A Raw Deal

Raw Milk After Skimming Cream

Raw Milk After Skimming Cream

Dear Reader:

The sun is out after what seems like days of rain (we had a sunny break on Saturday, but much rain the previous week), my rosa rugosas are beginning to bloom, the chives blossoms weigh down the stalks, and my husband and I chipped enough brush on Saturday to provide me with plenty of mulch for the flower beds, around the garden boxes, and prepping ground for some additional bulb and apple tree planting at the end of the season.

This morning, I threw together a batch of 5-Minute A Day bread dough, and it is sticky and stretchy and springy–hopefully perfect for the round boule of crusty, moist artisan bread I’ll bake on a stone this afternoon. A dish of freshly-made, naturally-yellow butter sits in my ‘fridge beside a carton of eggs from Sarah’s chickens. I feel as if I’m getting into a rhythm here with these few, basic local foods–bread, butter, eggs, milk. Soon there will be strawberries from the farm up the road, lettuce from my garden, maybe some early peas at a farm stand. Isn’t summer wonderful?

Speaking of milk, I thought this would be a good time to talk about why I’ve chosen to buy my milk from a local farm. This milk is raw . . . refrigerated and clean but unpasteurized. If you’d asked me two years ago if I’d ever consider serving unpasturized milk to my child, I would have given you the “are you CRAZY?” eye. What I’d always heard–and you, too, probably–is that Louis Pasteur singlehandedly saved humanity when he discovered that by heating foods we can kill the bacteria in those foods rendering them much safer and healthier to eat. The USDA strongly recommends pasteurization. I would be remiss if I didn’t state that here. Before you make any decisions, please do your own research. There were once (and maybe still are in some instances) good reasons for heating milk to boiling and killing off a good deal of the bacteria found in it.

According to a Cornell University website: The process of heating or boiling milk for health benefits has been recognized since the early 1800s and was used to reduce milkborne illness and mortality in infants in the late 1800s. As society industrialized around the turn of the 20th century, increased milk production and distribution led to outbreaks of milkborne diseases. Common milkborne illnesses during that time were typhoid fever, scarlet fever, septic sore throat, diptheria, and diarrheal diseases. These illnesses were virtually eliminated with the commercial implementation of pasteurization, in combination with improved management practices on dairy farms. In 1938, milk products were the source of 25% of all food and waterborne illnesses that were traced to sources, but now they account for far less than 1% of all food and waterborne illnesses.

Note the sentence I’ve highlighted with bold print? According to Cornell University, at least, milkborn illnesses were not a big problem throughout history but only after we embraced industrialization which led to increased milk production and distribution in the late 1800’s–before adequate refridgeration, in other words. When people began to move into crowded city conditions, the relationship between humans and their food sources changed. Where once each family had a milk cow or two, now milk was being brought into the cities from outlying farms. Rather than a cow-to-table time of a few minutes, you had a cow-to-table time of hours . . . much more time for nasty pathogens to be fruitful and multiply. Good for the bacteria, but bad for the poor humans who ended up with diptheria.

The National Academy of Sciences Press published this little gem, backing up what raw-milk activists have been saying about the “secret history of milk.” I encourage you to click on the link and read it for yourself. It is brief, only a paragraph, but one sentence in particular stands out. The author states that prior to the late 1800’s, food items, with the exception of flour, were locally produced and purchased. One can presume, then, that it was only when we ceased to buy local milk did we begin to have severe outbreaks of diseases which led to government intervention in our milk supply and production which led to pasteurization.

So, what’s wrong with pasteruized milk, anyway? There is much to debate on this issue, but the fact is that when you heat milk, you destroy the “good” bacteria” which aids in digestion along with the “bad” bacteria which can lead to disease. The Weston A. Price Foundation campaign for Real Milk provides the following information/opinion with references:

Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity. Raw milk sours naturally but pasteurized milk turns putrid; processors must remove slime and pus from pasteurized milk by a process of centrifugal clarification. Inspection of dairy herds for disease is not required for pasteurized milk. Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat TB, infant diarrhea, undulant fever and other diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods. But times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection. And pasteurization does not always kill the bacteria for Johne’s disease suspected of causing Crohn’s disease in humans with which most confinement cows are infected. Much commercial milk is now ultra-pasteurized to get rid of heat-resistant bacteria and give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization is a violent process that takes milk from a chilled temperature to above the boiling point in less than two seconds. Clean raw milk from certified healthy cows is available commercially in several states and may be bought directly from the farm in many more. (Sources are listed on http://www.realmilk.com.) Click here to peruse the website yourself.

