Five ways to get calcium without supporting sexist milk ads

milk ad with picture of guy holding milk and looking frazzled

Hey yall, so it looks like I’m the resident nutritionist blogger for the day.

I’m not stepping into this new role without cause.

You see, Milk the Brand has come up with this totally novel concept for its new ad campaign. It’s about how scary the LadyRage aka PMS is for guys. I mean, how ORIGINAL is that!? Clearly no one has EVER in the history of advertising talked about how sucky PMS is for guys.

The ad campaign is conveniently called the “Everything I Do Is Wrong” campaign (hey, they named it, not me) and in it, the California Milk Processor Board plays off sexist and stereotypical tropes about women being irrational hysterical hormone-driven beings and men being meek, silly, fearful creatures subject to the period-filled whims of their “better halves”.

If you feel like getting your blood pressure boiling, you can watch one of the ads below.

The website manages to be more offensive than the ads, if you can believe it, charting “current global PMS levels” and advising that instead of “irrational”, men try “passionate”, presumably when finding ways to label their LadyFriends that will ingratiate them fo life [/snark /snark /snark].

Lots of smart people have written about why these are bad — plus, it’s sort of self-explanatory.

So at this point, I’m more interested in the claim itself: that calcium, and more specifically milk, reduces the symptoms of PMS. How to take some good from this situation and get our health on, without feeding the trolls and giving any money at all to this sexist shitshow of an ad campaign? Thus, the resident nutritional blogger presents to you, 5 ways to do just that.

First of all, it should be stated that the milk campaign isn’t clear about which study they are using as the basis for their claims. There’s a link at the bottom of the website “to get more information about health benefits”, but it just returns you to the homepage the campaign website.

That being said, there does seem to be evidence that their claims (which notably point to the benefits of calcium, not milk) hold weight. According to the Internet, recent studies show that women who took 500-milligram calcium supplements twice a day for three months had “significantly lower levels of fatigue, appetite changes, and depression than women taking a placebo. Another showed that getting 1,200 mg of calcium a day helped reduce emotional and physical PMS symptoms.”

So it seems like calcium, and not milk exclusively or explicitly, is at the center of this women’s health claim. Milk is a good source of calcium, but it’s hardly the only one. Plus, let’s face it, it’s kinda icky. The thought of drinking something that came out of a cow’s udder is, well, not totally appealing to me. So here are five ways to get calcium/beat PMS that don’t involve milk.

  1. Eat other kinds of dairy products, like yogurt and cheese (mozzarella is particularly high in calcium). Yogurt’s got its own PR problems, but at least it’s targeted towards women and not going for the “douchiest ad of the century” award.
  2. Consume whole small fish such as sardines. Pack it in, ladies, pack it in.
  3. Get in on those leafy green vegetables, like spinach. Lots of people think you need to eat dairy or at least be non-vegan to get enough calcium, but this simply isn’t true. There are lots of veggies, particularly leafy green ones, that are high in calcium
  4. Eat tofu! Hey vegans, this one’s for you — 4 oz of tofu can have 100 mg of calcium in it.
  5. Try natural remedies for PMS, including vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, and chasteberry.

Sure, some may seem “off the beaten path”, but hey, I’ll add some spice to my diet to avoid supporting sexist ad campaigns that throw me under the bus.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation

  • Marya

    I like dark chocolate almond milk (for my calcium needs), but then there’s all the chocolate/PMS baggage and the overly happy young ladies on the label. Why the label even needs people on it is anyone’s guess.

  • Conor

    This is a concept I struggle with frequently. To me, the campaign is intentionally obnoxious and is attempting levity as a marketing ploy. I think because it’s approached in such an overt manner, I can find the humor in it (as opposed to the subtle sexism that to me is often more representative of ‘true feelings’). I know many people may disagree, and I am male so perhaps the ad resonates with me differently.

    I don’t think my ability to laugh at an advertisement negates my activism or innate feelings of equal rights. Perhaps this ad was in poor taste, but, since it was sooo overly done, I think it’s permissible to laugh.

  • Chloe H.

    Buy milk directly from farmers, if possible. Often, not as expensive, and some farmers do regular milk-shares or deliveries kind of like a CSA. Fresh milk typically has more nutrients in it too… and it’s freakin’ yummy.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      That’s also cool inasmuch as it doesn’t punish farmers for the milk board’s stupid ad. Boycotting milk across the board hurts farmers, not the government officials who created these ads.

