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.

Vegans
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?

Non-Vegans
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.

Vegans
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?

Non-Vegans
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,
puck

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8 Comments

  1. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I agree with a lot of what’s said here and am already discussing the “affordable food” issue a bit in the other post, but I do think it’s disingenuous to paint everyone bringing up the money issue as people who can’t possibly be poor. There are plenty of people who bring the issue of access up in online discussions who are poor or have had significant experience being poor. And I don’t mean “college student/recent grad” poor. Speaking for myself, I mean “living off of $140 a month” poor.

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Lissla,

    Thanks for the response and I think you’re right. Some of this stuff just gets on my nerves and I can paint an overly broad picture of who puts forth what arguments. Now, online, it’s really impossible to tell what someone’s background is online, so I’m mainly going off the kinds of folks who’ve put forward these arguments to me in real life, who have never actually been poor.

    So, I stand corrected. I hate to be called out on being a little knee-jerky about some things, but you’re right. I should try to stay away from anything personal assumptions about people in an online space, because I can’t know the lived reality of other people in an online space.

    I’m honestly not sure how to balance this with actually drawing out the degree to which this point is not argued in good faith, though. This is especially hard when, in real life, I know a lot of people who make intensive, healthy diets work on below-poverty-level incomes (most of these people are parents, for whom nutrition is not just about their own well-being) without it feeling like a superhuman sacrifice.

    I don’t even know how to respond to the $140/mo thing, too, as that wouldn’t even have covered a quarter of my rent 15 years ago in East Oakland, where we had daily flyovers by police helicopters. Back then, I thought living on $1375/mo (before taxes, rent and utilities, which took out well over 2/3 of that money) was hard. How can you make that work at all?

    • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      That’s completely fair, and I think your points are really really good in this post and in the other. And to be fair, I’m pretty knee-jerky about this too, perhaps from the other side of things. I went to college with people who were generally much better off than me money-wise and often felt that pressured by them to defend myself as a “real” activist because I simply couldn’t afford to be as much of a conscience-spending consumer as they could. I probably come into any discussions about “spending ethnically” feeling a bit defensive because so often it seems to disintegrate into relatively wealthy people dismissing the experiences of or outright bullying those who don’t live the same lifestyle.

      I don’t get that feeling at all from your posts, though.

      Slightly off topic stuff:

      On living on $140 – It was definitely a struggle! I was lucky enough to have my rent covered at that time (I had payed for several months with what savings I had, but had to use all my savings on that), so basically I just ate lots and lots of very cheap and not good for me food and saved change for public transportation. I only had to sustain that for 8 months but I can’t imagine I could have kept it up! Glad not to be in that situation anymore!

      On Chicago: I’m on the North side, and I think in my neighborhood it would be manageable to have a vegetarian diet even with the somewhat limited grocery store selection, though it might not be an interesting diet.

      • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        Well, I’m glad to hear that my comments didn’t come off as denigrating. I really feel like it’s way too easy to dismiss people’s experience in electronic media and I tend to be pretty arrogant and full of it in real life, lol.

        Also, I’m glad to hear you don’t have to make it work on that kind of money anymore. No one should and 8 months of that is serious business. I mean, I definitely spend that on food alone in a month these days (not counting going out to eat), not to mention phone, electric, gas. And from the little bit I’ve been in Chicago, I know it gets even hotter and and even colder than over here in NY (which is still no joke).

        Finally, I never said that my diet was always interesting, lol. Especially when I was living on a shoestring, I did figure out a lot of ways I could prepare black beans and brown rice (and was able to grow some herbs outside my place, which helped), though.

        • Posted July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, the Internet makes it a lot easier to step on toes, plus arguments tend to get so heated online that it’s easy to be immediately in Argument Mode even in benign conversations.

          Living with my boyfriend now I can’t imagine how I managed food with that much money, since obviously all of it couldn’t go to food. My boyfriend and I use all of my food stamps ($200) and a bit more each month for our food, and that’s without having many exciting or different meals. If we try and do something extra healthy consistently we go way over the food stamps money.

          I’m jealous you got to try growing some herbs! I’ve wanted to do that but have never lived somewhere where I could manage it. Sadly we don’t have any space outside our apartment for it.

          • Posted July 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

            Honestly, I was set up there, but… certain herbs (like basil), you can grow in a windowsill or even indoors. Shoot, I’ve got a neighbor who’s got all of her windows (at least the ones on the street) covered with plant life. Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of sun in my apartment, but I think that’s why the last tenant rigged some boards inside the bars on the window.

            Here’s some advice for a simple indoor herb garden.

  3. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Also, I want to be clear that I responded a bit to your comment in the other post and I used the pronoun “you.” I am really trying to avoid the personal garbage and want to be clear that it was more of stand in for “one,” not directed at you, personally. You’ll see if the comment ever gets approved.

    And I don’t know where in Chicago you are… I’ve never lived there, but I’ve been visited Chicago for the past 15 or so years about once a year… mostly to Logan Square and the area around N Kimball and W Bloomingdale. These have never struck me as particularly wealthy neighborhoods, but I’ve never had trouble getting my hands on beans, rice, collards, or any other staples of my diet (*cough* hot sauce *cough), even if I sometimes have to settle for canned vegetables. However, as I mention back on the other thread, the selection of meat options is no more appealing, so I think it’s kind of a tenuous point.

  4. Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Wow. My grammar is atrocious in comments. Is it any better in the post?

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