If there’s a bottom line, it’s this:
The promotion of milk as a necessary food has been so successful that the dairy industry cannot supply the demand without resorting to intensively over-milking genetically engineered super cows using increasingly bizarre forms of processing.
How can this be?
Well, there is a story. It plays out on a long, convoluted path. Here’s a bird’s eye view from the beginning:Humans have been milking mammals starting sometime between 8000 and 6000 BC. They’ve milked goats, sheep, camels, water buffalo, yak, reindeer, horses, and cows.
Milking was a seasonal thing. Mothers birthed in the spring when there was abundant new grass and nursed their young until they were weaned. People shared the calf’s milk and after weaning, continued to milk the mother by hand until it was time for the cows to breed in the fall.
Typically, the milk was “rested” for several days before using it. During the rest, the enzyme lactase would consume the milk sugar, lactose. That process increased the acidity of the milk which rendered the milk less susceptible to bacterial growth.
Once the milk was adequately “soured,” all manner of foods were prepared from it including yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, butter, soft cheeses, and whey. Whey is the high protein liquid remaining after making cheese and butter. Whey was used to ferment vegetables and fruits, added to broths, soups, and stews and enjoyed as a healthful warm-weather drink. Peoples the world over personalized their soured-milk foods with local spices and herbs… and in keeping with their unique customs.
Around 3000 BC dairying in Northern Europe began to focus on cattle, as cattle thrive in cold climate. This is where our American customs originated, so this is where we’ll follow the story.
Over the centuries economic centers developed in the towns and cities throughout Northern Europe. There was a subtle population shift from the country to the city where work was more plentiful. The new city-folk still depended on the farmer for their food, so a farm to city food business evolved. As the population grew, cooperative ventures sprung up in the countryside to pool milk and the labor of many farmers to share the expense of production of their soured milk, yogurt, and cheeses.
Over time, townsfolk became isolated from once widespread skills like dairying and became more dependent on retail sellers who came to the ever-expanding city markets or trolled the streets for customers.
Around 1830 something transformational happened in the dairy business. A new form of milk was introduced to consumers…“sweet, pure milk” that came straight from the cow. People never had drunk non-soured milk, and they liked this “new milk.” Dairy profits jumped. All the farmers had to do was milk the cow and rush the sweet milk into town where customers were waiting. Riding the success train, medical and culinary leaders gave “sweet milk” their blessing.
By the1840s local railway lines were built to connect rural regions with the towns and cities enabling dairy farmers to be more efficient and earn a comfortable living. As excitement mounted, medical opinion promoted “sweet, new milk” as indispensable for children and healthful for everyone else… a miracle food. Tens of thousands of city dwellers took up milk drinking.
However, unlike soured milk, sweet milk contained lactose which made many people sick. And worse, sweet milk was easily contaminated, not having the bacterial resistance of the soured milk, making even more people sick. (The human race didn’t know about germs yet. They judged a food to be “fit” or “unfit” by smell or taste, and this wasn’t working well.)
Sweet milk sales slumped.
Happily, Louis Pasteur introduced the germ theory in the 1860s and Robert Koch clarified the idea of bacterial contamination in the 1880s. Sterilization procedures were introduced into the dairy business.
Thus, milk processing was born. Pasteurization was introduced around the turn of the century; ultra pasteurization was introduced around 1930.
Still, profits were so thin that in 1930 the government stepped in with USDA price-support systems to help the dairy industry get back on its feet and increase the sales of sweet, pasteurized milk. To help it along, they encouraged medical opinion to state that drinking milk was a fundamental necessity for human survival.
By the 1940s, milk was on a roll. Milk became standardized for ease of marketing. Pooled milk was centrifuged to create skim milk by removing the milk fat. The fat was added back in precise amounts into 1%, 1.5%, 2%, and 4% milk. Each was then homogenized to disperse the tiny fat globules. Because these products all looked alike, traditional glass bottles were replaced with waxed cardboard packaging with printing to identify the milk inside. Soon refrigeration and supermarkets burst upon the scene. Flavorings were added. And all was well.
But not for long.
As the population kept increasing, the small farm cooperatives could no longer supply the demand. And the farmers could not manage all those cows in a pastured environment.
So the cows were brought into huge buildings, where thousands of cows could be fed in one place, and the excrement was removed by machinery and dumped as waste.
It was very efficient. Cows had numbers, not names. They could be hooked up to electric milking machines that could milk them 3 times a day, 365 days a year.
Cows were over-bred to create high-producing animals. They were fed special diets formulated to increase their milk production. Their life span decreased. Didn’t matter. There were new, better cows ready to take their place.
In the 1990s bovine growth hormone (BST/BGH) was injected into the cows to further increase their milk production as much as 20% until the cows burned out and died … and American girls in elementary school were developing breasts.
At last, the public noticed that all was not well in dairy land… and spoke up, and are still speaking up, at least with regards BST/BGH.
Secrecy and scary headlines keep the public on edge, like the recent revelation that in 2009, the dairy industry petitioned the FDA to change the definition of “milk” to allow added ingredients. With such a definition, the dairy industry need not reveal the added ingredients nor label their milk and milk products. Artificially sweetened milk is high on their agenda “to encourage kids to drink more milk.”
Stay with me here, folks.
John Q. Public has become uneasy with the “traditional” dairy industry, opening the door for organic milk, now the fastest growing segment of the dairy business. Despite the whimsical cartoons on the cartons, these cows are housed in colossal production facilities like the other industrial cows; they’ve never seen a blade of fresh grass.
