By Timothy Dillon
Photo courtesy of Cheeseslave.
Growing up, I drank a lot of milk. In fact, even when I did “grow up” I didn’t really stop drinking milk. I’m not sure whether it was that I unconsciously knew that milk was a healthy habit or whether or not I was some how conditioned to drink an abundance of milk, but in any case, it makes up a good portion of my diet calorie-wise. Let me put it this way: you wouldn’t believe me if I told you how much milk I drink.
Over the years as I collected acquaintances and friends, I have found that everyone has some sort of opinion of milk. Many find it unnatural, citing the fact that humans, as a species, are the only mammals who actively procure and distribute another animals mammary juice. Sure, this seems like a valid point at first, but we are also the only species that cultivates crops, goes into space, and has an expansive and ever-evolving series of languages.
Other people like to cite lactose intolerance and how many people can’t digest dairy products. I have always failed to see why this mattered to anyone except those who suffer from lactose intolerance. It’s not a universal condition and to be frank, I wouldn’t eat something I couldn’t digest either. But I can (and do) digest dairy.
So when I first became aware of raw milk and the dangers this udder delicacy can offer, I can’t lie, I was more than intrigued.
Pasteurization is a process by which a food, in this case milk, is heated to kill any bacteria or other foreign bodies that could propagate and cause the product to spoil. As a result, pasteurization is first line of defense against many food-borne illnesses.
The practical effects of pasteurization are extremely compelling. It ensures consistency in terms of quality and taste, and protects a farm from being held liable for the majority of food born illnesses. Are there really people who are upset by this preventative health measure?
The short answer, yes.
There are those who look at raw milk as a rich, fresh, healthy drink that offers more benefits than risks. In an NPR interview back in 2010, Liz Reitzig, a stay-at-home mother points out that there are plenty of dangers and anxieties to be had about the food that IS approved for human consumption in this country.
“Legally, I can feed my children fast food three meals a day. But then to get this incredible, nutrient-dense, fresh local food, the farmer in my state is criminalized for selling that to me,” she told NPR.
A Campaign for Real Milk was founded back in 1999 when Sally Fallon Morell launched realmilk.com. The campaign set out to give universal access to raw milk. The “universal access” is likely due to the fact that currently interstate sale and distribution of raw milk is illegal. That was outlawed by the FDA over 20 years ago at this point. Instead it falls to the state to decide whether or not they will allow the sale of raw milk and what restrictions they will place on it.
Instead of debating the merit of state governments dictating dairy regulations, it might be more prudent to consider how long dairy consumption had existed prior to Louis Pasteur. What some refer to as contraband and others consider a luxury farm item was really just the standard of living for generations. Is this ban perhaps a little excessive considering how long it was a normal unchecked commodity?
The Great Debate
Now unfortunately since this is a state by state issue, we have ample examples of this debate to choose from. For instance, in Wisconsin, raw milk is teetering on the edge of lifting restrictions under certain circumstances.
The bill in question is actually a substitute amendment to Senate Bill 236. If passed into law, it would allow farmers to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers on their respective farm. The bill also mandates that farms choosing to sell raw milk must meet certain guidelines as well as registering with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
There are also some health regulations for the cows that would be producing the taboo milk. However this is not exactly a new science. There is a demand on behalf of lawmakers to ensure safe regulations, but for years people all over this country were consuming raw milk.
“When I was a little kid all I drank was raw milk,” says David Grace Head of Manufacturing at Skyhill Napa Valley Farms. “The difference between buying raw milk from a farm and manufacturing raw milk is huge. When we went to get milk, we would take a half a gallon and then whatever we didn’t use in that couple hour period that day, we just threw away. Except to the cats, to the dogs or whatever. But when you’re talking about manufacturing raw milk, it’s handled so much, so there’s a lot of health concerns there.”
The (Black) Milk Market
Raw milk is, for all intents and purposes, not something that can really be enjoyed on a mass scale. According to Grace, the longer the milk is exposed to the world the more likely it will grow and propagate bacteria. He goes on to explain that there are certain types of bacteria that are inherently going to be in raw milk. Pasteurization was meant to kill all the bacteria, even types that contribute to the health properties of milk, which is why some people seek it out.
In my scouring the internet to see if I could track down raw milk, I stumbled across a bizarre Yelp review of Udder Milk. Apparently this is some sort of underground raw dairy delivery system for inhabitants of The Big Apple. Reitzig would drive from her home in Maryland into Pennsylvania just to get her children raw milk for the week.
In most cases, if you’re looking to track down some raw milk to try, you’re going to need to go to a dairy farmer and buy it from the source. But as Grace points out, that’s exactly what you want:
“I like raw milk. I drink it myself. But I know where it’s come from. I know that animal that produced that milk. I’m drinking that. It’s my animal and I know it, and that’s different from buying it off a store shelf.”
Raw milk is not for those with lactose intolerance or those with compromised immune systems, as the bacteria can be harmful. But for those people who are looking to get a taste of milk at it’s freshest, a trip to a local farm (that you have done a decent background check on) is all it takes.