This cute infographic on calcium is making the vegan rounds lately. At first it seems like an innocuous way to address the “where do you get your calcium” question. Think about it further, and you can see the danger of presenting data like this.
Here’s the thing: 100 grams of raw chopped greens is about a cup and a half. That’s a lot to consume at one sitting. 100 grams of whole almonds is almost a full cup. 100 grams of parsley is about one and two-thirds cups. But 100 grams of liquid (such as milk) is only about a half cup, give or take.
Comparing a small volume of fluid to a large volume of plant foods is a losing game – if you want the plants to come out ahead.
(And don’t get me started on the charts that compare nutrients by calorie count; they’re even worse. You’ll be eating two and a half cups of raw kale to get to 100 calories.)
There is a problem looking at nutrition through a reductive process that defines and judges the merits of a food based on its individual nutrients. Milk does in fact contain a number of substances that bodies need in order to function. It is, after all, the ideal food for vulnerable mammal babies. Based solely on these individual nutrients, milk’s “nutritional profile” is overall pretty good, and a couple swallows of milk is an efficient way to deliver those nutrients. Yes, milk also contains many substances that are not nourishing, dangerous in high doses, and frankly disgusting. But if we’re merely looking at the “box scores,” as these infographics encourage us to do, milk would be considered a healthy food.
This seemingly anti-vegan rant helps illustrate why an ethical argument for veganism, not a health argument, works best. People will not be won over based on faulty or misleading nutritional claims (nor should they be). If they are, it won’t be for long. Nutritional science is still an evolving field of study. Research and evidence is scant, difficult to interpret, even contradictory.
Food processing is an evolving industry as well, so we may see a day when cow’s milk is engineered to provide the most calcium per gram of any substance the world has ever seen. The ethics, however, are bulletproof. Consuming milk is cruel and unjust. It is cow slavery. The end.