The GMO’s Among Us

Beta-D-Lactose.svgA human being who can digest dairy is a GMO. If you are one of these, your digestive tract can make something healthy for you from that milk sugar molecule on the right.

This article sums up something I read last summer in a book that explored how human beings have evolved over the past several millennia. It tickled my memory after seeing something on facebook that attempted humor across the lines of vegan, lactose intolerance, and mainstream milk drinkers.

I will confess upfront: as a child I was a milk junkie. Plain white whole milk, please. My brother and I stashed the half-gallon jugs in the back of the fridge because we liked our drink those few extra degrees closer to freezing. Slightly warmer (but still cold) milk was better for cookies and cake. My youthful science mind was ignorant that I was the end product of genetic modification: the journey from lactose-intolerant hunter-gatherer to sedentary post-agriculture mammary junkie.

During the rise of agriculture in the Near East at about 11,000 years ago, we see that sheep, goats, and cows were among the earliest animals domesticated. … As all mammals produce milk, this led to early agricultural villages having now far greater dairy resources naturally available. Initially, very likely dairy would not have been easily consumed by adults and perhaps even avoided; however, genetic mutations naturally show a very small percentage of the human population would have had alleles or groups of genes that allow for the consumption of dairy later in life

With greater availability of milk in early settled societies, the advantages of having a high caloric product that has calcium and fats that are beneficial became a greater selective pressure for human populations. The genes that (permitted digestion of dairy) became selected for or gave advantages to (those who could over those who could not.) The fact that milk was utilized very early in the Near East has meant that populations there do show a relatively high ratio of lactose persistence in adulthood.

Home-made almond milk, November 2012.jpgWith a vegan in the household these days, my own dairy consumption has dropped. Nut milks are in the fridge, and I find unsweetened almond a nice alternative. The young miss seems to prefer soy, but that is tastebud-intolerant for me. We two agree flax milk is nice.

A few of my fb friends from Iowa State occasionally wax upset about the shifting patterns against animal exploitation. The ones who are dairy farmers–I get the bother. I also know from the vegan literature left in the bathroom that if Big Ag were held to the same standard as Michael Vick, a lot of agricultural workers and executives on factory farms would have exited the NFL for prison time.

Granted, the consumption of cheese, yogurt, or milk chocolate isn’t directly harmful to animals–or needn’t be. But I do find it interesting that dairy farming has transformed much of the human race into genetically modified organisms.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to The GMO’s Among Us

  1. Liam says:

    Grandson of someone who was raised on a dairy farm in the moorlands of northwestern Ireland – a culture where buttermilk was an ur-food aeons before the potato arrived to perfectly complement it nutritionally – I love milk and it loves me and my family. Especially cream-top milk. My brother-out-law who has problems digesting homogenized milk (btw, even skim milk is homogenized) has little problem digesting Pittsford Farms cream-top milk and he’s not alone in that regard (homogenization appear to make milk harder to digest – even skim milk)*. One of the problems in this country was when people got scared of milkfat and started eating simple starches and sweets with less milkfat that would slow down the digestion of the carbs; if you’re going to eat processed breakfast cereal, eat it with full-fat dairy.

    * He’s not lactose-intolerant as such but has FODMAP sensitivities (which you can balance against with other types of saccharides, as it were; but that’s another discussion that would drive dentists crazy…).

  2. Katrina Meade says:

    Thank you for this. Modern farming causes both animal exploitation and environmental exploitation. If Catholic’s tried to follow the call of Laudato si’ to take “swift and unified global action”, they might at least reduce their animal consumption. Perhaps go back to meat free Fridays – all year!

    As Pope Francis calls, once a human being seeks absolute dominion, the foundations of our life begin to crumble. When we fail to acknowledge the worth of a poor person, a human embryo… it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”

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