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HERd Management: Why I had to go dairy-free and what it taught me about the importance of food choices

Jennifer Heim for Progressive Dairyman Published on 05 May 2017

Every Sunday after church, we go to the grocery store as a family. When I’m on top of things, I have a meal plan and a comprehensive list organized by aisle. Most weeks, we wing it and try to buy all of the ingredients for our standby meals. We’ve been in this routine for quite a while, but prior to January, one aisle had never made our list.

Our store has an aisle called “natural foods.” This is the aisle where most items contain a superfood like kale or quinoa, or perhaps they earned their prestigious location because of what they lack – some forsaken ingredient like gluten … or dairy. I saw the shoppers in this aisle week after week, and I judged them. How uninformed and pretentious they must be.

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Everyone told me having children would change my life, but this – this surprised me. At 2 months old, our son was healthy, growing and eating well on an exclusively breast milk diet. But his symptoms of reflux, which interrupted his sleep and often ruined his day and ours, were not responding to the first-tier medication he was prescribed a few weeks earlier.

Because he was healthy and growing, his doctor was hesitant to offer the next-tier medication. With apologies, given that we milk cows, she suggested I try removing dairy from my diet first.

The following Sunday, there we stood, awkwardly examining labels in the natural foods aisle. I assumed these products only appealed to vegans, activists and misinformed urbanites, and I was very uncomfortable putting them in my cart.

I stopped and stared at the almond milk for several long seconds before carefully hiding it behind my husband’s ice cream. I felt like I was betraying everything I believed in, but I wanted to continue breast feeding, and I wanted my son to feel better.

A few weeks later, our trip through the aisle was quicker, picking up the things I knew I liked – and still kind of hoping no one saw us. I commented as we exited about the astonishing reality that so many dairy-free products even existed.

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I haven’t tried the dairy-free ice cream or frozen pizza on a matter of principle, but they exist. My husband noted that while these products may not have been created specifically for women in my situation, it was extremely convenient for me and probably critical to my success in this adventure to have so many options available.

My dairy-free diet didn’t solve all of my son’s problems, but an attempt to add it back in confirmed it was at least playing a part in his discomfort. For the time being, this is the right choice for our family, and I’m thankful to have options on my grocery store shelves.

Food choice is important, and dairy is a great option we need to continue to promote. I previously thought the people buying those products were on a high horse, but instead I needed to get down off of mine and come to terms with the fact I don’t know the story of the person buying my milk’s competition.

Maybe they’re a vegan activist or maybe, more likely, they’re just a mom trying to do what’s best for her family. In the future I hope, instead of making the tired remark about finding teats on an almond, I can meet that person where they are to talk about why dairy might be the right choice for them.  end mark

Jennifer Heim
  • Jennifer Heim

  • Dairy Producer and Engineer
  • Easton, Kansas

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