Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why do we drink raw milk?

Raw milk. Sounds gross, doesn’t it? And a little scary.

I’ll admit that we were very unsure about trying it. After doing the research, we decided to give it a go. We had to get on a waiting list, and our name came up sooner than we thought.

We bought our first gallon and brought it home. We shook it up to incorporate the cream into the milk and then poured a couple small glasses.

Matt being the brave guy out of the two of us, willingly sacrificed himself and took the first sip.

I watched to see his reaction and then waited to see if he’d keel over.

He said it was good (and he wasn’t doubled over in pain or running to the bathroom or vomiting uncontrollably) so I tried it.

And we’ve been drinking about a gallon a week ever since.

It’s been over two years now and we have no intention of going back. We get asked quite a bit why we drink it, so I’m taking the time to document some of what I’ve found that’s contributed to our decision to go raw.


Keep in mind that not all raw milk would be good to drink. If the milk were raw from a conventional dairy where the cows are confined and fed mostly grain, it could be pretty deadly because the treatment of the cow and the conditions it lives in require the milk to be pasteurized before it’s safe.

But, if the milk is raw from cows that are cared for and eat grass, it’s a very healthy option. That’s the kind of raw milk I’m talking about from here on out. Not just raw milk in general.

Benefits of Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk

These are a few of the benefits of raw milk vs. pasteurized milk (taken from Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck):

*Raw milk contains heat-sensitive folic acid and vitamins A, B6, and C.
*Raw milk contains important heat-sensitive enzymes: lactase to digest lactose; lipase to digest milk fats; phosphatase to absorb calcium, which, in turn, allows for the digestion of lactose.
*Raw milk has beneficial bacteria, including lactic acids, which live in the intestines, aid digestion, boost immunity, and eliminate dangerous bacteria.
*Raw cream contains a cortisonelike agent (the Wulzen factor), which combats arthritis, arteriosclerosis, and cataracts.
*Raw butter contains myristoleic acid, which fights pancreatic cancer and arthritis.
*Pasteurization creates oxidized cholesterol, alters milk proteins, and damages omega-3 fats.

From an article in Harper’s Magazine entitled “The revolution will not be pasteurized: Inside the raw-milk underground”:         

“Over the past fifty years, people in developed countries began showing up in doctors’ offices with autoimmune disorders in far greater numbers. In many places, the rates of such conditions as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease have doubled and even tripled. Almost half the people living in First World nations now suffer from allergies. It turns out that people who grow up on farms are much less likely to have these problems. Perhaps, scientists hypothesized, we’ve become too clean and aren’t being exposed to the bacteria we need to prime our immune systems.

“What we pour over our cereal has become the physical analogue of this larger ideological struggle over microbial security. The very thing that makes raw milk dangerous, its dirtiness, may make people healthier, and pasteurization could be cleansing beneficial bacteria from milk.”

So raw milk from grass-fed cows has more nutrition and beneficial bacteria.

And less pus.

Because the dairy industry can pasteurize the milk, it can get away with cows having infections and unsanitary conditions because all the stuff that could hurt people is killed off in the process.

But the gross stuff is still there.

So maybe it’s more nutritious and less gross, but is raw milk safe?

Safety of Raw Milk

One of the major objections to raw milk is that it will make you sick and kill you. 

We had to sign waivers in order to get our milk saying that we know we are going against government recommendations at our own risk. (Who needs skydiving if you’re drinking raw milk? We risk our lives to the degree of needing a waiver we run out of milk for the week.)

However, we got to thinking. How unsafe could it be when people drank raw milk for thousands of years and survived? If milk needed to be pasteurized to be safe, wouldn’t God have made it come out that way?

Pull up a chair and get comfy for this one. It’s a story on how pasteurization and homogenization came to be.  Quotes are taken from Real Food: What to Eat and Why.

Once upon a time, milk in the U.S. came from a family cow or a local dairy. But as cities grew, urban dairies began popping up.

“Owners put the dairies next to whiskey distilleries to feed the confined cows a cheap diet of spent mash called distillery slop. For distribution, the whiskey dairies were efficient: in 1852, three quarters of the milk drunk by the seven hundred thousand residents of New York City came from the distillery dairies. The last one in New York City (in Brooklyn) closed in 1930.

“The quality of ‘slop milk,’ as it was known, was so poor it could not even be made into butter or cheese. Some unscrupulous distillery dairy owners added burned sugar, molasses, chalk, starch, or flour to give body to the thin milk, while others diluted it with water to make more money. Slop milk was inferior because animal nutrition was poor; cows need grass and hay, not warm whisky mash, which is too acidic for the ruminant belly.

“As distillery dairies became common around 1815, contaminated milk caused fatal outbreaks of diseases including infant diarrhea, scarlet fever, typhoid, tuberculosis, and undulant fever (the human version of brucellosis). Infant mortality, often due to diarrhea and tuberculosis, rose sharply, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in New York City in 1839. Reformers blamed the outbreaks of disease on slop milk.

“Reformers suggested pasteurization to kill pathogens carried in milk. At first, no one suggested that raw milk itself was unsafe, according to Ron Schmid in The Untold Story of Milk — merely that milk should be clean. ‘Demands for pasteurization allowed for the continued production and sale of clean raw milk,’ writes Schmid, a naturopathic physician. ‘No one was claiming that all milk should be pasteurized, as even the most zealous proponents of pasteurization recognized that carefully produced raw milk from healthy animals was safe.’

