Non-Dairy Vs. Dairy Consumers: Dueling Studies

It’s difficult to choose whether the dairy industry or the vegan movement is right about whether milk products are healthy or not. How do you choose?

What do you do when beliefs you thought you’d researched to death years ago are suddenly contradicted by fiendishly convincing studies? Do you adjust your beliefs? Or do you investigate further to confirm them?

Recently I participated in a discussion on Facebook about dairy consumption. I questioned whether it was healthy for humans to consume dairy (at least beyond infancy). I then produced a link to “7 Reasons Milk Is Bad For You” (Bustle, Rachel Krantz, 1/25/2016). I was then challenged by my Facebook friend Kevin Smith who produced his link, “Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence” (Taylor & Francis Group, Tanja Kongerslev Thorning, Anne Raben, Tine Tholstrup, Sabita S. Soedamah-Muthu, Ian Givens and Arne Astrup, 11/22/2016).

Technically, neither article is a “study” in the classic sense. They both just contain links or references to actual studies. Neither article knows about the other. Thus there’s no point-counterpoint discussion going on (although there is some overlap on several points).

Rachel Krantz’s article did not appear in a scientific journal but a popular one that also contains articles about veganism, lifestyle choices, relationships, celebrities, etc.; however, she stripes her text with multiple hyperlinks to supporting studies.

The Taylor & Francis Group article is three times as long and is top-heavy with references. It has 114 footnotes, compared with less than half for the Bustle article.

Contradictory Views of the Same Subject

These two contenders widely contradict one another. For example on the issue of dairy products causing or exacerbating osteoporosis, T&FG says: 

Osteoporosis has been described as a 'paediatric disease with geriatric consequences’ as low milk, and hence, low mineral intake during childhood and adolescence has been associated with significantly increased risk of osteoporotic fractures in middle and older age, particularly in women
 (49, 50).

Krantz references this article by Dr. Neil Barnard:

A study published by the American Medical Association in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this year showed that active children who consume the largest quantities of milk have more bone fractures than those who consume less. This was not surprising. Prior studies show that milk consumption does not improve bone health or reduce the risk of osteoporosis and actually creates other health risks." (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) 

The two articles go on like this, one hard-hitting – and convincing – reference after another from sources that contradict each other whenever they intersect. So where’s the truth? Alas, hard to find. It would take weeks of surfing just to track down all the studies referenced. Only then could you take apart the assertions, one by one, and try to spot any cherry-picking of results, confirmation biases, and null hypotheses. Neither article evaluates information in the studies they reference: the control groups used, critical theories employed, data mining, ethnography, deviation, population size, focus groups, life histories, and a score of other arcane factors. There are people who make their livings analyzing these things! In short, whenever a study’s results are reproduced in any article you read, there is no way to tell if they’re trustworthy or not. Except if you read the original study. And you’re trained to spot irregularities.

Another Strategy in Order?

Why not find out more about the studies themselves? Do either of them directly address the results from their adversaries? Was there anything unethical or sloppy from the data-gatherers? Who benefits from the conclusions and how?

There is no sparring with adversarial research in Krantz’s article. No pro-dairy article was analyzed and criticized. (Too bad, spirited debate is always entertaining.) Same for the T&FG study. Both sides obsessively presented their points of view. Neither Krantz nor her magazine got back to me with questions I had, which I found rather crass. I felt ignored, I really did.

A Yellow Flag Awavin’

T&FG produced this disclaimer in its “Conflict of interest and funding” section at the end of the study. 

Anne Raben is recipient of research funding from the Dairy Research Institute, Rosemont, IL, USA and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council. Tine Tholstrup is recipient of research grants from the Danish Dairy Research Foundation and the Dairy Research Institute, Rosemont, IL.

Interesting. While it’s nice of them to admit this up front, can you imagine this disclaimer being mentioned when a dairy industry brochure quotes their favorable findings?

Then there are the travails of  T&FG itself. According to Wikipedia:

In 2017 Taylor & Francis was strongly criticized for getting rid of a public health journal editor in chief who accepted articles critical of corporate interests. The company replaced the editor with a corporate consultant without consulting the editorial board. [Also], the publisher has been accused of processing articles in a speedy manner without proper peer review.

While neither of these “whoopsies” necessarily raise a red flag, they do raise yellow ones. Sometimes such controversies are just the tip of the iceberg. T&FG may have gotten nailed for these two indiscretions, but are there are others lurking the wings? We just don’t know. Also, to be fair, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the research in their study is flawed because of these events. However, it can’t help but muddy the waters.

Who Benefits?

Finally, who benefits and how? A study that exhaustively and eloquently refutes the claims of the pesky anti-dairy folks may be appreciated by the dairy industry. Things are not looking good for them. 

A recent Mintel report says the US dairy category will see a continuous sales decline, in contrast to its strong growth in 2014 when there was a combination of high milk prices, increased international demand, and dairy milk repositioning itself to align with health trends.