The difference is the rations they are fed. Their food is organic: pesticide, hormone, and GMO-free. That makes for healthier milk. Processed, yes, but at least not toxic.
Plus, increasing numbers of people are buying milk alternatives, such as soy, rice, almond, hemp, oat, coconut and hazelnut milk buying into the false claims that they are nutritious. They are not: not even close. Lawsuits for false advertising are in process. (Milk – classic and dictionary definition – an opaque white fluid rich in fat and protein, secreted by female mammals for the nourishment of their young.)
Many millions of people in our country drink and cook with raw milk, including many ethnic peoples who make their homes here. It goes without saying that raw milk comes from cows that eat only organic feed, usually alfalfa. Or they are “pastured” (free range and grass fed).
Contrary to an abundance of intentional and uninformed misinformation, raw milk is safe to drink. Much safer. (Assuming the dairy itself is clean and properly maintained, as with all food production facilities.). Processed milk putrefies when it spoils. Raw milk sours; it has been drunk and used in cooking for centuries.
It is not only safe, but it is nutritionally superior, as pasteurization kills the beneficial bacteria and enzymes including lactobacillus, which protects against lactose intolerance in humans. This has been known for a long time. (I first learned about the damaging effects of pasteurization when I was in college taking Dairy Husbandry in 1951.)
I am compelled here to explain how marketers deceive us about that. Typically, “nutritive value” is compared by citing the amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat (saturated, unsaturated, trans) and a bunch of vitamins. There’s not much difference between natural and processed milk here. It’s like saying that all people are alike because they all have the same number of arms, hands, legs, feet, and a head. You get the idea.
It’s a different story when we look deeper. When the presence of enzymes, bacteria, protein structure, and synergism are compared, the difference is huge. Even more striking is the assumption that increasing the temperature of something doesn’t change anything. Would you (an organic thing) remain unchanged if subjected to a temperature of 145 degrees F for 30 minutes?
Understand that it is not against the law to drink raw milk, to have it or to buy it.
The issue is about licensing, not the milk itself. Transporting raw milk across state lines is denied in many states. Raw milk comes from small farms that cannot afford big business fees. Efforts are currently in the courts to resolve various licensing issues that plague small farmers, including small dairy farmers.
Advertisers for the commercial milk producers spin these laws to instill the idea that these laws protect customers from the ‘dangers’ of consuming unprocessed milk. Below the belt tactics.
Actually, the industrial milk production model won’t work for raw milk. Industrial milk is mass-produced. Raw milk production requires personal involvement.
Many states offer raw milk in stores; many do not. Many allow it to be sold to local folks at the dairy or at farmer’s markets. Ask around. Find out from a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation. If you are still worried, then get pasteurized organic whole milk. Avoid ultra-pasteurized milk, as that process destroys everything, and it doesn’t work well for cooking.
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So, here we are at the end of the story… as of today.
I don’t see the situation getting any better… 1) As long as our population keeps growing. 2) And as long as the medical and food industries keep pushing industrial milk with unfounded claims of its benefits. 3) As long as the dairy industry blindly produces milk beyond the point of reasonable and humane production. 4) And as long as the government gives all this it’s blessing with substantial subsidies.
Something’s going to give.
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A Personal EndNote
I grew up drinking milk, pure sweet milk from the dairy just out of town. Everyone knew that milk helped build strong bones and nice teeth. I studied foods and nutrition in college in the 50s and learned how dairy foods were a natural part of a wholesome diet. I drank milk while pregnant and nursing. Later, I stopped drinking milk because it tasted funny. I thought it was me growing older and losing my sense of taste.
But now I know it was because it wasn’t the same milk I was used to drinking. It was processed. It is very different.
But I’m wiser now.
I’m back to using unprocessed pure sweet milk again… with its new name, “raw milk.” (Ah, such clever advertising, giving a delicious, nutritious food a yucky new name that equates drinking it to eating raw meat. If they played fair, they should have at least call milk “traditional milk,” “unprocessed milk,” “real milk,” or “natural milk.”)
I choose real milk because of its mellow flavor and nutritional benefits. Also, I love the healthy, tasty foods I can create from raw milk and raw cream. I make (and eat) buttermilk, kefir, cultured butter, whey, yogurts, and cheeses. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with lacto-fermenting veggies. Fun.
Alison Walker says this in her book, A Country Cook’s Kitchen:
“Traditional culinary skills are enjoying a widespread revival as more home cooks reject fast-food culture in favor of heirloom, artisanal and organic “slow” foods. Home-produced delicacies taste even better when patiently prepared and much anticipated, and this revival has prompted many to seek out and master the skills that their grandparents would have taken for granted.”
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Expand your awareness…
- Take a look at the long list of nutrients that are destroyed by pasteurization: http://www.1vigor.com/nutrition/dairy/index.html
- Check out Real Milk Facts: https://www.realmilk.com/safety/fresh-unprocessed-raw-whole-milk/
- Read Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk: Through the Ages with 120 adventurous Recipes that Explore the Riches of our First Food by Anne Mendelson. Some of these recipes bring back happy memories of my own grandmother’s cooking. I love this book.
- Get to know the Weston A Price Foundation: https://www.westonaprice.org/
- Read The Raw Milk Revolution by David E. Gumpert
- Understand pasteurizing temperatures: whfoods.org
- Learn about the Slow Food Movement: http://www.slowfoodusa.org