“This view prevailed, briefly. When a raw milk ban was proposed in New York City in 1907, a coalition of doctors, social workers, and milk distributors defeated it, arguing that safe milk should be guaranteed by inspections, not pasteurization. In 1908, however, a panel of experts appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt concluded that raw milk itself was to blame for food-borne illness. That was the final blow. In 1914, New York required pasteurization of milk for sale in shops. Other states followed suit, and by 1949, pasteurization was the law in most places.”

So now that pasteurization was standard, a few new obstacles presented themselves, leading to the need for homogenization.

“In the Unites States, homogenization became common soon after pasteurization, largely because it solved two practical problems for the dairy industry. The first was the inconvenient separation of the milk and cream. With pasteurization it was possible to ship milk long distances, but the cream rose in transit, which meant the most valuable part of the milk — the fat — was unevenly distributed from one customer to another. Homogenization spreads the cream throughout the milk, so everyone gets a hare. The second problem was cosmetic. After pasteurization, dead white blood cells and bacteria form a sludge that sinks to the bottom of the milk. Homogenization spreads this unsightly mass throughout the milk and makes it disappear.”

So convenience and profit produced bad cows that produced bad milk that made pasteurization necessary.

Then fear made it widespread.

Then homogenization came into play to cover up the bad effects of pasteurization.

Doesn’t that seem like a lot more trouble to go to than to just go back to feeding cows some grass?

And what about the other food-borne outbreaks like spinach and peanut butter and ground beef? Supposedly those are happening under the watchful eye of the government that says raw milk is unsafe. Confused? I am.

Granted, things might get past people once in a while and there are occasionally outbreaks from raw milk, but according to this article, it’s way fewer than those that occur with pasteurized milk. 

Here’s another excerpt from the article in Harper’s Magazine that investigated a raw dairy farm that had been accused of E. coli contamination:

“The illnesses didn’t stop raw-milk sales. Even as the state ordered store managers to destroy the milk on their shelves, customers rushed in to buy whatever they could. Several Organic Pastures customers said regulators had simply pinned unrelated illnesses on the milk. They pointed out that siblings and friends of the sick children had drunk the same milk from the same bottles and didn’t get so much as diarrhea. Tests for E. coli in one of the milk bottles in question had also turned up negative.

“Lab results had found the exact same sub-strain of E. coli O157:H7 in almost all of the children who fell ill after drinking unpasteurized dairy. Yet McAfee remained unfazed. How did it help to show that the bacteria from each patient matched, he asked, when one patient, an eighteen-year-old in Nevada City, claimed he hadn’t drunk the milk? The disease trackers I talked to explained this by saying that sometimes germs move indirectly. Someone else in the family spills a little milk. You wipe it up. Then you wipe your mouth. But there was another theory I’d been hearing from scientists working to explain why O157:H7 had burst onto the scene in the 1980s with such virulence. Maybe, they said, it wasn’t that the bacteria had changed but that we had changed. In Brazil outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 are unheard of, though the bacteria exist there. A pair of recent studies show that Brazilian women have antibodies protecting them against O157:H7 and that they pass these antibodies to their children through the placenta and their breast milk. I found this interesting, especially in light of the fact that in every case I learned about, the victims of the Organic Pastures outbreak had just started drinking McAfee’s milk. Perhaps those who had been drinking the milk longer had developed the antibodies.

“It’s an old story,’ McAfee said. ‘You see it again and again in the lists of outbreaks. City kids went to the country, drank raw milk, and got sick; country kids didn’t get sick.’ But, I pointed out, this explanation still implicates Organic Pastures. McAfee shook his head. ‘Look, if I made four kids sick, I made four kids sick. But show me the 50,000 kids I made healthy. We don’t guarantee zero risk. We aren’t worried about the .001 percent chance that someone will get sick; we are worried about the 99 percent assurance that you are going to get sick if you eat a totally sterile, anonymous, homogenous diet.’

“The problem for McAfee is that the .001 percent is shocking and visible. A dying child will make people change their behavior. The diseases that might stem from a lack of bacteria are much more subtle. They come on slowly. It’s difficult to link cause and effect. Businesses that contribute to chronic disease often flourish while businesses that contribute to acute disease get shut down. McAfee, now clearly incensed, dismissed this line of reasoning. “If my milk gets someone sick, I deserve some blame, but not all of it. People have to take responsibility for maintaining their own immune systems. And we have to look at an environmental level too. Where did these germs come from? E. coli O157:H7 evolved in grain-fed cattle. It’s amazing to me that we’ve sat by as factory farmers feed more than half the antibiotics in the country to animals and breed these antibiotic-resistant bacteria at the same time the food corporations are destroying our immune systems. I believe our forefathers would have grabbed their muskets and gone and shot someone over this. They would have had a tea party over this.”

So there are the health benefits to grass-fed raw milk. Add to those the fact that pasteurization and homogenization happened as what seem to be complicated means to righting a wrong as opposed to necessary for safety. And then throw in that pasteurization may even harm us by eliminating good bacteria and impairing our immune systems.

In our minds, that was 3 in the raw milk column, 0 in the pasteurized column.

Raw Milk Works Harder

One final reason we love raw milk is its versatility. We didn’t know about this until after we began drinking it, but whereas pasteurized milk goes rancid, raw milk goes sour. And when it does, you can still use it to make butter, cream cheese, yogurt and a host of other dairy products, which we’ve experimented with. So it seems you get more for your money all the way around.

Raw milk just makes sense to us, given all the above information and the fact that ultimately, we trust God’s design. Assuming men are being good, diligent stewards of His design, it seems to be perfectly safe.

And that, my friends, in a very big nutshell, is why we drink raw milk.

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