“On my aunt’s farm, you can squeeze the stomach of a cow and milk comes out. I watched it. The milk comes out right into a glass and you can drink it.”
The 4-year old reporting to her friend might have also said that the cow she watched acted calm and content. What did the cow have to complain about? She enjoyed a diet of grass (no grain—even organic grains cause harmful effects on an animal’s health), and she was normally milked with a small, comfortable machine that hung from a strap around her stomach. The teats of this cow fit into soft rubber attachments, and she was not required to produce an excessive amount of milk, as a commercial cow is. And the milk went directly into not a glass, but an enclosed pail, so it wouldn’t pick up much foreign matter.
Clean, healthy cows, such as the one just described, produce nourishing, delicious milk that needs no further processing. As long as cows live in clean barns, spend summers grazing, and are well cared for, they give milk that is perfectly safe for drinking.
“We let our cows dry off in the winter,” says Doug Flack, a dairy farmer and raw milk producer from Fairfield, Vermont. “Lower-producing cows can live a long, healthy life. And good soil fertility ranks among the most important aspects of bovine health.”
If raw milk is safe to drink, then why do we insist on pasteurizing milk?
For thousands of years people drank raw milk. In fact, natural milk was once used at the Mayo and other major clinics as a medicine for patients with serious illnesses. But around the middle of the 19th century, large dairy farms, located inside cities, began producing “swill milk.” They fed the refuse of nearby distilleries—hot and acidic byproducts of grain—to the cows for their regular feed. The animals themselves were confined in dirty stalls, and often milked by sick people. It’s no wonder that, in these circumstances, milk would carry disease, much illness and death.
But instead of assuring cow health by cleaning up the barns and workers and stopping the poor nutrition practices, pasteurization presented itself as the best solution. The process cost relatively little, and the cheap, inferior milk that resulted replaced “real” milk in many markets. Although certified raw milk remained widely available until after World War II, natural milk came to be seen as dangerous and pasteurized milk as truly safe.
What’s wrong with the processed milk we are so accustomed to?
For one thing, pasteurization—exposing milk to high heat in order to destroy potentially harmful bacteria— manages to reduce enzymes, as well as many minerals and vitamins. Beneficial bacteria and other substances which strongly support our immune systems are absent in pasteurized milk.
Then, homogenization, the breaking up of fat globules, causes milk to lack the appearance of containing fat. Consumers have no idea how much fat they imbibe, but proceed to drink a substance lacking the minimal amount of nutritious fat.
What about 1 %, 2% or 3% milk?
For these varieties, the processor separates cream and skim, then recombines them in a way that meets legal standards, inserting additives for taste and consistency. The final product differs as much from raw milk as night differs from day. Microorganisms our systems need have disappeared; commercial milk lacks much of the ability to help us digest protein, lactose and fat and to absorb vitamins and minerals.
Processed milk advertisers have persuaded us that we need low-fat and skim milk products. This picture leaves out the truth about butterfat, which we desperately require for its fat-soluble vitamins. This diminishes our ability to absorb calcium and protein. Milk from grass-fed Guernsey, Jersey or Devon cows, raised by organic methods in clean barns, produce the richest, most butterfat-laden milk.
Over the long haul, what health benefits could you or I expect to see from drinking raw milk?
Flack, who has sold natural milk for many years, points out how greatly natural milk strengthens our immune system and, as mentioned before, helps us use the proteins and calcium we consume.
“If people drank raw milk regularly in this county, and never ate processed foods, the dentists would soon go out of business,” says Flack. “It’s a known fact that many societies depending solely on raw milk never knew a tooth cavity. Their mouths had well-developed dental arches with ample room for all the teeth. Gum disease simply didn’t exist.”
I checked out this claim with a woman whose children have always consumed natural milk.
“I’m not dead-sure about the teeth,” she replied to my query. “But when my son broke his wrist in three places last summer, the doctor who treated him could not believe the speed at which the bones healed.”
Convinced of the benefits of raw milk, most seekers of good health will want to know where and how to obtain it. In 26 states you can buy it directly from the farm. Retail sales occur in 10 states, most widely in Connecticut, California, Maine, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. You can log into realmilk.com for information about obtaining natural milk wherever you live.
To observe hand-milking, as our young friend did, you probably need to visit a goat farm.
Read more on The Safety of Raw Milk
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #34.
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