Udderly Ridiculous – CMPB’s PMS Ad & Our Reactions

I was browsing Feministing and read an article about misogynist advertising promoting dairy and, well, it brought up a number of things for me, not just about the ad itself and the specious nature of its claims about health and comfort, but about the ways we have conversations around diet, especially when ethics get involved.

Let’s start by dealing with the ad campaign and the OP about the ad campaign.

First off, the first suggestion in the OP, as pointed out above in the comments, is kind of ineffective, in that it still supports the dairy industry. However, “got milk?” and this campaign are projects of the California Milk Processor Board (which is not a government agency, contrary to at least one commenter’s assumption), so their mandate is specifically to increase milk consumption. On the other hand, since most other dairy products are not supplemented with chemically synthesized Vitamin D (see below), they won’t be effective in managing PMS the same way that fortified milk would.

What is true is that the study (at least, I believe that’s the research they’re referencing; the annoying Flash microsite is a terror to navigate, so I can’t be sure) referenced for this piece found that a diet with sufficient Calcium and Vitamin D can reduce the symptoms of PMS.

However, while dairy and milk promotion agencies and organizations would have you believe otherwise, milk is not that great a source of Calcium, certainly not a singular one, which is at the heart of the ad’s claim.

Further, the only reason cow’s milk (and not most other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt) is often high in Vitamin D (400 UI, as opposed to the natural 40-80UI/quart) is because of chemically synthesized supplementation. So, when arguing about whether vitamin supplements are more or less natural than milk, consider that the only reason milk is a significant source of Vitamin D is because of laboratory-synthesized vitamin supplements.

Once you consider that the high content of Vitamin A and saturated fats in milk can lead to weakening of bones and that women are particularly susceptible to bone disease later in life… it quickly looks like the California Milk Processor Board is actually putting out misleading information that may be harmful to women’s health in order to improve their bottom line (to be clear, their motivation is the latter not the former – I’m not a conspiracy theorist). And that’s if you ignore the blatantly misogynistic message about PMS.

At my corner store in Flatbush, I can get a half gallon of Orange Juice fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D for cheaper a regular half gallon of Milk ($3.89 vs $4.99) and it has more Vitamin D and more Calcium than Vitamin D-fortified milk (Comparison is for 1 Cup of each… Calcium – Fortified OJ: 500mg, Fortified Milk: 276mg; Vitamin D – Fortified OJ: 3.5mcg, Fortified Milk: 3.2mcg). Also, due to the absence of saturated fats and Vitamin A, your body can actually metabolize even more of the Calcium in Orange Juice. Further, there have been ties between a diet too rich in protein and bone disease, so having a protein-rich drink with Calcium is kind of like a tall glass of contradiction (which may go better with cookies than OJ, but let’s not get into vices here).

Check out the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for data on Calcium in various foods; I know it’s overly vague, but that kind of thing is good for broad comparisons and it’s where I sourced my data from.

Now, onto the vegan/non-vegan comment wars

I want to keep this short, so let’s see if I can, hahahaha (edit: I failed miserably… oops)… First off, in the interest of full-disclosure, I was vegan from about the age of 12 til I was 24 or 25. Now, I eat the occasional seafood and I try to ensure it’s wild-caught, non overfished and from waters that aren’t too chock full of mercury (I mean, a little mercury might help me predict the weather, right?), but I still don’t eat any land animals or dairy.

Saying that milk is disgusting isn’t going to convince milk drinkers of anything but your own bias. Maybe you’re not trying to win anyone over but yourself, but, then, why are you sharing with anyone else? Self-righteousness?

Arguing that something is normative (like drinking cow’s milk or men being breadwinners) is not the same thing as arguing that it makes sense or is healthy.

When will you realize that the appeal to human beings that their troubles are nothing compared with the struggles of our animal brothers and sisters will almost never strike the right chord? This is, and has been, probably my biggest issue with vegan proselytizing. I’ve seen gentiles comparing the meat and dairy industry to the holocaust; I’ve seen whites comparing it to slavery; and I’ve seen way too much minimizing of human suffering in order to make a point about animal suffering.
Aside from this reeking of privilege in the most awful way, it also is probably most effective at turning people off from anything substantive you actually have to say. Oh, yeah, and, instead of being an appeal to folks’ conscience, it just comes off as mercenary, opportunistic, self-righteous and vacuous. Please, stop it already. At best, what you’re doing is keeping yourself from gaining any real allies.
I mean, we all know PeTA’s off the chain with a lot of their antics, but even this kind of toned-down historically ignorant trite nonsense not only distances you from any potential allies, but also makes other people who base their diets on ethical concerns look like assholes by association. And ask yourself, have you ever convinced a woman to become vegan by arguing that her lack of access to reproductive health services is nothing compared to the forced breeding and milking of cows? Has that shit ever worked for anyone? Ever?

Can we stop with the conflicting arguments that (a) veganism and vegetarianism are diets only accessible to wealthy people and (b) that there are small family-run farms that love their animals and don’t shoot them full of antibiotics and hormones… especially in the same breath?
There is an important point that the accessibility of good produce (or any produce) is sorely lacking in disenfranchised communities (well, most of them… you should see the grocery stores in Carribean neighborhoods; your bougie eyes will cry with avarice). However, using this as an excuse for your own diet is no good for anyone, certainly not the people for whom you’re pretending to speak. I do work with young people around health and fitness and simply accepting that hamburgers and milk is better than Doritors and Kool Aid is not the answer. There are people (like The People’s Grocery in Oakland, CA) that actually try to solve the problem instead of using it as an excuse for their own indulgent diets.
Oh, yeah, and chances are, if you’re commenting on Feministing, you can afford Collard Greens, which are one of the richest sources of naturally occurring Calcium on the planet (266mg/cup – compare that to Milk as listed above). So, please, don’t use someone else’s poverty as an excuse for not examining your own habits (oh, and if even you’re a college student or recent grad, chances are you’re not actually poor).
On the other hand, food from small farms that lovingly raise organic, grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free animals produce meat and dairy that, healthier and more humane as it definitely is, is much more expensive than even the most lavish of vegan diets.
There is a real dissonance between these two arguments, so it always warms my heart to see them side-by-side.

Now, to be sure, I know everyone’s intentions are good. We wouldn’t struggle over this stuff if we didn’t think it was important, but really, what is the point of talking smack about each other?

Now who’s self-righteous? I gotchu alllll in check, ha! (in my best Busta shout)… The only difference is that I know I’m wrong (I mean, really… I’m a doggone vegetable mass-murderer who doesn’t drink milk because of the suffering of cows, but salivates at the smell of medium-rare dead salmon, how wrong is that??? That salmon had a family!)…

Oh, yeah, and did I mention that both AdWeek and Forbes ran articles about how messed up the original ad campaign is. Now that’s some ground break tone-deafness right there!

Peace and blessings,

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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