Who benefits from the Bustle article? Well the Bustle webzine of course. Anything that can boost readership must be smiled upon by their advertisers. Also Rachel Krantz, the author who wrote it. (Hopefully she got paid for it.) And possibly companies like Silk, the folks who make that thinly flavored almond milk. Any darts thrown at the dairy industry surely must delight them.

Conclusion

Which of these two articles can you believe? With so many contradictory studies in tow, they end up confusing rather than helping us.

Truth is ever elusive. For me, it boils down to personal experience. Half my life ago I stopped consuming dairy and almost immediately felt the effects.  I felt less sluggish at the end of the day, and lost weight and managed to keep it off. Others on the internet have reported similar (but unquantifiable) effects: more energy, decreased sugar urges, fewer and less severe colds. Try going off it yourself for a month and see what happens.

What also helps me decide is the bad state of my credulity. It was dealt a knockout blow a long time ago by a healthy skepticism toward powerful corporations and interest groups like the American Dairy Association. Remember them? Fifty years ago they flooded the airwaves with ads like this: “You never outgrow your need for milk.” These days I don’t know anyone who still drinks their recommended three glasses of milk a day. This skepticism has served me well during my 9-to-5 years working for big corporations, and today, whenever I watch the national news.

In the end, deciding what to believe and consume is up to you, not research articles.  You’re going to have to do your legwork with a skeptical eye. I can’t do it for you because frankly, I don’t have the time.

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Jobsite Theatre’s Threepenny Opera’s Worth More Than That

Each new production of The Threepenny Opera is worth seeing. This one is no exception.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA. Opera by Kurt Weill, libretto by Bertolt Brecht. Directed by David M. Jenkins. Cast: Jennifer Casler: Bob the Saw / Ensemble; Colleen Cherry: Streetsinger / Betty; Spence Gabriel: Crookfinger Jake / Ensemble; Amy E. Gray: Jenny Diver; Jonathan Harrison: J. J. Peachum; Chelsea Hooker: Rev. Kimball / Coaxer / Ensemble; Chris Jackson: Macheath, “Mack the Knife”; Fo’i Meleah: Celia Peachum; Spencer Meyers: Streetsinger / Readymoney Matt; Giselle Muise: Polly Peachum; Maggie Mularz: Lucy Brown / Ensemble; Derrick Phillips: Tiger Brown; Alex Rivera: Smith / Walt / Ensemble; Olivia Sargent: Dolly / Ensemble; Katrina Stevenson: Molly / Ensemble; Ryan Sturm: Filch. 

Each new production of The Threepenny Opera is worth seeing. This one is no exception. Continue reading “Jobsite Theatre’s Threepenny Opera’s Worth More Than That”

Book about a Beautiful Bridge

Not just a tribute to a beautiful bridge, but a thorough history of it.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge: Spanning Tampa Bay. By Nevin D. Sitler and Richard N. Sitler. Paperback. The History Press.

Ten years ago my wife and I toured Tampa Bay, looking for a place to retire. When we passed over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, we were amazed at the breathtaking ride across this stunning suspension bridge that unites Pinellas County with Manatee County. But my first thought was: “How exotic! We’re not in New England anymore. This is Florida.” Continue reading “Book about a Beautiful Bridge”

A Wry Look at the Indignities of Life

Why not write your autobiography? Don’t. Try this instead.

Keith Connes’ Latest Book

Not Your Everyday Memoir! : Humorous Essays, Lies, Rants, Short Stories and More! by Keith Connes

You’re a writer and you’ve clawed your way to the senior rung of life. But you probably haven’t gotten there without hearing at least one acquaintance suggest: “You have such wonderful stories! Why not write your autobiography?”

Don’t. Autobiographies are boring. Continue reading “A Wry Look at the Indignities of Life”

The ClearViewer Optical Viewfinder: A Cure for the Two-Handed Wobble

For years this simple truth has dogged me. There are two problems with digital cameras that lack viewfinders.

For years this simple truth has dogged me. There are two problems with digital cameras that lack viewfinders (or have poorly designed ones). Continue reading “The ClearViewer Optical Viewfinder: A Cure for the Two-Handed Wobble”

Tales of Hoffman Taller Than Ever

Waste no pity on Offenbach because he has only one opera in the repertoire (and for dying before he could see it). This one’s a doozy.

Jacques Offenbach

TALES OF HOFFMAN. Opera by Jacques Offenbach, libretto by Jules Barbier. Cast: John Kaneklides (Hoffmann), Kathleen Shelton (The Muse / Nicklausse), Kelly Curtin (Olympia), Lara Lynn McGill (Antonia), Tara Curtis (Antonia’s Mother), Susan Hellman Spatafora (Guilietta). Stage Director: Karl W. Hesser; Dance choreographyer: Daryl Gray; Costume designer: Glenn Breed; Conductor and executive director: Mark Sforzini. Produced by St. Petersburg Opera.

