In the short period of time that I have graduated from SAD (Standard American Diet) to being health conscious, I have read countless hours of arguments for and against drinking cow’s milk. Vegans and vegetarians alike will claim that we are not biologically built to drink milk past infancy, and cow milk is meant only for baby cows. While I acknowledge that many people have digestive issues that require them to abstain from dairy products, I myself have taken breaks (click here for my video on almond milk). History shows that milk from animals such as cows, sheep, and goats was an important part of our ancestor’s ability to thrive. Isolated Swiss villages attributed their survival through harsh winters on cheese. During the winter, nutrients are chiefly obtained from cheese made from the milk gathered when the cows are grazing in spring. As the snow melts, tender green grass located near glaciers is revealed. The villagers knew that this milk would contain the highest amounts of vitamins and minerals to sustain life year round.
Not All Milk Created Equal
I believe that milk can be a wonderful and supportive addition to our diets, but the distinction must be made between raw milk and industrialized milk. Anti-milk nay sayers will claim that milk is full of “blood, puss, and feces”. This is actually quite likely to be true for the pasteurized milk found in your grocery store. These cows come from factory-like settings and are treated as machines, not living, breathing animals.
The cows here are not fed their natural diet but instead are supplied with a feed comprised of genetically modified corn, soybeans, and other grains, and no joke- bakery waste! Stale donuts, and wait for it… SKITTLES. I recently came across an article about a semi truck on its way to a dairy farm that had tipped over and spilled red skittles all over the highway. Taste the rainbow, folks.
Studies have been done on the vitamin content in raw, grass fed cow’s milk. These data show that during times of fresh green grass grazing, the vitamin content of butterfat was rich in vitamins A, D, and K2. These vitamins play an important role in nutrient assimilation within our bodies. Vitamin D for example is essential for calcium absorption. Durning winter months when cows are fed hay, the vitamin content was significantly reduced. One can only imagine what little value milk from cows who are never feasting on tender grass must have.
Another valid argument from the anti-milk crowd is the pollution of the environment. Factory farms do indeed lay waste to the land and those practices produce a product that mirrors the filth and discord that these animals inhabit. But we truly cannot lump all farms into this category. Biological and sustainable farming, in truth, do quite the opposite. Through best management practices these farms feed and nourish the land and recycle waste back into the system as nature has done for millennia. Soil, animals, plants, all live in symbiotic relationship with intuitive guidance from farmers, such as crop and pasture rotation. These cows are a true representation of the picturesque billboards depicting cows grazing in green pastures under blue sky and fresh breeze. Traditional Gaelic communities in Ireland utilized a semi-nomadic pastoral farming way of living. Fresh milk, soured milk, butter, and “bonaclabbe” (curds) was an essential part of the daily diet.
The industrial revolution set into motion a new way of living. Families living on adequate amounts of land would have been able to milk their own goats or cows and obtain milk themselves. With more and more people moving to cities and away from farms, foods had to be transported long distance. Less and less families were able to utilize the self sustaining way of homesteading. This increased the demand for these products to be produced and sold in a grocerystore-like setting and transported many miles. Without proper refrigeration some foods could spoil during transport. Mass production led to the factory farms described above where the main prerogative was “cheap and quick”. Packing in as many cows possible within the smallest amount of space was the goal. Infection within these facilities is rampant. To counteract this the cows are kept on antibiotics which indeed transfers into the milk. Additionally routine antibiotic use breeds super pathogens that become antibiotic resistant.
All of these factors and many more (this blog post could easily have enough content to become a book) led to the pasteurization of dairy products. The battle to ban sales of raw milk persists today and many states have declared raw milk illegal, claiming that raw milk is infected with pathogens such as Listeria, Campylobacter, and E. coli. I certainly would not drink milk raw from these industrialized farms, but let us set some things straight. Food poisoning cases from everyday foods such as deli meats and produce items far outshines those of dairy. The war has even gotten so scandalous as to accounts of deceitful media reporting. For example, in 2006 during a spinach recall due to E. coli, California officials blamed the illness of 4 children on raw milk from an Organic Pastures farm. Upon testing, the strain of E. coli guilty of causing the illnesses was never found. Even so, a FDA power point presentation contained slides blaming Organic Pastures on these illnesses.
A Nourishing Beverage
Prior to pasteurization, raw milk contains a plethora of bioactive components that discourage, and in some cases kill pathogenic bacteria. After pasteurization many of the vibrant attributes of raw milk are denatured. Folate’s carrier protein, for example, is inactivated during pasteurization. Raw milk contains easily absorbed fat soluble vitamins and minerals essential to a immune system that is rich in strength and vigor. Alive within the milk lies probiotics and enzymes to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Activated by the proper pH of the digestive tract, these enzymes do the work to digest the raw milk. Without these enzymes, pasteurized milk can be a huge burden on the digestive tract. It’s no wonder many people claim to to be lactose intolerant or dairy sensitive! An independent study in Michigan found that 82% of individuals diagnosed with lactose intolerance were able to tolerate raw milk.
Raw milk is a wonderful tool for healing. Many diets such as the GAPS diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) utilize raw milk to heal diseases of the body and mind. Countless articles on raw milk healing asthma, eczema and allergies can be found at the websites listed below. Additionally, a study of almost 1,000 young children in rural areas of Austria, Finland, France, Germany and Switzerland show that consumption of raw milk related to reduced incidences of respiratory tract infections.
Locating Raw Milk
I urge anyone interested in this rich resource to support local family owned farms and make the switch to raw milk. If your state has made it illegal to purchase raw milk you can go to http://www.realmilk.com to find a farm near you with a herdshare program. These programs allow you to obtain raw milk legally by becoming a shareholder of the farm. Entering this partnership gives a sense of community and reconnects us with our food. We once again form bonds that have all but vanished from our culture today. There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down to the dinner table and enjoying a meal that was cultivated with pride and joy.
You can see my video here on how to make a cultured dairy beverage called kefir!