The story of milk has no beginning. It’s a timeless centerpiece to our existence, our first food. While we incubate inside our mothers, being fed through her umbilical, her body is also hard at work producing sustenance to support us upon our entry to the outside world. Breast milk builds our immune systems, feeds us high levels of protein, vitamins and minerals; as well it connects mother and child in a post-gestational bond critical for survival.

All mammals produce milk to support their fragile offspring: kittens, piglets, fawns, calves and human babies alike, all nurse until strong enough to chew. While humans demonstrate many obvious differences from our fur-covered relatives, one of the most striking peculiarities is our lifelong relationship with the teat, or more precisely: other animals’ teats. Perhaps the human addiction to mammalian excretions lies in our fear of death, creating a subconscious longing for the security of mother and her comforting nipple. This obsession has birthed a cattle dependency ad nauseam, mimicking the soothing liquid of our infancy, deviating cow milk into “foods” like Cheez-Wiz and Pudding Pops.

Since our warm-blooded cousins, like us, produce milk for the nourishment of newborns, a female must be pregnant in order to begin lactation. As I type this, millions of cows are being impregnated (many times over), in order to keep squirting out the pre-homogenized Haagen Dazs flavor of the month, movie popcorn drizzle topping, pepperoni and sausage melted platform. The baby cows that are eventually born will themselves become milk machines, or in the uneventful gender destiny as male, imprisoned veal calves, steer if they’re lucky.

It has been speculated that every human on earth is essentially lactose intolerant. It’s an easy assumption, for it would be silly to suggest that humans are cows, or even slightly resemble them (aside from a few obvious heifers like Rush Limbaugh and that lady from the Jenny Craig commercials), yet Americans are completely doped up on cow goo. Drinking milk meant for baby bovine is not only creepy, but also potentially risky. Duh. What the heck are we doing guzzling this stuff? Think in this context: What would happen to a polar bear if it spent its whole life drinking elephant milk? Imagine a full-grown cow sipping giraffe milk. It’s entirely nonsensical, yet without a second thought, “modern” mothers opt to forego breast feeding at all, supplanting their essential nutrients with synthetic formula cow/soymilk cocktails.

We weren’t drawn to drink the milk of other animals until about six thousand BC, about the same time our cognitive dissonance was setting in. We were spread out and often isolated communities; world population was about half the number of all the people living in New York City right now. We were waking up to being awake, developing skills like making bowls and seeing value in sparkly things. We liked drawing pictures on cave walls. Food was still primarily hunted/gathered, but beekeeping and farming methods began to make sense and were changing the complexion of the tribal setting.

It’s a substantial point in time for developing a taste for animal milk. As the human mind began to authenticate its circumstance – which for all intents and purposes was one of being stranded in a big and strange world – the quest for consolation reverted back to that lifeline, the place before the confusion. Only instead of women being farmed for their milk, there were goats, sheep and cows forced to coddle the fearful minds of man. This archaic practice was a reaction to some very primal fears, which are certainly justifiable, but in comparison to how elaborate this obsession derailed our development, perhaps I should be writing this story on my apartment walls instead of on this computer.

I’m a woman speculating here, but it seems that if humans were smart enough to figure out they were humans figuring things out… then women were smart(er) enough to recognize the sanctity in the mother-infant relationship was not something meant to be perpetuated into adulthood. It’s probably why there aren’t gallons of 2% human breast milk or pints of Mrs. Mammary’s ice cream for sale in Kroger.

Now, eight thousand years later, willing or not, it is pretty darn hard not to get hooked on the cream. We’re a milk saturated culture thanks to good marketing (or rather, “branding”) and an Orwellian abundance of subsidized milk by-products disguised in dozens of names like whey, lactose and casein, found in everything from candy bars to bread to the more obvious selections like our processed cheese mania and yogurt-covered yogurt stuffs.

It’s important when talking about milk to address the corn and soy industries. Here’s why: Cows eat corn and soy (and sometimes other cows who ate corn and soy). They eat so much of it that the whole darn planet could be fat and happy on what we feed to our livestock, with mountains of the stuff left over. The dairy (and all livestock) industry is essentially a laundering operation for GM corn and soy growers. As long as there is a demand for animal products, there will be demand for soy and corn. Folks like Monsanto are counting on it (they also produce the really gnarly hormone rbGH used to enhance milk production which also causes 7 year old girls to start getting their periods) and so are Archer Daniels Midland, who along with Cargill control 65% of the world grain market, buying at heavily subsidized prices, the brunt of those sales of course falling to taxpayers while ADM and the lot makes gazillions of dollars. (Soy subsidies in the U.S. from ’95-’05: over $10 billion, corn: more than $50 billion.)

The story of corn from its humble origins to its modern (genetic) modification mayhem is an interesting one to say the least, shining light on the ways in which farmers have become harvesters of a fascinating and extremely versatile crop; but one that also spares no suffering, from the millions of animals it feeds who are tortured and killed every day to the millions of farmers exposed to harmful chemicals, pesticides and often unlivable profits growing corn. The creation of terminator seeds in corn (and soy), have made farmers dependent on purchasing new seed supplies every year and the real threat of lawsuits exist for farmers if there is any accidental cross-pollination from GM crops to theirs.

