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Why India Should Stop Aping The West And Follow Its Own Milky Way

30/04/2016 8:34 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Old milk jugs, cans and bottles at dairy farm

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One of the most difficult things seems to be getting everything to work harmoniously as one tries to live sustainably. Since last year I've tried to veganise my life as best I can (since watching the film Cowspiracy last year), although being totally vegan in India is a bit challenging. So much of life centres around the cow. At home I got my family to switch from Nandini milk packets to Akshayakalpa, a farm just outside of Bangalore that supplies excellent quality organic milk. Here's the problem: it comes in plastic packets just like all the other brands.

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Depending on where they lived, Indians generally grew up with milk reaching their doorstep each morning either in a glass bottle (which of course would be refilled and reused) or they'd have their steel cans filled by the milk man, who'd arrive with his own giant steel container.

Today, milk generally comes either in a Tetrapak or a plastic packet. While there are ways of recycling both products (Tetrapaks are also upcycled into various clever and useful products by Anu Life and Joy at Work), neither one is particularly healthy for the environment or for the body because of its plastic content, which can leach into the milk you're drinking to stay healthy. Most plastic products, from sippy cups to food wraps, can release chemicals that act like the sex hormone estrogen, according to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives. This can wreak havoc on one's body, whether you're male or female.

As this article in Mother Jones explains:

Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Ironically, in the UK it seems that consumers imagine plastic to be safer than glass, which is leading one of its last dairy companies to deal in glass to shift substances this year. Meanwhile, in the US it appears that milk in glass bottles is making a comeback for many reasons including the fact that it makes the milk taste better!

Most plastic products, from sippy cups to food wraps, can release chemicals that act like the sex hormone estrogen...

But what if the delivery system is such that one has no choice but to buy milk in some kind of plastic product? Which brand should you choose then? The Food Sovereignty Alliance makes it clear that the milk industry in India is adulterating our dairy products in a variety of ways, affecting our health and the livelihoods of farmers:

At my school, which is in rural Andhra Pradesh, it's much easier to procure milk in the healthy, old-fashioned or traditional way. I get it directly from the milk coop in the village next to my school. There the cows are local, indigenous breeds (not the Jersey or Holstein variety that cause so many problems in this region, including their inability to find enough food to graze on because it's meant for a different climate).

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One of the main problems is that India continues to regress by blindly following in the footsteps of the West--especially when it comes to food in urban centres. With cows this can mean all sorts of problems, not the least of which are the administration of antibiotics and rBGH to cows, which of course also affect the humans drinking or eating these products. Perhaps returning to a time when India thought (or maybe didn't need to think about it because it was second nature) about the relationship between sustainability, health, and livelihoods may be a better way forward.

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