The Many Reasons Why We Choose Raw, Grass-Fed Milk for Our Family
Once upon a time all milk was raw milk. They called it “milk”…
not “organic” “grass-fed” or “raw”, though of course it was all of those things. Human beings have been drinking raw, grass-fed milk for thousands of years. It has been known to be among the most nutritious foods in nearly every human society that has ever existed. However now, we have to use labels like “organic” “raw” and “grass-fed” to differentiate this nutritious powerhouse from it’s evil twin found on grocery store shelves in the United States for the past 100 years.
How could this have possibly happened? If populations of people have depended on raw, grass-fed milk for health and vitality for all of recorded human history… why suddenly in the mid 1800s would we abandon it? Not only abandon it, but demonize it, even out-law the sale of it???
The History of Raw Milk
During the 18th Century, distilled spirits were primarily imported to the United States from Europe. The War of 1812, however, disrupted this importation and spurred the opening of many new American distilleries.
Are you wondering what on earth distilled spirits have to do with the banning of raw milk? There’s a connection. I promise.
These profitable, inner-city distilleries had just one problem. How would they dispose of the large amounts of fermented barley and other waste created by the distilling process? The only available solutions were costly and inconvenient. That is, until some genius of efficiency had a brilliant idea!
Why not build confinement dairies next door to the distilleries
and feed the distillery waste to the cows?!!
Problem solved… right?
Are you thinking that they couldn’t possibly have gone through with this scheme?
“In May 1858, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper did a landmark exposé of the distillery-dairies of Manhattan and Brooklyn that marketed so-called swill milk which came from cows fed on distillery waste and then adulterated with water, eggs, flour, and other ingredients that increased the volume and masked the adulteration. Swill milk dairies were noted for their filthy conditions and overpowering stench caused by the close confinement of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cows in narrow stalls where, once they were tied, they would stay for the rest of their lives, often standing in their own manure, covered with flies and sores, and suffering from a range of virulent diseases. These cows were fed on boiling distillery waste, often leaving the cows with rotting teeth and other maladies. The finished product was then marketed falsely as “pure country milk” or “Orange County Milk”.
In an editorial published at the height of the scandal, the New York Times described swill milk as a “bluish, white compound of true milk, pus and dirty water, which, on standing, deposits a yellowish, brown sediment that is manufactured in the stables attached to large distilleries by running the refuse distillery slops through the udders of dying cows and over the unwashed hands of milkers…” (Source)
I’m sure I hardly need to tell you what happened to the poor people who drank this milk.
You got it, rampant disease and VERY HIGH infant mortality rates. This was compounded by the fact that many of the dairy workers were immigrants sick with typhoid and tuberculosis who used the warm buckets of milk to keep their hands and feet warm in the frigid New York winter. You can imagine what a heart-breaking, public health crisis this turned into. It was deemed “The Milk Problem” and scientists the world over got to work figuring out how to fix it…
Friends, this was NOT a milk problem! This was a greed problem, a sanitation problem, a common sense problem, a human decency problem, but not a milk problem.
The Beginning of Pasteurization
In the year 1860, a French scientist by the name of Louis Pasteur announced his development of a process called “pasteurization” in which milk and other food stuffs could be heated, killing off most of the microorganisms living inside the substance (which Pasteur believed were responsible for the transfer of illness) without changing the flavor or nutritional value of the product. The public was slow to believe his outrageous claims, but he soon proved his germ theory to be irrefutable.
The American media eventually latched on to this idea and (as the media so loves to do) managed to create quite a bit of hysteria over the germ theory, prompting the American obsession with sanitation and hygiene, that we still see today.
At the same time, a pediatrician named, Dr. Henry L. Coit, published a book called, “Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease”. He believed that clean, raw milk was needed in the treatment of various diseases, such as: asthma, diabetes, colitis, obesity and tuberculosis. For this reason, he was anxious to provide clean, raw milk to his patients and worked for many years to gather a group of “certified clean” dairies who would willingly consent to his sanitation standards. Coit proved that clean, raw milk was not only safe, but greatly beneficial to our immune systems. There was now a source for clean, raw milk back on the market, but because of the hysteria created over the milk problem and the new American obsession with hygiene prompted by Pasteur’s germ theory, Coit was largely ignored.
In 1893, an influential man named Nathan Strauss (co-owner of the Macy’s department store in NYC) opened a pasteurized milk plant. Strauss believed that this new and marvelous technique of pasteurization was the only way to solve the milk problem. He distributed bottled milk at milk stations throughout New York. Because of his generosity, the infant mortality rate in the city soon went back down and all was well.
And we all lived happily ever after… right?
Well, not quite.