  • Amanda

    Vegansaurus has a great post up about the inaccuracies supported by this campaign. The “recent” study behind this wonderful campaign was done in 1998, and showed that drinking four glasses of milk per day would ease “some” symptoms of PMS… after three months.
    If you DON’T want to support the shitty dairy industry that’s promoting this crap (since yogurt and cheese are from the industry as milk) but are worried about calcium, you can try eating tofu, spinach, quinoa or kale. A cup of tofu or two cups of spinach gives you as much calcium as four glasses of milk.
    The post I got this info from:

    • Lindsey

      Wow I didn’t realize that spinach and tofu had that much calcium in it… good to know! Thanks for the info.

  • Stephanie P
  • Brandy

    Spinach isn’t actually that great of a calcium source, but these greens are: bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, okra.

    To get tofu w/the most calcium, get the kind that says “calcium-set” on the package. There’s a lot in fortified soy milk, too.

  • Brüno

    Sooo about those studies that show calcium can reduce PMS symptoms. Is that for real?

  • Annabelle

    Great post! I also liked the write-up Kelsey Wallace did at Bitch on these dumb ads.

  • Erin

    It should be pointed out that yogurt and cheese are both made out of milk, which has to come out of something’s udder because that’s just how that works. So if drinking milk is “icky” because it involves a cows udder, then eating yogurt and cheese are also “icky”. Possibly more icky, because depending what milk is used it might come out of a goat udder, a sheep udder, a buffalo udder, or in some countries a horse udder. Which probably seems a lot ickier to people who aren’t used to the idea of consuming milk from any of those animals to begin with.

  • Betina

    “The thought of drinking something that came out of a cow’s udder is, well, not totally appealing to me.”

    Yes, how appalling, really. Utterly absurd! Who drinks such a thing? …You’re actually proposing feminists boycott a staple (for most people anyway) because of an ad?

    • Chloe H.

      Yeah Betina! The ad needs to change, not our milk-lovin’ habits.

      • Matthew T. Jameson

        Boycotting milk will only hurt the farmers who produce it, not ad wizards who come up with this tripe.

        • Amanda

          Yeah, God forbid we stop supplying factory farms with money! Then they’ll have to rely on government subsidies! Oh wait…

          • Matthew T. Jameson

            That is a totally separate issue from sexism in ads.

    • Amanda

      It may not seem absurd to you to drink the milk of another species because it’s ingrained in our culture, but it actually is ridiculous. Humans are the only species who drink other species’ milk. Cows’ milk is for their babies, just like human milk is for human babies. And dairy milk doesn’t have to be a staple for people- there are many alternatives, including almond milk, rice milk, soy milk and more. So if consumers are disgusted with the ads, they can easily boycott the dairy milk industry without suffering in any way.

      • Matthew T. Jameson

        “it actually is ridiculous.” Don’t you think maybe it’s possible for “ridiculous” to be a matter of perspective? What a needlessly condescending post!

        Also, there is so much wrong in your post. So, because we are the only animal that does something, that makes doing said thing ridiculous?

        How about talking? How about art, how about. . . anything we do that other animals don’t? All those things are “ridiculous?” What does that even mean?

        • Amanda

          “Ridiculous” means roughly the same thing as “absurd,” which is the term the poster above used sarcastically to describe the idea of drinking someone’s milk. She may see buying a nondairy milk alternative as “absurd,” but from my perspective as someone who cares about how animals are treated the fact that we keep cows perpetually pregnant in order to drink their milk is in fact absurd. Yes, it’s a matter of perspective- as are all the opinions posted on this blog. Just because you don’t agree with my viewpoint doesn’t mean my viewpoint is invalid.
          I pointed out that humans are the species who drink other species’ milk to illustrate the fact that it’s not needed. Mothers provide milk for their babies, and this applies to both cows and humans (and many other animals). Cow milk is meant for baby cows, not people, just like human mothers create milk for human babies. This obviously does not apply to “talking” and “art.” “Art” would only be a parallel to this situation if cows were creating artwork and then we were stealing it and selling it in art galleries for people to enjoy, or something along those lines. It has nothing to do with our exploitation of animals for food.

      • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        Actually, don’t ants take–well it’s not actually milk, since insects aren’t mammals, but a milk-like substance from aphids for nourishment?

        Anyway, stupid sexism like this commercial pisses me off more than PMS ever does. Oh well, we get soy milk anyway (not almond, as my husband is allergic to nuts). I really like vanilla flavored best! And great to read so many comments about the calcium in kale because that’s one of my favorite vegetables!

