As the drawbacks and dangers of drinking commercial cow’s milk become more widely known among consumers, milk replacements have become more acceptable to the mainstream public. Soy milk is no longer a “hippie” drink reserved for those with long hair, vegan diets and VW vans – it is a healthy and refreshing alternative to cows milk for anyone who can not or does not wish to drink milk.
A growing number of families are drinking soy milk at home, and many children who are exposed to it prefer it over cow’s milk. But the pressure to drink cow’s milk is overwhelming, and many times, alternatives are simply not offered. Most restaurants do not offer soy or rice milk, and neither do schools, where kids eat the majority of their lunches throughout the year. Under current legislation, while schools are reimbursed for the cow’s milk they offer in cafeterias, school districts can only be reimbursed for soy milk or lactose-free milk only if a student has a doctors note. This may change, however, as the National School Lunch Act is currently undergoing a rewrite, and the soy industry is pushing for a place within the school system.
Of course, dairy farmers are very comfortable with their monopoly of school lunch beverage choices, and they are strongly resisting the change in legislature. Currently, students can choose from whole milk, 2%, skim, and occasionally chocolate milk as a “healthy” addition to their lunch. If the soy advocates are successful in their fight, students will soon have soy milk as an additional choice. After all, America is the world leader in choice and freedom, right?
Wrong. “This is a taxpayer-based support program for feeding children. Why would anyone be against meeting that child’s need?” asked Steve Demos, the president of White Wave, a soy milk producer. But for the industry, the concern is not about the health of children, but about the size of their corporate wallet.
The dairy industry argues that nothing can compare to cow’s milk in nutrition. They agree that the purpose of the school lunch program is to help foster good eating habits in children and encourage them to eat healthy foods. They claim that because cows milk has calcium and vitamins A and D, soy milk cannot compare to its health benefits.
But what about its health hazards?
“I consider dairy milk to be one of the most unhealthy beverages promoted towards children. In many ways, its worse than soda,” said Jackie Domac, a teacher and the health department chairperson at Los Angeles Venice High School. “It’s full of antibiotics, hormones, saturated fat and cholesterol, none of which our students need. It¹s not fair to push dairy when there is a healthy alternative that students enjoy.”
Yes, conventional dairy milk contains alarming amounts of antibiotics and hormones. And yes, it does contain saturated fat and cholesterol. But what about soy?
The soy industry say it is a healthy option. Besides, it can be fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D. After all, the cereal we eat is often fortified, and even milk itself is often fortified with Vitamin D! Besides, lactose intolerance is a real problem for children, especially minority children, and nothing is being done to ensure their healthy drinking habits. Those kids who cannot drink milk (or prefer not to) are, under current policy, left without an alternative.
But the concern is, again, not about the health of our children or the nutritional contents of any particular beverage. The dairy industry is concerned with dollars, not nutrition. Federal dollars are at stake. School purchases made up 5% of US milk sales in 2001.
Currently, soy milk accounts for only 2% of milk sales in this country. Is the dairy industry getting greedy? Or is there more at stake?
Some feel that the dairy industry’s resistance is based on the fact that the more people are exposed to a product, the more they will develop a taste for it. They fear that the demand for soy will rise, and consequently, the demand for cows milk will decline. Again, they fear losing their death grip on the purses of the public.
Whatever their reasons, the dairy industry does not intend to allow soy into its school lunch territory without a brawl. We can be sure there will be much debate during the hearings regarding changing the policies. Perhaps contacting your senator to make sure he/she knows that the public supports offering soy milk choices for their children. Millions of lactose-intolerant or milk-sensitive children will thank you.