A Closer Look at Pasteurized Milk
Unfortunately, pasteurization may not solve as many problems as it creates. Though Pasteur believed that the nutritional value of milk was unaltered by pasteurization, we now know that is not the case at all. The reality is that pasteurized milk and raw milk have completely different nutrient profiles and quite different effects on the human body.
Pasteurization is the process of either:
- heating milk to at least 160 degrees and holding that temperature for at least 30 seconds (killing all of the enzymes and most of the microorganisms)
- heating milk to 280 degrees for only a few seconds (killing every. single. thing.) This method of pasteurization produces milk that is shelf stable for up to 3 months. The grocery stores, of course, still refrigerate this ultra-pasteurized milk because if they didn’t people might become suspicious. But friends, that milk you’re grabbing off of the grocery store’s refrigerated shelves? It could be two and a half months old by the time you purchase it!
I know, there are those of you who rejoice at the thought of every. single. possible. germ. being completely and utterly destroyed. I see you grinning..
But there are two really huge problems with this:
The first is that while, yes, every harmful germ has been destroyed, so has everything else that God put into that milk to nourish your body!
There is now absolutely no purpose in drinking the milk at all as you will see.
- The proteins have been denatured and will cause inflammation in the body (because the body doesn’t recognize them as safe).
- The enzymes have been destroyed meaning that your body is no longer equipped to digest the milk properly. This not only causes many digestive complaints, but also impairs the absorption of nutrients – though there are precious few left after the pasteurization process. In fact, the test for successful pasteurization is the absence of enzymes.
- Most of the vitamins and minerals have also been either destroyed completely or rendered unavailable. Those vitamins and minerals referred to on the nutrition facts label? They’re synthetic. The milk producers have to add them after the pasteurization process to make up for all the natural vitamins and minerals that were destroyed.
- Pasteurization promotes the rancidity of unsaturated fats, which increases free radicals in the body and causes cell damage.
- All of the beneficial bacteria naturally present in milk, and necessary for healthy gut function, have been destroyed.
- Pasteurized milk has usually been homogenized, meaning that the fat globules in the milk have been altered in size and composition in order to ensure that the cream does not separate from the milk as it is meant to do. This can, among other things, increase your assimilation of hormones from the milk and your risk of heart disease.
Let’s stop right here for a second. Do you know how great housewives have always judged the quality of a farmer’s milk? By the cream top! A healthy, well-fed cow will give milk with a larger amount of cream than a cow that is not cared for properly. Milk’s most valuable nutrients are found in the cream, especially during the spring and summer months when the grass grows rapidly, providing lots of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). This cream naturally settles to the top of the jar, making it very easy to tell at a glance which jug of milk is best. But because of homogenization, the consumer can no longer judge the quality of milk by looking at the cream line… convenient, no?
- Most (but not all) pasteurized milk has come from animals raised in confinement feed operations (CAFOs) meaning that the cows are provided with little to no room to move about out of doors. And while these cows are no longer fed distillery waste, neither are they provided with what they were created to eat (grass). Instead they are given genetically modified soy and grain which disrupts the acid/alkaline balance of the rumen, promoting a whole host of diseases. These diseases, then must be treated with antibiotics and steroids. This is such a problem in confinement dairies that antibiotics are now routinely given in the feed as a preventative measure. We know though, that the overuse of antibiotics actually increases the strength of any surviving bacteria, leading to what we now refer to as “super bugs”. (Read here to learn more about conventional vs. sustainably raised animal products.)
- Most dairy cows are also given hormones to increase their milk supply to unnatural levels. This increases the incidence of mastitis, which then must be treated with more antibiotics. These hormones (along with the antibiotics and steroids) are transferred to the consumer through the milk.
- And lastly, pasteurized milk is associated with many health conditions including: asthma, eczema, allergies, recurrent ear infections, IBS, diabetes, and autoimmune disease.
The Second Main Problem with Pasteurization is This:
A liquid environment (especially as it begins to warm) is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
I mean that’s the argument for pasteurization in the first place, right?
Well God, in His great wisdom, knows this. That’s why he placed lots of beneficial bacteria in raw milk. These beneficial bacteria are (for the most part) stronger than harmful bacteria. If harmful bacteria happens to be introduced into raw milk the good bacteria in the milk will have completely destroyed it within 48 hours.
Now, consider the fact that pasteurized milk has no bacteria. None at all. That means that whichever bacteria happens to be introduced into that milk first will begin to grow and multiply (rapidly). Which do you think you are more likely to introduce into your milk jug haphazardly throughout the day?
THIS IS WHY we have to be so careful of sanitation when we eat dead foods! It is really important that you don’t leave that pasteurized milk out too long, or touch it with dirty hands, or drink out of the jug because whatever bacteria that you introduce will take over.
Not so with raw milk.
