Serve with Love.

I owe my nutrition career to ice cream.

This delectable dessert has been the crème de la crème of my life’s experiences, priming me for a love of whole foods, artisan creations and a career in nutrition. 

It started with a cow fixation at age 7 while visiting a dairy farm. Ages 8-14 took me through building a mechanical cow that mooed, blinked its eyes and swished its tail, touring the Ben & Jerry’s factory, a research paper on barn architecture, and my high school woodshop iteration of Elsie the Borden Cow. At 20, I had a powerful connection with an Interlaken cow on a magic mushroom trip in Switzerland.

You get the picture.

 At age 22, a medical intuitive “diagnosed” me with lactose intolerance. The only way I would know for sure would be giving up dairy – my first real effort at improving my health with body awareness. Besides the weight-loss-around-the-middle bonus, my gastrointestinal tract, immune system, respiratory system and brain were so happy!

Still, I miss dairy ice cream. It epitomizes the good times of childhood. On our family’s backcountry dude ranch, we hand-spun fresh cream with the wild huckleberries we kids painstakingly picked in the shade of the late summer pines. In town, ice cream was an after-dinner ritual or a pacifier after the day’s turmoil. In adulthood, ice cream still transports us from life complications to youth and simpler times.

But times have changed and, along with its industrious digression, my nihilist-nutritionist-mom-perspective has tainted the childlike essence of ice cream. I cringe at the direction of the mega-dairy industry, its sordid treatment of cows, environmental contamination, and intentional misrepresentation of public health knowledge. From what I know about cellular hunger, I abhor the unnecessary overdose of preservatives, food coloring and refined sugar.

Today’s ice cream is no longer a gastronomical pleasure.

Dairy is a big nutrition topic, a crucial environmental issue, and a gigantic economic industry. Idaho is the 2nd biggest dairy producing state in the country, recently drawing in the largest yogurt producer to build its headquarters only 70 miles from my home. To get there, the highway passes through endless acres of black & white cows, and no organic dairies or sustainable, pasture-raised dairy farms. Hence, it’s difficult to obtain high quality products.

Moms often ask me whether dairy is “good” for us and for our children. That depends on two things: the body and the dairy.

First, the body’s response to dairy results from a combination of genetics and gut function. Upwards of 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant – they do not produce lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose (sugars in dairy). Our gut is affected daily by chemicals, metals, bacteria, parasites, medication, supplements, stress, inflammation and nutrient imbalances. Then our gastrointestinal organs weaken, challenging the body’s ability to break down and absorb food or to rid the body of preservatives, food coloring and environmental toxins frequently present in dairy – and especially prevalent ice cream.

Second, the quality of the dairy itself differs with its origin and processing. Sadly, dairy cows are downright unhealthy – upwards of 90% of cows live on a diet of genetically modified, pro-inflammatory and toxic corn, soy and cottonseed. Synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticide and herbicide exposure, plus toxic chemicals contaminate the milk. Once harvested, milk is modified: fats removed, sugars added.

Dairy is well marketed as “doing our bodies good”. But we’ve been tricked.

The adverse impact of dairy on human health is vast and well documented in scientific research. Briefly, conventional dairy is chock-full of harmful contaminants that disrupt hormone function, contribute to early-onset puberty and development, alter menstruation, encourage skin, respiratory and gut disorders, correlate with endocrine-related diseases, and lead to infertility.

I hope I didn’t just ruin dairy for you.

So, do my kids still eat ice cream? Yes! While my goal is to steer clear of conventionally raised, sugary, food-dyed ice cream imposters, I cannot provide idyllic ice cream every time we eat it. Even when I research and plan high quality ice cream into our day, I still manage to botch it up.

Last summer I took my kids to a local shop for the hand-spun ice cream made with pretty-darn-good-albeit-not-ideal quality cream, raw honey and real mint. Surprise! It was too labor intensive and expensive for this small shop to make and sell their own ice cream by the scoop, so our only option was to buy a leading brand. I said no. I was inflexible and stood my ground. I wanted my kids to experience real ice cream. Hell, I wanted real ice cream! Kids in hand, we walked out. I cried. They screamed. We all screamed.

After innumerable mama-kisses, and deep breaths, we walked to the grocery store for a pint of organic, pasture raised ice cream. We sat in the park and joyfully shared the ice cream with the sporks we keep in the car.

Since then, I have become somewhat more flexible, but mostly more proactive. I still look online, inquire of my foodie friends, and call ahead. I try not to assume or create expectations. When we happen to find a local shop that cares as deeply about crafted cream as I do, I am over the moon. But when we’re on vacation in Yellowstone or visiting relatives, I desperately try not to control or look at ingredients. Instead, I snap photos of my kids’ big smiles and messy faces.

Not all ice cream is made with love, but for me, food experiences are all about joy.