    • Katherine

      Go vegan.
      Veganism and Feminism go hand in hand, if you’re against the oppression of women…think about the oppression of non-human animals.
      Female cows are impregnated by machines so they can produce milk, and then are seperated from their babies shortly after birth…the baby cows are then turned into veal.
      It’s an incredibely disgusting practice, and I wont get into the details…but you support it by drinking milk and consuming milk products.
      I know most people are not comfortable changing their habits, and get defensive at this idea…but it’s just the facts people.

      • Lindsey

        You don’t want to get into details? Okay. I will. I’ve lived in Montana my entire life, grown up with people whose livelihood depends on the supposedly abominable practices you decry. But here’s the thing: not every farm is a factory farm. There are a LOT of things wrong with agriculture in America today, but sweeping statements about the nature of farming practices help no one. Dairy animals continue to produce milk as long as you milk them. Some dairy farms are disgusting, as are many chicken farms, beef feedlots, etc. The treatment of animals at many of these facilities is appalling. “Going vegan,” however, is not necessary to stop these practices.

        As a child, I drank the milk of a pet goat we bred a grand total of three times her entire life. My mother drank the milk of the few dairy cows her parents owned. Going vegan, for a person living in rural Montana, requires ordering soy products and other vegan foods that must be shipped, usually from out of state, using natural resources and doing far more damage than milking a cow ever did. Granted, commercials such as these are not aimed at rural people who know their farmers. Milk The Brand is very much an industrial farming product, no doubt worthy of criticism.

        All that being said, the OP is about sexism in advertising, NOT the agricultural industry, and I apologize for the mini rant. I just can’t tolerate assumptions and generalizations.

        • Amanda

          I appreciate your viewpoint, but I do have to disagree with one aspect of what you said.
          “Dairy animals continue to produce milk as long as you milk them.”
          This implies that cows are just going to keep the milk flowing so we might as well take it, but that’s not the case at all- and this applies to ALL dairy farming. You have to keep a cow perpetually pregnant in order to keep it producing milk. Cows are not just natural milk machines. And factory farms- which will receive the majority of monetary support these ads create- break down the dairy cows’ bodies quickly, not to mention the fact that they take the calves created by all these forced pregnancies and turn them into dairy cows (females) and veal (males).
          I appreciate that the farm you grew up on didn’t treat animals this way, and that’s great- but that’s not the reality of the industry being supported by these advertisements. The farm you’re familiar with is not representative of the industry, unfortunately – and this is something you pointed out yourself. So I don’t think you should feel attacked when people say things about “the dairy industry,” because for the most part they’re not talking about family-owned farms.

          • Lindsey

            Ah, veal. I’d forgotten about that. I am one-hundred percent opposed to veal. I must say I am much more familiar with dairy goats than cows (I didn’t grow up with cows, my mother did–so my knowledge is all second-hand), and in the case of goats, they most certainly do not have to be kept pregnant. Daisy and Rosie produced milk all their lives, and were only pregnant a few times. It may be different when it comes to QUANTITIES of milk, of course. Factory farms have to pump out huge amounts of milk, and since they are often tied to veal farms, the practice of keeping the cows pregnant makes sense, though it is horrible.

            I realize my experience is not representative of the meat and dairy industries as a whole, and I apologize if it sounds like I’m defending their practices. I simply like to point out that the issue is more complicated than simply, “Dairy is evil!” and that veganism is honestly not a practical (or even environmentally responsible) alternative for all of us.

          • James

            Except that your original comment wasn’t about “factory farms”… it was about “the oppression of non-human animals,” which your comment presented as the only alternative to veganism. The implicit logic was that if one is not vegan, one is complicit in the oppression of non-human animals, with no differentiation made between the practices of factory farming and the practices of a small family farm in Montana.

            So, it seems to me that the question is this: On the farm described above, were the cows and goats oppressed, or weren’t they?

            If you believe they were, then how would you suggest they be treated? If it is inherently oppressive to consume any products from animals at all regardless of how they’re treated, then why would any farmer continue to waste resources keeping cows or goats when they aren’t really serving any useful purpose? Is the cows’ and goats’ “oppression” in pens, safe from predators and always given plenty to eat, an inferior state to “freedom” in the wilds of Montana where the coyotes and wolves would find them most tasty, or where food is covered in six inches of snow during the winter months?

            Alternatively, if these animals weren’t being oppressed, then doesn’t that necessarily mean that there is a third option aside from “oppression” and “veganism”—in other words, that there are non-0ppressive ways to consume animal products? Wouldn’t that contradict “the facts” you present here, whether implicitly or explicitly, that all who “drink milk and consum[e] milk products” are inherently complicit in the oppression of non-human animals and should thereby “chang[e] their habits” to veganism? Would it then not be possible to change one’s habits to a more humane way of consuming animal products—say, choosing only to eat cheese or drink milk from family-farmed cows/goats purchased at farmers’ markets—rather than go entirely vegan?

