Fresh from the Source

The Dairy Case

A little low-fat cream cheese on your morning bagel, strawberry yogurt for lunch, a sprinkling of cheddar cheese on that burrito for dinner . . . dairy is a mainstay in many American diets. Maybe you prefer a little more adventure, like thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt with fruit. Or Gruyere cheese (a fruity, nutty, slightly salty type of Swiss) in your mac ‘n cheese, on your burger or in your omelet. While many value the staple status of dairy products, their prevalence in our diet has implications beyond our culinary enjoyment.

For example, the dairy products that nourish your body can also help support the health and ethical treatment of the environment, dairy farmers and dairy cattle.

Organic dairy products are produced sustainably, without the use of antibiotics, pesticides, or synthetic hormones. Animals are fed certified organic feed, and the pastures they’re raised on are certified organic. The absence of pesticides and antibiotics means that organic dairy farmers typically pay closer attention to their cattle to keep them healthy. In many cases, this means smaller herds that can be more easily monitored so that any potential health issues can be immediately addressed. And organic production practices require that dairy cattle have access to the outdoors to engage in normal cattle behavior (like grazing on pasture).

In addition, some studies indicate that pastured cows produce milk higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (an omega 6 fatty acid) than cows that eat grain. Their milk is also higher in beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E (grass contains more of these nutrients than grain, after all). Avoidance of antibiotics, pesticides and synthetic hormones is another reason many consumers choose organic dairy products. No wonder organic dairy products have seen 20 to 30 percent growth in the past few years.

If your co-op or grocer offers organic dairy products from a local farmer, so much the better! You’ll be eating food that’s produced closer to home — which helps support your local farmers and your local community. If you’d like to know more about where your dairy products come from, be sure to ask; most co-ops have long-standing relationships with local farmers, so you’re likely to be getting food from a trusted source as well.

By the way, if you or someone you know happens to be vegan or lactose intolerant, you can now find an assortment of non-dairy options for butters, yogurts, milks, cheeses, and sour creams in (or very near) the dairy case!

What are your favorite dairy products?

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