What led me to raw milk? Asthma and allergies. I visited a chiropractor in hopes of relieving some of my asthma symptoms, and the good doctor recommended I take a look at the Weston A. Price website. Learning that highly-processed milk can sometimes lead to allergies, especially in children, I decided to give raw milk a try. It wasn’t as if I’d never had raw milk before. My great-uncle ran a dairy farm for years, and my sister and I would often accompany my grandmother to “Unkies” farm to get a jar of milk from the big, square, steel cooler. Didn’t I love those little calves in their special room off to one side of the barn! And I distincly remember the big bull standing in his own pen with an actual metal ring through his nose. Amazing how peaceful and loving cows’ eyes are and how little and mean a bull’s!

For a little while my parents also bought milk from a farm. I remember hating the taste of that milk (having grown used to the blander stuff from the supermarket), so it was with trepidation that I sipped the raw milk from a nearby farm last summer. To my great amazement, the milk tasted wonderful! Rich, creamy . . . clean! My daughter loved it. Her friends who came to visit us loved it. I noticed a difference in my daughter’s digestive health almost immediately. I wasn’t so lucky with the asthma, but I still enjoyed the taste.

This milk was being produced and bottled by an organically certified farm in a town a thirty-minute drive from my home. The hours I could pick up my order were not convenient, and I wondered if the wastefulness of the gasoline could be justified. So, when I heard about a more local homesteader who was willing to sell her extra milk, I jumped at the chance. Laura and Nate run Down Home Farm in Parsonsfield, Maine. Check out their website here (I’ve also put it on the weblist over in the right-hand column for future reference).

Isabelle the Belmont Cow

Isabelle the Belmont Cow

Laura’s cows are small and brown and pretty. Even the bull is kinda’ cute. And the milk they produce is nothing short of a miracle. I skimmed the cream from this week’s jug and found I’d taken almost a fourth of the contents of my gallon! The resulting butter is naturally yellow. The cows are pastured so they can eat the grass that nature intended them to eat rather than grain silage that so often produces the rank smell of store-bought milk in winter.

The price of the milk is a little higher than the grocery store, but not by much, and I know I am paying not only for quality, but also for the support of a local farmer whose price is far above rubies. Where can you find local milk? Check this listing. Another good bet would be to go to a local, independent natural food store and ask. The proprietors of these establishments are a great resource for all things natural, organic, and local. If we seek out and support local farmers like Laura, we strengthen our local economy and preserve our local food supply. I envision a day when once again all our food except for extras like olive oil, coffee, spices, and other luxury items comes from our local farms. Talk about homeland security!

Fresh From The Oven

Fresh From The Oven

Well, the bread is out of the oven, the outdoors is calling me, and class is dismissed. Tune in next week to talk about strawberry jam . . . Outside the Box.

5 responses to “A Raw Deal

  1. What a great article. I hope it gets others thinking about raw milk. I started looking into when my son was a few months old. He had soy and milk allergies and since I was nursing I had to cut a lot from my diet. In researching I found a lot of information about raw milk and gave it a try. He didn’t have a single problem and I love it. Now I buy it when I can get it conveniently and sometimes settle for local pasteurized milk. I still debate whether we should even be drinking milk from another animal but I just can’t bring myself to quit (even though I did for almost a year and never felt better). So I will probably give raw milk to my son when he’s ready to wean and will continue drinking it during future pregnancies.

  2. Hi Becky–What an amazing story about your son and his reactions to the different milks! Some people are naturally milk-intolerant, especially from people whose ancestors did not use dairy products in their diet. When I gave up drinking milk and eating all dairy products for a period of nine months, my eczema cleared up and hasn’t come back yet, even though I now drink some of the raw milk and eat some regular cheese. I weigh the pros and cons–calcium and certain vitamins and other nutrients vs. drinking a substance meant for baby cows–and try to split the difference.

    I feel better giving my daughter the raw milk as it doesn’t contain hormones and antibiotics, and it really aids her digestion. If you need milk on a regular basis, Laura says she still has extra for new customers this year.

  3. Shelley – Thanks for the link to find raw milk near me. I am trying to learn how to make some cheeses and found many people swear by starting with raw milk. I will be interested to see if it makes any difference. It is on my list to try to find this weekend!

  4. I’ll be picking up my first gallon of raw milk this weekend after finding a local source.

    Though I find it absolutely absurd that producers must label their milk for pet consumption only. As an adult capable of making my own decisions, I should be able to decide if I want to purchase and drink raw milk. I don’t need government to make that decision for me.

    My grandmother milked cows and for a time my mother had a milk cow too… so I had many a glass of raw milk as a child. There’s nothing that can compare. I’m looking forward to having it again and also to trying my hand at making butter and perhaps cheese as well.

    • I’d love to hear more about your cheese-making adventures. Stop in again and give us an update! It would be nice if consumers and citizens could make their own choices AND take responsibiliy for their own choices. It’s a two-way street.

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