I have intended to write about our decision to drink raw milk for quite awhile now. I’ve struggled because my thought had been to provide a well researched post with links to scholarly information. I have not been able to do as such simply because there isn’t relevant research out there. I don’t mean research that supports my point of view, I mean that legitimate, peer reviewed research that examines and weighs the risks and benefits of raw milk versus pasteurized milk just doesn’t appear to exist – period! There’s research looking into what bacterias can grow in raw milk, but that’s about it.
I’m not going to argue the fact that bacteria can grow in raw milk. Indeed, raw milk can make one very sick. That said, this con is easily combatted by proper handling. Sanitation and cooling are key; we have a separate refrigerator in our kitchen that is several degrees colder than our main fridge so it can keep our raw milk at the right temperature.
This being the only research that one can reliably find, one must resort to their own logic and deductive reasoning when faced with the decision of whether or not to raise and consume raw milk, or whether or not to consume milk at all.
Obviously, our family does not subscribe to the last philosophy. Why? Well, cattle and goats have been domesticated for greater than 10,000 years. That’s many generations for humans, cows and goats to be working alongside each other, and for us to have been designed and adapted to consume their meat and dairy products. Unless you’re from a select few parts of Asia, where they have not been consuming milk all these generations, milk has been in our bloodline practically since we started walking this earth. But even in these parts of Asia, they are able to farm buffalo and consume their milk, and that’s without having many generations of human adaptation.
That said, dairy is often maligned for causing stomach and intestinal upset, high cholesterol, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes and any number of other afflictions and diseases. The link seems strong, as studies are often pretty conclusive. BUT…. what is milk? What is dairy? Do we even know what it is?
Stay with me on that question: what is dairy? We’ve been drinking milk for 10,000 years, and yet I’ve come to believe that we don’t know what it is. At least, not in the context of what our ancestors knew it to be.
Pasteurization has only been around for 150 of those 10,000 years. Heat treating the milk not only kills bad bacteria, it kills beneficial bacteria as well – the bacteria that’s good for your gut. Suddenly, through the mere act of pasteurizing milk, we’ve stripped it of one of its benefits, furthering it from the food we’ve been consuming for the 9,850 years prior.
Pasteurization isn’t the only thing that’s changed; so has how we feed our animals. Cows are meant to eat grass – exclusively. Goats eat a greater variety of plants than do cows, but green, leafy vegetation is still their primary diet. Wild grains would be the exception to the rule in the diet of wild cattle or goats. Nowadays, we feed our cows and goats soy and corn: empty calories. And that might be if the animal is lucky, as commercial animals are often have their diets padded with whatever is leftover. Recently, a dairy farm was caught feeding rejected red skittles as a way to supplement their cows’ diet with cheap feed. Red skittles? Manufactured from corn syrup and red dye? What kind of milk do you think this animal is going to produce? Sickly animals = sickly milk.
And no, this is not an urban legend. The link I provided is from National Geographic, and here’s Snopes on the matter. Snopes goes so far to explain that ice cream sprinkles are also used as a cheap alternative, costing only $160/ton.
Yet again, we’ve slipped further away from this excellent food product.
Something else that’s caused an effect has been the rise in popularity of skim milk. It’s low calorie, so it’s got to be healthy, right? Not so much. Whole milk is a mixture of all sorts of good things, such as vitamins, minerals, fats and sugars. Take one element (fat) away and you will have proportionately higher sugar. Not only that, but when you consume the milk sugars without the milk fat, it increases the rate of absorption of the sugar and causes for your blood sugar to spike. Over time, this can generate a number of issues ranging from heart disease to diabetes and more. And once more we’ve removed milk even further from its natural state.
Of course, we can’t not consider the state of the cows and goats themselves. Dairy animals have been bred for one purpose: yield. The vast majority of dairy cows are Holsteins, who are able to produce milk in great quantities, but at a cost. In Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food, he points out that lesser refined breeds of cattle, such as Guernseys, Jerseys and Brown Swiss, produce milk with much greater butterfat percentages that more closely resembles that of the wild cattle we originally domesticated to get our dairy from. This holds true for goats, as the commercial breed Saanans produce less butterfat than do other goat breeds.
Lastly: consider all the additives in your dairy products. We recently bought a carton of heavy cream from the store. Rachel was aghast when she saw the ingredient list on the back:
Even worse, consider what many people accept to be dairy products. Many of the cheeses we eat are processed cheese food at best and synthetic at worst. Check out the ingredients under the nutrition tab for Kraft cheese, and also check out the nutrition on Tostito’s cheese sauce. Now consider that the ingredients in the cheese we make at home includes milk, rennet and salt. Occasionally, there will be something else like vinegar depending on the type of cheese, but that’s about it.
I’m not afraid of long, scientific sounding names (lest we find ourselves frightened of something like dihydrogen monoxide), but the fact of the matter is:
This is not milk!
Between the despicable diets of the livestock, pasteurization, fat reduction and additives, the ‘milk’ that comes out of the supermarket is a heavily processed food. Of course it’s going to be bad for us! What else would we expect?
In all the studies done in regards to milk and the effect it has on the human body, it is safe to assume that pasteurized, commercial milk was the beverage in question rather than raw milk from a local dairy. What I would like to see is a peer reviewed, long term study with 3 groups: one that drinks pastured, raw milk, one that drinks pasteurized, commercial milk, and a control group that consumes no dairy. Such a study does not exist.
Why? I have a few theories. One: big agriculture doesn’t want for people to realize how bad their product is for us, and they’re the ones with the money to fund such a study. Secondly, it would be both foolish and a liability for any organization such as the USDA to recommend drinking raw milk over pasteurized milk. Though I may be a proponent of raw milk, I am fully aware of what dangers could be presented by producing raw milk en masse.
Frankly, I would never purchase raw milk from the grocery store. No, the thought of unpasteurized milk sitting in those great tanks is nauseating to me, as it would be a petrie dish for listeriosis and salmonella. If just one animal that contributed to those vats of milk was sick, or just one milker didn’t adequately wash their hands, the whole batch would be contaminated. But, out of a backyard where you know the 2 goats you’re getting milk from, you know they’re fed grass with appropriate amounts of grain, you know they’re healthy, and you know you’ve washed your hands, washed their udders and sanitized all equipment? Or if that’s not realistic, perhaps a neighbor or local co-op that does it? If you don’t trust your friends, relatives and neighbors, who do you trust with your food? Big Agriculture?
A man I once worked with grew up on a dairy farm. According to him, dairy buyers paid at such low margins that farmers would often drop a hose in the milk tank. In watering down the milk, they ‘increased’ their yield and therefore their profit. Remember, this is the same industry that feeds candy to cut costs! That’s not what milk is.
This is what milk is. This is a 10,000 year old tradition that we are happy to keep up.
That’s why we decided to do what we do.
*****My usual disclaimer: though our family feels strongly on this subject, this is still the internet, so be sure to use appropriate judgement when making your own decisions about what to eat and drink.