There it is, our beautiful raw milk, supplied by our neighbors and new friends Zach and Marianne. We get two of these 1/2 gallon Ball jars full of deliciously sweet milk with the cream sitting on top. One gallon of standard, industrially produced milk in the grocery stores is $4.39 right now. We happily pay Zach and
Marianne $5 for a gallon, which feels like a steal to us! We like knowing that their three Milking Short-Horn and Jersey cows are pasture-raised, eating hay and alfalfa in the winter, and that they are treated with respect and care.
Not all milk is created equal. This is something that I've known for a long time, but am only learning about from a scientific perspective more recently. When I was a kid we got raw milk for a while from a local farm, and I have fond memories of skimming the cream off the top to have with fresh-picked strawberries in June. That was when I first learned how much better raw milk tastes.
Then, when I was a senior in high school, I had my first education in factory farming via an outraged friend. After seeing graphic photographs of what the chicken and beef looked like before it reached my plate eliminated any appetite for meat for the next few years. Over time I began to eat meat again, (prompted at the time by international travel and a lousy break up) but have remained an uneasy carnivore ever since.
What many people don't know is that the dairy industry is just as industrialized as the meat industry. The modern dairy farm has thousands of cows who live in very tight quarters in enormous hangers. Most of them literally never see the sky or eat grass. Cows are grazers, but on modern dairy farms (even most small ones) they are now fed a corn-based diet with plenty of other nasty scraps mixed in, which changes the acidity in their stomachs, causing heightened levels of bad bacteria. This then necessitates that the milk must be highly processed. When milk is pasteurized is is heated to temperatures as high as 280 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills not only the bad bacteria, but all of the good bacteria and most of the vitamins and nutrients as well. The calcium that remains has been so transformed by that point that it is difficult for our bodies to process it. Vitamin D is then added back in artificially, but much of the immune-boosting benefits are lost for good. Additionally, because cows weren't designed to thrive in close quarter eating non-grass food they need heavy doses of antibiotics to keep them healthy, which are certainly passed into the milk. Furthermore, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is used to up the amount of milk each cow produces. RBGH has been blamed for altering the hormonal balance of humans, especially women, and bringing the age of the onset of puberty down into the single digits for girls.
Raw milk has it's risks, but when you know it's source and trust that the farmers are using careful sanitation and able to keep close track of the health of their cows, the risks are vastly diminished. Many raw milk producers are unable to find any traces of E-Coli and other dangerous bacteria in their milk or cows. When the FDA freaks out about raw milk, they aren't talking about the product we get from Zach and Marianne, but about industrially produced milk on it's way to pasteurization. I wouldn't drink that stuff either! There are lots of good resources available about the health benefits of drinking raw milk. Check out the Sustainable Table web site's Dairy section, or the Weston A. Price Foundation's Real Milk campaign. Also, I highly recommend this article from Salon.com. The article concludes:
In the end, it seems, raw milk is a lot more complicated than the FDA and the AMA would have consumers believe. Like sushi, raw milk is a nutritionally rich food that can be contaminated if it's not fresh and prepared in an immaculate, sterile environment. Just as raw milk devotees buy their milk from farmers they know and trust, so sushi connoisseurs tend to patronize the same few high-end restaurants -- and know which days the fish is freshest. But the government isn't lobbying to make raw fish illegal (yet). That may have everything to do with sushi's status as an exotic Japanese import -- a food usually enjoyed (in this country) by city-dwelling adults. Milk, on the other hand -- wholesome, nourishing cow's milk -- is more than just a healthy beverage; it's a symbol of the American heartland. It's a drink Americans of all income levels feed their children unthinkingly. And the behemoth dairy industry -- in 2006, it made $20 billion from milk alone, according to the National Milk Producers Federation -- would like to keep it that way. As Dalrymple put it: "Milk is big business. When you think milk, think Exxon."
Meanwhile, the FDA has just announced that it's safe to eat meat and drink milk from cloned animals. In such an Orwellian universe, where raw milk from cows that have two biological parents is considered dangerous, while pasteurized milk from cloned cows is safe -- is it any wonder that a growing band of consumers don't trust FDA decisions?
What a crazy world we live in! So, got milk?