Imagine walking around school feeling like a kangaroo. No, I don’t mean you can jump up to twenty feet in one bound. I mean feeling like your stomach is so swollen that you could practically have a pouch to carry a little baby kangaroo. And the worst part of this discomfort? It’s just air.
Now imagine that you’re shopping at your local grocery store, someplace with a fairly decent selection of goods, and you’re reading off product labels. There is the hormone-free chicken, the peanut-free granola bars, the gluten-free rice crackers…oh yes, and the lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk? This just may be the answer to your stomach problem. Unfortunately, its high price and lack of availability leaves many Americans struggling with digestive pain, for while other allergen-free products get due stardom, milk remains left behind.
Lactose intolerance is more common than you might think. It’s different from a milk allergy, in which even a small dose of dairy product could cause a severe physical reaction, but produces the same implication: stay away from milk. Normally, the body produces an enzyme called lactase, which attacks the lactose molecules found in milk to break them down into two different sugars, glucose and galactose.
Most people are born with systems that efficiently produce lactase. Hence young children drink up milk greedily and we get exposed to those “Got Milk?” ads with the adorable mustachioed toddlers. However, come young adulthood, certain peoples’ bodies stop producing the lactase and instead send the lactose through the body in its unbroken state, causing a variety of painful symptoms that also tend to be embarrassing. Who wants to admit that they have chronic abdominal bloating, diarrhea, and nausea?
I mean, really, you’re telling me that because I indulged in my daily dose of calcium, I have to put up with hours of passing gas? Unfortunately, yes. According to lactoseintolerant.org, “For the 50 million Americans who are diagnosed with lactose intolerance, many simply avoid dairy at all costs in order to prevent any painful side effects.” Americans likely to be diagnosed are anyone beyond the age of 2, those with genetic predispositions, and African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. That’s a lot of people.
With all this evidence, it’s shocking that the food industry still has not caught on that this need must be addressed. Eating dry cereal in the morning and passing up a latte for green tea will not cut it, but neither will paying at least a dollar extra for lactose-free milk. The only difference between this milk and “regular” milk is that the lactose-free stuff has had lactase added to break down the sugars, resulting in a slightly sweeter taste. You would think that, with America’s ravenous sweet tooth, lactose-free milk would be a hot commodity.
The price and size of the carton have kept it from reaching that status. A look at Organic Direct’s website shows while a 64 oz container of organic whole milk costs $4.69, a 64 oz container of non-kosher (and not marketed as organic) lactose-free milk costs $5.89. No one wants to pay more and receive less. During my freshman year of college, I found that the majority of my meal plan dollars went towards buying soy milk at the campus convenience store. My friends were able to purchase reasonably priced gallons of regular milk, but I was stuck paying upwards of $5 for a measly container of the soy stuff.
Again, where is the representation? Starbucks, one of the most-visited coffee vendors in the country, doesn’t even offer lactose-free milk as an option. Getting soy milk as a substitute costs extra and alters the taste of the drink. And, if you’re unlucky enough to have a barista who forgets to add the soy, then for the rest of the day you’ll be suffering from severe nausea and gas. Starbucks says that it will prepare beverages “your way.” For 50 million Americans, that way needs to be lactose-free.