Real Milk. It’s grass-fed. It’s whole. It’s unpasteurized and unhomogenized. And in many states, it’s illegal.
If you drink real, raw milk, you do so against the advice of the government, and most likely your doctor and family and friends.
As is the case with many nutritious traditional foods (eggs, shellfish, kombucha, liver, butter…), there are a lot of people who not only think raw milk is dangerous, but think anyone who emphasizes its health benefits too much must be a little bit bonkers.
And perhaps we are bonkers. Or perhaps we’re not. You be the judge.
The thing is, raw milk has gotten a bad rap. You are free to disagree with that statement. As with any two-sided issue, you have to choose who to believe. You may choose to believe those who I tend to not trust on this issue. And that’s fine. I’m just a wife and mother trying to do what is best for her family. So if you disagree, please do it nicely.
Before we go any further, if you’re sure that taking a sip of this stuff would send you to the hospital, let me calm your fears a bit.
Five Reasons You Needn’t Fear Raw Milk
1. Before the rise of industrial agriculture, people all over the world drank and thrived on raw milk. In many countries, they still do (in parts of Europe there are even raw milk vending machines!). In his travels and studies of isolated people groups, Weston Price encountered many thriving societies with no tooth decay for whom raw milk played a large role in their diet. (You can read his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, here.)
2. Raw milk has been falsely blamed. There have been very few reported foodborne illnesses due to raw milk in comparison with all other foods, and many outbreaks blamed on raw milk have been misconstrued (for example, a listeria outbreak of 12 individuals in which most of them had eaten hot dogs, and which coincided with a huge hot dog recall). According to this well-researched article based on government data, “you are 35,000 times more likely to get ill from other foods than you are from raw milk.” (If that government data has been skewed against raw milk, your chances of getting sick from raw milk are even less.)
3. Raw milk has built-in safety mechanisms. The good bacteria in raw milk can actually destroy pathogens, whereas bad bacteria remaining in milk after pasteurization can easily multiply in the absence of the good guys. (source)
4. If the cows are pastured, as they should be, there is a lot less bad bacteria to worry about: “Studies show that factory-farmed cattle have 300 times more pathogenic bacteria in their digestive tracts than cattle that are allowed to openly graze in pastures.” (source)
5. It’s all about the money. In 1910 the New York Milk Committee voted to endorse pasteurization of milk only because they couldn’t afford the personnel required to inspect raw milk for safety. It is cheaper to produce pasteurized milk from sick, feed-lot cows than to produce clean, safe, raw milk from pastured cows. At least in this case, the decision to pasteurize milk was fueled by economics, not health. I suspect that this case is not an anomaly.
So, okay, maybe it’s not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. But still, why go to all that effort and potential expense to acquire this controversial beverage? Here’s my take on that:
Nine Reasons You Want to Drink the Good Stuff
1. It’s delicious! This is my favorite reason. Try it, you’ll agree! Even if you think store-bought whole milk is thick and gross, try whole raw milk. It’s a whole different experience!
2. Probiotics and enzymes make it a breeze to digest. It digests itself! Even many people who are lactose or casein intolerant can digest it because it contains the necessary bacteria and enzymes to break down those molecules. Those are destroyed by pasteurization. (It’s really a wonder that anyone can digest pasteurized milk!)
3. More available nutrients. Vitamins A, D, B12, B6, and C, as well as iron, calcium, folate, iodine, and other minerals are more abundant and more available to the body in raw, grass-fed milk. So you might pay a little more, but you’re getting more bang for your buck with raw milk!
4. Cancer-fighting. The butterfat in grass-fed milk contains CLA, which protects against cancer.
5. Allergies and asthma were rare before the introduction of pasteurization (which de-natures delicate milk proteins), and studies have shown that those who drink raw milk have a lower incidence of these conditions.
6. No antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. ‘Nuf said.
7. Good for grains. Once cultured into yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, or clabber, raw milk can be used to soak whole grains, making them more easily digested and increasing nutrient absorption.
8. Earth-friendly. It is possible to farm in a way that not only doesn’t harm the land, but actually improves its health. Grass-based farms make excellent use of their resources and don’t dump toxic chemicals into the water system.
9. Fosters relationships. When you make a choice to buy food directly from the source, you cannot help but encounter what is at the heart of every farm: people. In addition to getting to know your smart, talented, hard-working, honest, one-of-a-kind farmers, you can make friends with other people who are connected to the farm and enjoy its produce. Perhaps you join with a few friends, old or new, to share milk pick-ups. And maybe your relationships with those in your own family will grow as you make milk-getting a weekly ritual.
While I don’t believe that drinking raw milk is any more dangerous than eating spinach or cantaloupe (and I’m pretty sure it is less so), there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind. For in-depth information on how to choose a safe farm, how to handle raw milk, and how to make sure containers used to store the milk are clean, see the Safe Handling Consumers’ Guide distributed by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
Making it Practical
Incorporating raw milk into your family’s diet can be a big commitment, especially if you live in a state that prohibits the sale of raw milk. To make it possible for families to access raw milk, farms created “cow-share” programs, in which you own part of a cow and are therefore entitled to the milk it produces. You pay a one-time fee for your share, and then monthly “boarding” fees after that. If you don’t have a farm nearby, you may have to drive some distance to pick up your milk each week. Our family’s milk farm is 35 minutes away, but we have joined with 5 other families to share pick-ups, so we only have to go once every 6 weeks. Here’s how our “milk co-op” makes it happen:
1. The person on pick-up duty heads to the farm equipped with coolers full of ice packs and clean jars for everyone.
2. They fill up the jars at the farm.
3. They drive back to town and deliver the milk to each person’s house.
4. When they drop off milk at each house, they pick up clean jars for next week’s milk.
5. They stop last at the home of the person who will be picking up next, and drop off the coolers – now full of empty jars for next week.
The other secret is this: We have a shared google doc with the pick-up schedule, quantities, payment information, and addresses and phone numbers. That way, all our important info is in one digital place, can’t be lost, and can be accessed anytime by any of us. So convenient!
Our system makes it easy and manageable. I’m sure if you find some nice people to share milk pick-ups with, you will figure out your own manageable system!
A Final Note
Don’t drink raw milk just because I told you to (although I’d be flattered!). Do your own research. Read up on it. Talk to farmers and friends. Make a decision you feel good about, for your family’s health.
Now that’s a milk mustache you can be proud of.