The Lies We’re Sold

I’ve always been fascinated by marketing and advertising.  As a kid I can remember looking at the subway ads as I rode the train with my mom and being mesmerized by them.  I would study them intently and try to figure out what the ads were for.  My dad worked in advertising for years and I’m sure that also added to my interest.  It wasn’t until high school when I took a Marketing class one year that a great teacher by the name of Mr. Roth really opened my eyes up to how marketing worked and encouraged his students to critically think about what companies were actually selling through their jingles, logos and products. There were lessons from Mr. Roth’s class I still think of today when I see ads, studying and dismantling their message in my head.

I still find marketing interesting although 95% of it just pisses me off now, in particular the kind with laughing cartoon animals promoting their dead selves as product. But even the most obnoxious ads for a restaurant’s rib or seafood fest still do not enrage me as quickly or as ferociously as a health organization endorsing animal products to prevent disease and promote public health when that organization’s major corporate partner is the very industry that sells said product.  It bothers me is when it is also happens to be an assful of lies.

Osteoporosis Canada has an ad campaign going right now since November is Osteoporosis Awareness month.  They’ve got print ads all over buses and subway stations, promoting dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk as not only excellent but required sources of calcium to promote strong bones and teeth. Their major corporate partner is the Dairy Farmers of Canada. My issue with them is not that they are promoting calcium as a necessary nutrient that helps prevent osteoporosis (the deterioration of bone tissue) because that is absolutely true.  My issue is that with the Dairy Farmers of Canada funding them, the studies they are conducting and researching cannot be impartial no matter how well-intentioned. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a conflict of interest when the subsequent results of their findings promote animal-based protein and calcium, the very product sold by the company helping to fund the operation. The Dairy Farmers of Canada are in business to make money not to promote health but it’s an extremely savvy PR move for them to join with a charitable organization that will promote their product as essential to our well-being. (This is just one of the many problems with the way our current health care is structured: the system desperately needs the money of the private sector to survive and the private sector desperately needs the endorsement of health care to show that their products aren’t in fact killing us.)

I’ve written about what I’ve read on osteoporosis and the link with dairy products before so I don’t want to repeat myself too much here.  But I will repeat this, from the brilliant book by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son, Dr. Thomas M. Campbell called The China Study, a book that radically changed my view of food in general and was instrumental in helping me understand just how it functions in the body once ingested.  The China Study was a 20-year project Dr. Campbell and his team undertook comparing the Western diet (a diet high in meat and dairy) with those in rural China (a diet high in grains and vegetables) and tracked the results of the two populations in terms of their long-term health and rates of disease; everything from diabetes to cholesterol levels.  He also studied osteoporosis:

“Americans consume more cow’s milk and its products per person than most populations in the world.  So Americans should have wonderfully strong bones, right? Unfortunately not.  A recent study showed that American women aged fifty and older have one of the highest rates of hip fractures in the world.”

This also explains why Canada has an organization dedicated solely to osteoporosis because, according to their website: “At least 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime.”  I have no reason to doubt that.  Just like I know people who’ve had heart attacks, I also know people with osteoporosis.  It’s such a common occurrence now that most of us have not only heard of it but know someone living with it.

Okay, so what?  I read a book that confirms that.  Big deal.  But here’s the thing, according to Dr. Campbell’s findings, again which I am repeating here:

“These researchers explained that animal protein, unlike plant protein, increases the acid load in the body.  An increased acid load means that our blood and tissues become more acidic.  The body does not like this acidic environment and begins to fight it.  In order to neutralize the acid, the body uses calcium, which acts as a very effective bases.  This calcium, however, must come from somewhere. It ends up being pulled from the bones, and the calcium loss weakens them, putting them at risk for fracture.”

Even more alarming and infuriating is that this information is not new:

“When animal protein increases metabolic acid and draws calcium from the bones, the amount of calcium in the urine is increased.  This effect has been established for over eighty years and has been studied in some detail since the 1970’s.”

So why isn’t this common knowledge?  Why are animal products still being promoted as “the best” way to get calcium and prevent osteoporosis?  Why, when most of us have been raised on dairy products, do such a large number of us even have this disease?

Well, for starters, when the Dairy Farmers of Canada is one of your investors and biggest sponsors, good luck getting any findings to the contrary published. Although Osteoporosis Canada does include suggested dairy alternatives on their site for getting the required vitamin D and calcium (with the word “Alternatives” in quotations) and several of their supporters are from companies who make soy and almond beverages, on more than one occasion they clearly make statements such as this on their site:

“Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and are also a good source of protein.”

In fact, here’s one of their suggestions for people over 50:

“…if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal.  Take your pick:  have a glass of milk (go ahead and have chocolate milk if you prefer), have soup that’s made with milk (like cream of mushroom soup), main courses made with cheese such as lasagna, or have yogurt with fruit for dessert.”

By the way, this is the same age of people whom they state on their site will experience, “over 80% of all fractures…caused by osteoporosis.”

As I’ve asked of myself before: as a vegan, am I biased against recommendations and products that come from animals? Absolutely.  But so are they in favour of them.  And that is my issue.

This continued approach we’ve been conditioned to have that “the best” way to get our nutrients is from animals is dangerously outdated. I grew up with that bullshit-of-a-chart known as the Canada Food Guide (which the above recommendations from Osteroporosis Canada are based on) and I ate dairy every single day like a good citizen and patient only to find out later that I was actually harming my body in the end.  Not just with the excess protein and calcium that my body could not use, but with the saturated fat and harmful cholesterol that always comes with animal products, adding to my weight and putting me at risk for not only osteoporosis but heart disease and diabetes. While I don’t believe that Osteoporosis Canada is deliberately trying to harm anyone, with the dairy industry backing them they’re also not getting all of the information, continuing the tradition of a leaving the general public vulnerable and confused about their health and diet.

I’ll leave you with some encouragement from Matt Frazier, a vegan marathon runner who writes in his book, No Meat Athlete: “If you don’t want to consume dairy products, does that mean you’ll be lacking in calcium?  Of course not.  You can get calcium from kale, broccoli, collard greens, and tofu, among other foods. Don’t like leafy greens?  Then there’s soymilk.  Don’t like soymilk?  Try almond milk.  Once you open the door to variety, your opportunities to get the nutrients you need are near limitless.”

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