        • Lissla Lissar

          First of all, not everyone is going to agree with you that consuming animal products is somehow inherently oppressive, let alone anti-feminist. James makes some really good points that I’d love to see your answer to.

          Secondly, not everyone can afford to go vegan or even has access to the resources to do so. On top of that, many people could not sustain such a diet for valid health reasons. So your attempt to shame people for consuming animal products is telling people who absolutely cannot live the lifestyle you live that they are oppressive. Doesn’t that seem a bit wrong to you?

          • Puck

            I didn’t really get into this in the post that I wrote on the Community site (way down at the bottom), but a vegan diet is actually not much more expensive than a fast food diet and certainly cheaper than a well-balanced omnivorous diet.

            Here’s a fairly reasonable article about how a lot of the perception of what constitutes a vegan (expensive) diet is off-base… and how vegans often don’t embrace the more reasonable, cost-effective approaches to a healthy, balanced vegan diet.

            Shoot, I became vegan before I had even heard the word and, at 12 or so began educating myself on a balanced diet consisting of whole foods and, let me tell you, the skills I learned have allowed me to eat a lot more inexpensively than my omnivorous friends for almost my entire life.

            That said, even my frugality can only compete with McDonald’s if I stick to dried rice and beans, which is patently unhea– oh, right, so is Mickey D’s.

          • Lissla Lissar

            Puck, for some reason I can’t reply directly to you (there’s no “reply” button under your post for me, but there’s one for everyone else in the thread. Weird), so sorry that my reply is misplaced.

            A vegan diet is only cheaper/the same price as an omnivorous diet is a person has access, though. For example: I live in a fairly good area of Chicago. However, I don’t have a car. That means there are two stores within reasonable walking distance of me. I’m lucky in that right now I have the time to walk there, but if I were working I probably wouldn’t have that time. The train is expensive and takes time too. Aside from that, at the stores in walking distance even in this neighborhood there still isn’t a very good variety of options when it comes to produce and when it comes to vegan protein options, unless I really did want to rely mostly on rice and beans. Even in this area my options are fairly limited.

            And that’s from someone who lives in a good neighborhood. In other areas here there is a significant food desert. The grocery options there are almost completely limited to convenience stores, which do not carry healthy foods in general, let alone fruits and veggies. People in that area would have to travel to a whole different neighborhood, probably several neighborhoods away, to get quality affordable food, and that would again be a significant time and money investment that they probably don’t have.

            That isn’t even getting into people who have a very limited food budget in general or who have to follow strict purchasing rules due to WIC programs.

          • Puck

            First off, I can’t respond to you either, so I think there’s a limit to how deep these threads can go.

            Next, take a gander at my community post just to compare some actually nutritional and cost issues I present there (particularly, look at the Milk v OJ thing, which has a direct bearing on the OP here – and the prices I picked for Milk and OJ in that piece are based on what I found at the corner store on my block in Flatbush, Brooklyn).

            Now, onto your argument about access. This is something I focused on in my community blog as well – if you are concerned about food access, that is independent of a comparison between an omnivorous and a vegetarian diet. You say that you can’t get produce (even canned spinach? orange juice?) at the stores within walking distance of your house. If that’s true, I doubt you can find quality meat there, too. At my corner store, the only meats you have access to are canned meats, but you also have access to a decent selection of canned vegetables and dried beans and rice. This may not be particularly appealing to you, but is SPAM more appealing?

            I don’t really hear this argument from my friends who actually are on WIC. I hear it from wealthy and middle-class people who use poor people’s lack of access as a way to cast vegetarianism or veganism as a classist diet. I certainly don’t hear it from the (significant number of) parents I know who are raising their kids on healthy diets despite barely being able to cover their rents.

            Otherwise, these conversations would not take the direction of making economic excuses for the commenters’ diets, but would take the direction of looking at the health outcomes for people living in actual poverty of getting by on fast food and chips. This is something I also address in my community post. It’s disingenuous to use other people’s poverty as a reason for your own dietary choices, especially if you’re not actively working to improve access for people less fortunate than yourself.

            I teach martial arts to youth and, in my curriculum, I always include something about nutrition and the young people I work with never come back to me saying that they are compelled to eat poorly because of their circumstances. They look for ways to make it work. I wonder if more privileged folks are even capable of such creativity.