It is no wonder that in all of our curious explorations (read: exploitations) of nourishment, we’ve come to develop high levels of sensitivity including the even occasional fatal allergic reactions to certain foods. The top seven most common allergen causing foods being: corn, soy, wheat, eggs, shellfish, nuts and dairy. Eggs and dairy (and now even some farmed fish) just condensed forms of corn, soy and wheat.

Soy, like corn is inherently good for us, loaded with fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but its ornate bastardization has devalued it to a subsidized crop primarily for big meat, egg and dairy industries and a science project for the deranged minds at Monsanto. And in a crushingly sad destiny, in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, thousands of acres of old growth Amazonian rainforest are being clear-cut to monoculture soy for animal feed. This is modern farming at its most bizarre. Cut down thriving forests filled with food to grow food to feed to animals to torture and kill to make into essentially less food than what was started with? Come again?

But still, in the last ten years, soy has had a slightly more honorable destiny than corn despite its highly allergenic effects (estimated 20% of population has soy sensitivity). It has educated consumers on the unhealthy risks of drinking dairy. I’m referring of course to soymilk. White Wave, makers of Silk soymilk went from nearly going out of business to becoming synonymous with “dairy alternative” pushing soymilk into mainstream consciousness. Every Starbucks now offers Silk and even the most heinous grocery stores no longer only offer Lactaid as the dairy alternative (lactose, the sugar in cow milk that causes the allergy is removed, but it’s still dairy milk), but often several soymilk and other non-dairy options (rice, almond, oat). Eliminating the discomfort associated with lactose intolerance no doubt makes for happier people, and happy people do nice things. There is a direct correlation between what we eat and how we act. But soy is a sour cream if you will, its healthful human benefits duly noted, but they’ve become overshadowed by the sinister seed manipulation, rainforest destruction, and of course the subsidies eroding economic stability.

But like all good stories, this one too might just have a happy ending after all. If the evil villain is Mutant Milk (Mootant?) who has a long and sordid history with the beloved King Soy and Queen Corn, then the valiant hero is: Hemp. Like the once noble corn and soy, revered and cultivated for their many benefits to humanity, hemp has much more to offer and less to fear. Though its appearance seems somewhat recent, it’s actually a resurgence. Hemp has a long history with humans, dating back before our development of agriculture. It was a staple crop in this country; virtually every landowner grew it for cordage, clothing and food; the first American flag was hemp; Henry Ford constructed a car made entirely of hemp resin. But as the industrial revolution aimed to stop people from being self-sufficient and become corporate-reliant, hemp was eventually forced out of the country. It was too easy to grow, too many uses. Its sister Marijuana, cited as too seductive and threatening to the morality of the country. So hemp was banned and fell out of consciousness for decades, kind of like in Samurai movies where the hero disappears and everyone thinks he died but he’s really off in the mountains training with a master so he can come back and avenge the disgraces to his family.

Ah yes, we’ve now come to that scene.

If you’ll recall, this is a story about milk. But it’s also a story about the human condition and a subconscious longing for comfort. Eight thousand years is quite a long time. The cow milk phenomenon has engrained habits into our culture and we seek to maintain some semblance of familiarity, even in healthy alternatives like soy. Now, finally, hemp milk has arrived. This is a huge moment for the evolution of human consciousness. That’s a bold statement when talking about a non-dairy milk product, I know, but I’m not over-dramatizing. The truth is, we are what we eat. I know way too many Doritos to be wrong on this one. Hemp milk is everything cow milk isn’t, but was hoped to be.

Hemp grows too heartily to require pesticides or genetic modification. It contains 20% digestible protein, and 30–35% of the weight of hempseed is oil containing 80% unsaturated essential fatty acids (EFAs), linoleic acid (LA, 55%) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 21–25%). These oils are not manufactured by the human body and must be supplied by food. They’re crucial for healthy brain function, which contributes to our ability to respond intelligently and perhaps, even compassionately, to the world around us.

Hemp is also non-allergenic unlike soy, dairy, nuts or even rice, all of which have made up our milk products until now. This highly nutritious superfood has arrived at a point in time where we are facing a devastating climate crisis largely due to the millions of factory-farmed animals. It’s true. The methane and pollution from industrialized animal agriculture is the number one cause of global warming. ( Just one cow produces 120 pounds of waste each day. There are over ten million dairy cows in the U.S. (And in just the U.S., more than thirty million beef cattle and more than a hundred million pigs.)

Eight thousand years ago we developed a taste for mucus-creating, digestion-disturbing cow milk in our search for comfort from this crazy world. But instead of peace of mind, we’ve since warred incessantly, enslaved people and animals and all but completely destroyed the bountiful planet we call home. Just imagine what the next eight thousand years hold for us now that we’ve discovered a truly nurturing alternative.

[Note: Whole Foods is now carrying the first-ever organic hemp milk called Hemp Bliss. It’s simply divine, and if you thought that it couldn’t get any better, yes it comes in chocolate, too. – JE]