I’ve been back on the family farm for a few weeks now spending time with my parents and siblings. My father still can’t come to terms with my avoidance of meat and almost all dairy products. It doesn’t make sense to him.
“My grandmother grew to old age on this farm eating bacon and eggs and buttering her toast,” he says. “And milk and cheese are good for you. They’re full of calcium and protein.”
In his mind, continuing to do what his ancestors did can’t be a bad thing. He doesn’t realize that it isn’t really the same anymore.
For one, we don’t eat like we used to in the past. We eat more. In the United States between 1909 and 2007, meat intake rose from 123 pounds to more than 200 pounds per person per year. Cheese intake increased nine fold.
Second, the animals that are cooked for our dining room table aren’t ones raised on our farm, slaughtered on our farm, butchered on our farm, and eaten on this same farm. Instead it’s store-bought industry-adulterated and artificially fattened meat.
When I was growing up, we raised our own beef in a pasture next to the house. Grandpa had the pigs up the road. We kids tended grass and seed-fed hens and collected eggs. All that is gone. Small family farming just isn’t the same today.
But the main reason meat and dairy aren’t what they used to be is because of modern chemistry. Since the development of DDT in the 1940s, a whole slew of chemicals like it have been created. They’re referred to as POPs – persistent organic pollutants.
Their chemical structure is foreign to the human body. Unlike other pesticides and chemical toxins that get lots of bad press, we have a hard time breaking POPs down and excreting them back out of the body. They are persistent.
Animals can’t get rid of them effectively either, so POPs build up in their bodies. Because these chemicals are similar to fat, they concentrate in milk – the same milk that makes cheese and butter.
Once POPs gain entry into the human body, they can get stuck there for a very long time. The time it takes for half of an amount of a chemical to be excreted from the body is termed its half-life.
The half life of PCB and dioxin congeners ranges from 3 to 19 years. If you ingested a certain POP in a stick of butter today, 38 years from now one-quarter of the toxic load would still be in your body. The half-life for some varieties of POPs has been estimated to be as high as 132 years!
Once ingested, the body can’t get rid of even half a dose during a lifetime.
It’s likely all of us have POPs deep within us. The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S., has been measuring the amounts of several well-known POP variants in the general population through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
They measured 38 kinds of PCBs, far fewer than the total number that exist of just this one kind of POP, and found that 34 of the 38 were present in virtually every person tested. Six of the PCBs have documented health effects. The others may have health effects not yet linked.
Choosing organic dairy is a good step, but it can’t block all POPs. They are ubiquitous in the environment, blown around by air currents and deposited everywhere. If you really want to detox, you can’t do it while consuming any meat or dairy product.
Some sections of the classic Yoga texts recommend milk and butter or ghee, although others say it’s okay to go without. I wonder what the old gurus who wrote the texts would have suggested if they had suspected the existence of impurities in them like we have today. I also wonder what the health implications are of having POPs in all of us as the CDC confirms.
Truth is, we don’t really know. While the science of toxicology catches up with industry’s creations, maybe it’s best to avoid as many POPs as we can.