Sunday, May 10, 2009

Milk Dud: Confessions of a meat eater 4

I grew up in the third world, and as an infant, I was raised exclusively on cow's milk. Although there was fresh organic milk available from free range cows, the imported, powered form was considered better, and this is what I was fed. Over time, I was introduced to solid food, mostly fruits, nuts and vegetables. Later still, I was fed various meats, but it took many years to acquire a taste for meat. In the meantime, throughout childhood, I hated mom's food, and she ended up feeding me milk from a bottle with a nipple.

I drank milk this way until I was probably seven or eight years old. Mom gave it to me because I refused to eat solid food, with the exception of bread of course. I love bread. And biscuits. Umm. I grew up on toasted bread, buttered biscuits and tea. Typically, I had bread and tea for breakfast, snacked on fruit all day, and ate biscuits and tea for dinner. But my staple diet was powered milk in a bottle.

One day, my maternal uncle, Satro, came to visit. He saw me relaxing comfortably with my milk and lost it. "He's still drinking milk from a bottle?" Satro grabbed the bottle from my mouth and smashed the glass into the trash. Then he went and broke all the other bottles in the kitchen. I was so upset that it was the end of my powered milk days. After that, I drank milk from a glass, though not nearly as often. Occasionally, I drank chocolate milk, peanut butter shakes, and banana-flavored milk, and happiness was the rare can of sweetened condensed milk.

At 15 years of age, I migrated with my family to the USA and gained access to cheese and milk chocolate. I was ignorant of the fact that the milk in America is factory farmed, and quite unnatural. By that time, dairy products was causing me frequent bowel movements, but it took years to figure out I was suffering from a decrease in lactase that occurs after childhood. This decrease is genetically programmed.

Among Asian populations it is almost 100%, among American Indians it is 80%, and among blacks it is 70%; however, among American Caucasians the prevalence of lactase deficiency is only 20%. Among Asian populations, the symptoms of deficiency (intolerance) occur around the age of 5, among Blacks and Mexican-Americans by the age of 10, and among the Finnish by age 20. However, lactase deficiency is not the same as lactose intolerance. Persons with milder deficiencies of lactase often have no symptoms after the ingestion of milk, and even persons with moderate deficiencies may not have symptoms.

As an Asian, I was probably laco sensitive from age 10, but suffered from dairy consumption in ignorance and silence. As a teen, it became increasingly obvious that I had developed a sensitivity to milk products, and I tried to limit my consumption. Occasionally, I gorged on butter, cheese, ice cream, or chocolate, and regreted the stomach aches afterward. But acceptance of lacto sensitivity did not come easy since it meant having to give up many cherished pleasures. And even after I adopted the philosophy of non-violence and vegetarianism at age 24, I continued to consume dairy for a year. Not until I discovered animal rights a year later did I become vegan. I loved cows, and after learning the truth, I didn't want to enslave them and take calves away from mothers. At 25, I became vegan and I haven't eaten in a non-vegetarian restaurant since.

My lactose intolerance is really severe. A few years ago, I got into the terrible habit of drinking coffee. But whenever I ordered a soy latte, the tiny amount of remaining milk in the coffee press would result in pure torture for me - 10 trips to the restroom, starting 10 minutes after ingestion. Ditto for Indian vegetarian restaurants where many dishes are made with butter or yogurt.

Looking back, lactose intolerance made being vegan easier for me. I may have liked milk, but it didn't like me. Yet, this sensitivity remains the greatest challenge in eating out for me, since many vegetarian restaurants are unclear about their dairy ingredients. I'm grateful though. Twenty years ago, soy substitutes were rare and hard to find, but now I can buy chocolate soy milk, soy ice cream, soy cheese, you name it, at the local supermarket. Yea.

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