Lactophobia – a phenomenon sweeping the nation, or at least its middle class as it pulls together in an ideological belief for #dairyfree.

Usual disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with avoiding dairy if you have an intolerance / allergy, or frankly if it makes you feel better. There is a lot to be said for those who avoid dairy for ethical reasons and because of animal welfare. For you I have much admiration.

What it is specifically I find annoying is the scaremongering that dairy is the devil. That it’s inflammatory, mucus forming and that consuming it is the most negative thing we can do for the planet. The preaching everyone must give up dairy and indeed animal products to be a kind and compassionate person, the assumption it is the right decision for everyone.

Recently, Rude Health, a market leader of dairy free milks came under fire for sharing that they were in fact pro dairy.

“We may be dairy alternative producers but that doesn’t mean we are against dairy. Quite the opposite. We are for good quality, proper milk…we’re talking whole milk.”

The first time this post came to light was when a friend criticised Rude Health’s comments via facebook arguing that Rude Health had lied to vegans and sought to profit from them. This was just the beginning of the Rude Health scandal in which thousands of loyal customers vowed never to buy their products again and cafes quite literally threw out their milks the following morning.

I’m not going to lie, I was VERY confused. When I read Rude Health’s post I felt very aligned to what they were saying. In a world where “free from” and cutting out whole food groups is often advertised in the name of “health”, they are endorsing a more balanced approach.

What Rude Health are saying, I believe, is that they are in support of quality produce albeit nut milk or full fat dairy. They want the non-dairy drinkers and diary drinkers alike to all have an option at their favourite coffee shop. That they understand good quality dairy is actually highly nutritious, tastes delicious and can be sustainably sourced.

They are saying that you don’t have to be all or nothing and that opting for dairy products doesn’t make you an ignorant, selfish and dirty person lacking awareness about the current state of the planet.

I love that Rude Health said what they did! Because just like not all vegan foods are free from environmental and social injustices, nor are they all sustainable, not all suppliers of meat and dairy can be lumped in the same bag! What about the fact avocados are one of the most unsustainable foods we consume, using up vast quantities of water and fuelling deforestation. Similarly, palm oil often used in vegan products is causing devastation to rainforests in South East Asia. What about the fruit packers in developing countries over worked and underpaid, who suffer blisters and burns on their hands from latex oozing from peduncles of papayas? Why is it that vegans (and again I’m sorry to lump you all in the same bag), continue to take the moral high ground whilst assuming the rest of us simply don’t know and don’t care.

Moreover, I work in Eating Disorder recovery, and have myself been through a very toxic relationship with food. There was a time at least, where being dairy free  or vegan wasn’t a viable option for me. Where I had the freedom of that choice taken away from me because my illness was trying in vain to restrict and control every decision around food in an extremely negative and destructive manner.

I am not alone in my experience. In the UK 725,000 people suffer with an eating disorder. It is very common under the grip of this mental illness to turn to vegetarianism and veganism for an extra layer of control and the normalisation and trend for “free from” diets adds another complexity to the already distressing road of recovery.

Going vegan is a choice but having free choice is always a privilege. Whether that is a privilege of access to a range of vegan products and restaurants that make the lifestyle easy and exciting, the money to access these spaces and circles, so often confined to London and its immediate surroundings. The privilege of education to ensure nutritional needs are met (vegans require additional supplements for optimal nutrition) and the privilege of being in a healthy frame of mind, having the autonomy to embark on a vegan lifestyle so that it can feel like one of abundance rather than deprivation.

I am certainly not anti vegan, I love the innovation we’ve seen in the last few years and I know the impact reducing our dependence on animal products could have for the planet. I eat plant-based foods the majority of the time and where I can I try to be mindful of where I am sourcing my ingredients. Yet at the same time, I continually find myself loosing patience with the preaching and widespread promotion that veganism is the best decision for everyone.

Rude Health promotes sustainably sourced “health” products to meet all needs and preferences. Sure being able to shop in Wholefoods and Waitrose (where their products are primarily stocked) is an immense privilege – but I respect how the brand has sought to remove any anxieties around different food groups and squash nutritional fads. In a time where disordered eating is in its peak, this should only be seen as a very positive step forward.

 

 

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