Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Raw Milk: An Introduction and Brief History

Seriously, where does one begin to discuss the benefits of raw milk? With it's history? It's benefits? The myths? Or how about the political war on raw milk? 

I know... too many questions. And too many answers. There are more books written on this subject than I realized! So, I selected two from Amazon and I'm about to dive into the subject. Not that I need convincing, but I need facts. Hard facts that I can lean on in a friendly debate, because whenever you mention you're a raw milk drinker, you typically get only one of two looks in return... gleams of admiration or stares of absolute stupidity. 

My recent poll leads me to think that most of you are fellow "drinkers" or wannabes. But alas, the laws restrain you or make it difficult for you to obtain this precious treasure. A few might even confess to having some contraband in their refrigerator at this very moment! That being the case, much of the "raw milk" info may be old news. However, please don't run off just yet. Your fellow sisters are in need of encouragement that this is worth hunting for! Your input is needed to help convince the rest that it's actually OKAY to drink raw milk.

Let me state what raw milk is and isn't. It isn't pasteurized (heated to kill all bacteria, destroying enzymes and diminishing vitamins) and it isn't homogenized (where the milk fats are broken down never to come together again.) Nothing has been added back in to make it "enriched" or "healthy". It's milk that comes straight from the cow or goat and consumed as God made it.  

That said, I think knowing some of the history is the logical place to begin. For example, people have had raw milk for centuries upon centuries and pasteurized milk didn't come on the scene until the late 1800's. So pasteurization is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. Knowing why pasteurization became necessary will help relieve a lot of fear, confusion, and ignorance on our part.

Due to a series of events (mainly the industrial revolution), people who originally lived in rural areas and had their own dairy cow or goat, were now living in the city and working in various industries. No longer did they have access to milk straight from their own livestock. Of course, someone with entrepreneurial ideas decided that they would keep cattle next to the newly popular distilleries and feed them the bi-product or waste from the spirits that were being made. And as you can imagine, they had to do some slight of hand type tricks to get the cows to consume the stuff; cut off water, food, etc.

Unfortunately, cows were not designed to consume this kind of thing (have we heard that before?) and the milk they started producing was poor in quality to say the least. Add to that the fact that the cattle were now confined and standing in their own feces, developing diseases (Hmmm... have we heard that, too?). This milk was sold and taken home where no refrigeration existed (not that it would have mattered at this point as the milk was toxic already) and it was treated much like it had been when people lived on farms. It seemed reasonable to do what they had always done, right? (Before anyone emails me, I understand that some distillers grains can be nutritious, but this was different. I'm assuming they didn't know any different, but it was one of those "too much of a good thing" moments along with the lack of sanitary conditions that created the disaster). 

You can imagine what happened from here. Children particularly started dying. And like good Americans, more than one person worked to solve it. But each had his own idea of how that should look. One individual, Dr. Henry Coit, worked to get dairy standards in place (apparently by farmers voluntarily agreeing to the standards, not forced). Another individual, Nathan Straus, felt that the new method of pasteurization recently developed by Louis Pasteur was the better route. Because of Straus' wealth, he was able to promote this scientific solution to a fearful American audience. 

I need to insert here that Louis Pasteur isn't the bad guy. He developed this process with good intent and for a different purpose all together - to prevent beer and wine from souring. And really, I don't think Straus had wrong motives either. I think he truly believed pasteurization was not only a viable alternative, but the best solution to an alarming crisis. Both Straus and Hoit had lost children to the deadly milk and I'm sure they wanted to make a difference. 

Photo Credit: sweetbeatandgreenbean

Today, we are better able to step back and look at the evidence that has continued to build since the late 1800's and make a more informed choice. However, I feel three big factors prevent Americans from waking up to the truth:

1) Ignorance. This stuff happened generations ago. I had no idea about the information I just wrote until a few years ago. We have been raised to believe that pasteurized milk is good, raw milk is bad. Honestly, I didn't even know their was such a thing as raw milk until I was in FFA in high school and I started judging dairy cattle. Seriously!! I didn't grow up on a farm. I lived on the edge of a small town and my mom bought our milk at the store. I just never stopped to think about it. And guess what? Our kids won't either unless we talk to them about it first!

2) Fear. What we don't know, we fear. And we don't know raw milk. We haven't produced it, seen it, smelled it, or tasted it. Certainly raw milk can be contaminated. So can anything coming from a farm - like spinach! (I'm assuming you read the news.) Yes, organisms live on farms. And they can live in our homes. But maintaining good, but sensible sanitary measures makes a world of difference. We've become the generation of NO bacteria to the exclusion of GOOD bacteria. Folks, we're throwing the baby out with the bath water! We need a good education on the subject of bacteria in general.

3) Money. Do you know what it would cost for farmers to make some changes to go raw? I don't. But I can assure you, it isn't just a matter of stopping the heating process. Daily inspections, new sanitation methods, retraining employees, on and on... And our government. How much money would it cost if they made these changes? Hiring and retraining more inspectors, rewriting standards, educating farmers, on and on... I'm not saying it shouldn't be done. All I'm pointing out is that when money is involved, people don't won't to upset the apple cart. Now corporations have made an investment and they don't want to loose their dollars.

Whew! That's a lot of info. Is anyone still reading at this point? I'm just skimming the surface here, but I hope to do more posts on this subject because I feel it is so important. And I'm assuming some of you have more questions that are running around in your head. I'm no expert. I'm just a wife and a mom. But I'll try to do this subject justice. Just be patient with me.

Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium - April 10, 2010 - Madison, WIFor anyone in the Madison, Wisconsin area, I want to mention the Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium on April 10th. Speakers will include Sally Fallon Morell (Nourishing Traditions author) and Mark McAfee (CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy - where I get my own raw cow milk) among others who are pioneers in the raw milk movement. The agenda looks fabulous. Wish I could be there! But perhaps you can! For more information, be sure to visit the Farm-To-Consumer Foundation


Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium - April 10, 2010 - Madison, WI


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