Jacques Offenbach composed over 100 operas. But waste no pity on him because he has only one in the repertoire (and for dying before he could see it). Tales of Hoffman, based on three short stories by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, is immortal, right up there with (many of) Giuseppe Verdi’s operas. Any company that performs it must not only be faithful to its strikingly original music, but also tackle its adventurous staging. I’m happy to say the St. Petersburg Opera delivered the goods on both. And boy did it ever. Continue reading “Tales of Hoffman Taller Than Ever”

Five Minutes with an Artist: Laine Nixon

What is Laine Nixon’s exhibition Becoming Unfinished all about? What does the title mean? And what’s the theme?

Zuhanden 14 by Laine Nixon

LAINE NIXON. BECOMING UNFINISHED. Gallery 221 (Hillsborough Community College, Tampa, FL). May 15 – June 29, 2017. For more info, visit the gallery web site.

What is Laine Nixon’s exhibition Becoming Unfinished all about? What does the title mean? And what’s the theme? Continue reading “Five Minutes with an Artist: Laine Nixon”

Before There Was Before, Poems by Wendy Drexler

Before There Was Before

“A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom,” Robert Frost famously said. Happily, most of the poems in Wendy Drexler’s Before There Was Before follow Frost’s advice. The ones that don’t simply stay at delight. And some, through their attitudes and themes about the natural world, are distinctly Frostian. Consider her poem “All These Years.” Using lush imagery, she describes the decay of leaves and trees, “bark peeled raw, the tree unhinging.” Then, in a final stanza, she enlists a verbal arabesque that would have stunned old RF: “Haven’t I been careless/expecting better,/or more, or something else, aren’t I always trying/to strip the sky bare?”

Or how about the poem “Relationship Theory,” in which she relates the well-documented symbiosis of alligators “protecting” islands of birds from predators. All they expect in return are a few hatchlings they knock from trees. “Hard to tell, exactly,” Drexler muses, “if protection always comes at such a price . . . and what did I know,/ when I married young/perched out on the end of a pliant and precarious branch?” It’s a deft use of extended metaphor, the way she welds the human condition to details she observes in her world. Even crickets and beetles offer insight through her well-honed imagination. The cricket chirps in the early morning searching for something, like the young family she encounters crying at the bus stop for a father who won’t return, or the dead beetle in her basement whose life she wonders about: “And refused what? And raced where?/Sought what solace scuttling?”

Unlike her first volume, Drive-Ins, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels, not many of these poems are straight-on autobiographical. However, the few that are pack a wallop, as my uncle used to say. “The Book of Apology” begins simply enough, almost prosaically.

The last time I saw my mother I was reading
         on the patio, when she came out,

cinching her bathrobe around her,
        her wrists thin as a wren’s . . . .

Then, Drexler plunges deeply into self-reflection and the springs of guilt well up.

I didn’t really want to understand
        that she had just opened the door 

the dying must pass through to leave us
        And what did I do or say to her then?

The ending, too intense to reproduce here, is guaranteed to provide sufficient gooseflesh for the most hardened reader.

One year before the twentieth century, a modern writer first used what I call the what-next? strategy to end his writings. Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog (1899)” is about an affair between a Russian banker and a young lady he meets while vacationing in Yalta. The lovers, plunged in secrecy and deception, are at a loss about what to do. Here is the last sentence:

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

That’s it. This classic what-next? offers no clues. Drexler uses the same technique with characteristic finesse. In “The Birch,” she leaves us with her five-year old self, trying to make sense of her parents splitting up. (Back then they were called “broken homes.”) She finds a children’s book in the closet, one with a picture of a dog, “his front and back legs/outstretched, running hard.” There the poem ends. No resolution, nothing but bleak abandonment and endless running. In “The Whole Spent World Comes Rushing Back” she describes a great blue heron, “in the broth of silt and moldering leaves,” catching a frog.

From the cave of her mouth, the frog flails, kicks,

       flashing white, the belly refusing to surrender,

everything at stake in the long stretch and gape.

There it ends. Did the frog escape? Drexler doesn’t say. She’s lead us into the room of this poem where we wander its intricate walls, and then shown us the door. But unlike the definitive and ironic and kicker endings we expect most poetry to have (and some of hers do), she doesn’t completely close the door. She leaves it open a crack. We can still look back in and, to paraphrase Keats “tease ourselves out of thought.” Therein lies its infuriating charm.

I wish the book were illustrated, as least for the black & white photographs she writes about, like “Photo of Serbian Women, circa 1920” and “Nazi Photograph.” Unlike the famous paintings she also writes about, they seem impervious to Google.

Finally, Before There Was Before contains humor. Quirky humor. The humor that the poet in us relishes. In “Out on the Plaza” Drexler the world traveler forges a sardonic conceit. Street vendors try to sell her a “coin purse​/made from the skin of a stingray.” They proudly declare that it’s

Farm-raised in Italy, the man says
Waterproof, the man says.

The eye needs something to lean on.

The humor advances one step further. In “Squirrel Eating the Milky Way” she conflates the mundane with the vast universe and . . . ah, but this is where I get off. You’ll have to buy the book to taste these creative metaphors.