          • Puck

            Oh, yeah, and I forgot… WIC restrictions, as harmful as they are, are not an effective excuse for a diet lacking in vegetables. You do realize that folks have been barred from buying milk and eggs because of these ridiculous, paternalistic clusterf*s of bureaucracy, right? WIC restrictions are as much an impediment to an omnivorous diet as they are to a vegetarian or vegan one.

  • Ned Hamson

    Ouch! Vegan here. Excess protein from milk and meat products is what causes the need for calcium. The body converts your bone calcium into enzymes that help it digest the excess protein. Cut down on meat and milk products and eat other products listed above to boost your depleted calcium levels.

  • Jenni P.

    “Let’s face it, it’s kinda icky.”

    It is icky to you? Fine. But with the isnt-it-so preamble, you are veering pretty close to judging and policing what other people eat. I note milk and many milk products (which, eh, actually include yogurt and cheese) tend to be one of the few healthy nutrition sources requiring no prep which are actually available to poor people.

    Also, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and magnesium are “natural remedies” now? WTF.

  • M.C.

    First – go sign the petition ( against these ads.

    Second – a boycott in this case, it’s true, is not the most effective response. The demand is too inelastic, the market is too large, and effects would be too slow. Also, the problem is not the product but specific agencies in its promotion. That’s why we need to respond with a PR campaign which is immediate and focused on changing the behavior of these actors.

    Third – ending the ads is not enough. The California Milk Processor Board and the advertising agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, need to issue a public apology, and Goodby et al needs to donate the fees they collected for this campaign to organizations promoting the equality of women.

    Imagine that this campaign had been about race. Imagine if Goodby, Silverstein & Partners had chosen an offensive racial stereotype that has been used to oppress members of that racial identity and based a “humorous” ad campaign on how milk can alleviate those undesirable racial characteristics. Hopefully there would be no talk of whether the ads were funny or whether science supported their claims then.

    We must react with immediate, direct condemnation of media that demean women.

  • Brüno

    With the rise of stay at home dads and more househusbands performing duties like shopping for groceries brace for more women bashing ads.

  • aletheia_shortwave

    So, the funny thing about this is that most milk, which is pumped full of antibiotics and bovine growth hormone, will actually make PMS symptoms a lot worse by throwing off hormone balance and causing your body to become estrogen-dominant.

  • Lynn

    I’ll make ad companies a deal – You help women fight to not be treated like second-class citizens, like with equal wages and the right to do with our bodies as we please, and then maybe we will have more of a sense of humor when you make jokes at our expense – especially about our reproductive cycles. Because this year especially, our reproductive cycles have already been made the biggest joke of all by Republican lawmakers across the country.
    In a political climate where the hot-button issue seems to be policing the INNER ORGANS of other humans – by a group of people who mostly do not HAVE those organs, I don’t really feel like making light of my uterus right now, thank you.

  • Lynn

    Also – I just called the California Milk Processor Board and lest a message – a calm, rational and un PMS- like message (although I really did want to yell, yell, yell!) briefly stating that in an equal society, I would have no problem laughing at my reproductive organs. I also told them about current legislature threatening my reproductive organs and asked that they be activists to help women in this county and around the world reach equal status. Their number is 949-481-6620.

  • Katherine

    “Dairy cows, though not human, are perhaps the most horribly abused females on the planet. As we fight for human equality, should we not also concern ourselves with how humans exploit the very thing that makes an animal female, that makes an animal a mother?”

  • Puck

    I had a kind of long reaction to this article and comments thread, which I just wrote up my own post about… ‘cos I can run on for a minute… doubt anyone’ll read it, but hey… it’s mostly about the health claims and then about all of this Vegan/Non-Vegan back-and-forth that gets kind of tired.

    Udderly Ridiculous – CMPB’s PMS Ad & Our Reactions

  • Velderia

    Milk, especially from cows, give me cramps like hell, HELL I say… I know it’s not like everyone is allergic/sensitive to it, but when I saw these ads I wanted to go on a homicidal spree. It’s bad enough that I had to sit through the dairy industry’s previous advertisements during TV, reading a magazine or the internet.

    Plenty of ways to get non-dairy calcium/vitamin D if you look hard enough: leafy greens (I don’t recommend spinach), vitamin-D fortified mushrooms (UV-treated – 100% per serving – COMPARE to 25% in an average serving of milk) (I get these ALL the time from Kroger), rice milk, almond milk, oat milk (if celiac, use caution), hemp milk (no allergens known to man concerning hemp), hazelnut milk, soy milk (caution: obvious choice for most but not if you’re allergic to it like I am – this causes bigger cramps for me, so watch out)… What else… Some fish… I could go on all day, dammit.