's only after we'd already exhausted the island's supply of bananas and the coconuts first. ;) Don't ask me what rice cakes would be doing on a desert island in the first place, unless they'd washed ashore, in which case, I really wouldn't want to eat them then. ;) Anyhow, let's get back on topic, shall we?!)

As I was making the above changes to my eating behaviors, not so coincidentally, this was also around the same time I got involved with writing recipes for The Vegan Athlete, which gave me many other valid reasons to re-examine my consumption of dairy. In fact, I learned a lot from the book's author, Ben Greene and credit him for completely shifting the way I now look at animal-based products in terms of how they affect the body. While I was already aware of the many health benefits of limiting red meat consumption, I hadn't explored the deleterious effects of dairy in as much depth, other than being aware of its saturated fat and cholesterol content, that is, until our collaboration on this book project. This peaked my curiosity and I wanted to know more. So, I began doing more extensive research on dairy and its effects upon the body and also delving into the latest findings on public health and safety issues resulting from dairy product modifications, many of them which have been made over the last 20+ years. 

(To be continued....)

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