We’ve all heard the slogan: “Milk–it does a body good.” It can…and it does…but whether it can or does depends on the quality of the milk. Conventionally-processed milk has been heated to excessively high temperatures (normal pasteurization is done at 165 degrees F, but ultra-high temperature [or UHT ] can go over 230 degrees) and has been homogenized. The former is a throwback from the 1800s, when American dairies set up shop in crowded cities and fed the cows the leftover mash from the whisky. The cows were kept immobile in their tiny pens and were never given grass or allowed to walk. As you can imagine, these dairy cows were very ill and died within 9 months. (Healthy, pastured dairy cows live 15-20 years.) Sick cows make sick milk…and the pathogen-loaded milk was responsible for so many child deaths that pasteurization was viewed as a godsend.
The real answer would have been to clean up the dairies and promote sustainable farming. The quick answer, however–pasteurization–held the day; the dairy industry was loathe to see their profits eroded by the expense of maintaining clean facilities and healthy cows. This same concept applies to today’s Big Dairy: better to maximize profits by simply killing bacteria in the milk than go to the trouble and expense of grazing dairy cows. (Also, pasteurized milk lasts much longer; longer shelf life = bigger profits.)
Pasteurization also results in the destruction of vitamins and enzymes, nutrients that are vital to our health. Viewed through my qualitarian eyes, then, I snap up raw cheeses (and any other raw dairy products) whenever I see them–not only are raw-dairy products incredibly nutrient-dense, I figure they’re also coming from clean farms with healthy cows who actually graze. If they weren’t, they would never be sold raw.
Homogenization is another recent innovation. It consists of force-spraying the milk through tiny nozzles so that the milkfat is cut into such small pieces that our eyes can’t see it. (Recall the olden days, when the quality of the milk would be judged by how much cream would rise to the top. Thanks to homogenization, consumers no longer can “see” the quality of their milk.) While homogenization doesn’t destroy milk as thoroughly as pasteurization does, it is nonetheless another layer of unnecessary processing. (Bonus point for unhomogenized milk: you’ll save money by skimming off your own cream! Basically, you have two products in one. Use the cream for whipping, making ice cream, or making butter.)
Again, as a qualitarian, I opt for unprocessed, unhomogenized whole milk whenever possible. Those of us living in Metro Detroit are very fortunate to have Calder’s Dairy Natural Milk, which is exactly that: unhomogenized, whole milk from local, grass-fed cows who are not given hormone treatments to increase milk production and who are not given antibiotics to compensate for illness-inducing, poor living conditions. Visit the Calder Dairy website to see where you can purchase their Natural Milk. (Unfortunately, it isn’t raw–state law stipulates that milk must be pasteurized before hitting retail shelves. Interestingly, in 26 other states–including California–consumers can purchase raw milk from the corner store.) Other good places to find top-notch dairy products would be your local farmer’s market, CSA (community-supported agriculture) and co-op programs, or cowshare programs.
So, there you have it: yes, milk does a body good…that is, whole, unprocessed, unhomogenized, preferably raw milk from grass-fed cows who are well-tended and not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Here’s to long and happy lives for everyone–the farmers, the cows, and the consumers!
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