Raw Milk on the Other Hand is a Living Food
- As stated above, raw milk is naturally full of beneficial bacteria. These good guys are designed to destroy pathogens and that’s just what they do. Any little pathogens who happen to find themselves in your raw milk jug will be quickly destroyed.
Also because of these beneficial bacteria, raw milk does not spoil. It sours. If you leave raw milk out on the counter for several days, you know what will happen? It will clabber. Curds and whey anyone? And as the milk sours it will actually INCREASE in nutritional value! The beneficial bacteria begin to eat up the sugars in the milk and as they do so they produce B vitamins!
I think we all know what would happen to a jar of pasteurized milk left at room temperature for several days.. at least those of us who have ever found an old sippy cup under the back seat of the minivan.. we know what happens, don’t we? This happens because pasteurized milk is no longer alive. It has no beneficial bacteria to defend it against the growth of pathogens.
- Raw milk contains an enzyme called “lactase”. Lactase is the enzyme needed to digest “lactose” (the sugar in milk). Many people do not produce enough lactase to digest milk properly and subsequently suffer from digestive complaints, such as: diarrhea, bloating, cramping, constipation, gas, etc.. This is usually referred to as lactose intolerance. (Read here to find out how an intolerance differs from a sensitivity or allergy.) But you know what?
You’re going to be shocked!
God already put all the lactase you need for digesting milk… guess where?
IN THE MILK!
This is why so many people who are lactose intolerant find that they can digest milk just fine once they switch to raw milk.
- Raw, grass-fed milk is a complete food, containing protein (all 8 essential amino acids), carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, cholesterol, and beneficial bacteria (probiotics). It is truly a perfect food!
But How Can I be SURE That Raw Milk is Safe for My Family?
You MUST change your understanding of germs.
You must realize that getting sick is NOT primarily about whether or not you come into contact with germs, but instead about how you support your body’s ability to properly deal with germs, because – here’s a secret… you actually can’t get rid of germs!
If you think that bleach, hand sanitizer, and pasteurization have gotten rid of germs, you are fooling yourself. All these have done is strengthen and mutate the strongest of the harmful bacteria, while handicapping the beneficial bacteria designed to defend your body against pathogens. Living food is the most powerful defense against germs.
Until you change how you think about germs, you will not feel comfortable drinking raw milk.
Pasteurization is no guarantee of cleanliness.
“All outbreaks of salmonella from contaminated milk (and there have been many) have occurred in pasteurized milk. This includes a 1985 outbreak in Illinois that struck over 14,000 people, causing at least one death. The salmonella strain in that batch of pasteurized milk was found to be genetically resistant to both penicillin and tetracycline.” (Source)
Keep in mind that the word “outbreak” refers to a group of 2 or more people who experience a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a specific food. Raw milk is almost always sold in small amounts directly from the farmer to the consumer. This means that any particular “outbreak” caused by raw milk may have only caused 5 illnesses, while an outbreak from a large pasteurized dairy supplier can (and often does) cause thousands of illnesses. Each of these scenarios is recorded as ONE outbreak.
The word “outbreak” also does not describe the severity of illness. It may be used in reference to anything from a tummy-ache to a death. The only two American deaths attributed to raw milk in the last 30 years were caused by a batch of raw queso cheese, smuggled over the boarder from Mexico. The number of American deaths caused by pasteurized dairy in the past 30 years? Four.
Lastly, the reported outbreaks caused by raw milk do not identify whether that milk was produced by a clean, grass-fed cow. It is quite possible that the majority of the the outbreaks on record came from grain-fed and/or unsanitary conditions. Remember how I told you that feeding grain to cows greatly increases their propensity for disease?
Despite all of this, pasteurized dairy STILL has more total outbreaks (not to mention total # of deaths and illnesses) than raw milk.
OBVIOUSLY find a clean, well-run, respectable, local farm with its cows out on the GRASS!
Note- a VERY small amount of grain is often used for milking (as a treat for the cow). This is not something to worry about (provided that the grain is organic/non-GMO) as it actually mimics the SMALL amount of grain that a cow would naturally consume from the seed heads of grasses.
Healthy cows produce healthy milk. Grass-fed cows do not have the same diseases and over-growth of e coli and other bacteria that grain-fed cows have. They just don’t. Those pathogens cannot survive in the alkaline stomachs of grass-fed cows.
Likely, any farms that you find selling raw milk will use stainless steel milkers to ensure that the milk they sell stays perfectly clean. But it’s also great to know that there is nothing inherently unsanitary about milk. When milking our own dairy animals we are careful to wash our hands and to promptly refrigerate the milk so that it doesn’t begin to sour, but we really aren’t any more cautious than we would be with any other type of food. ANY food can be contaminated by bacteria.. but if you eat fresh food from healthy animals, and especially if you have a well-functioning immune system of your own, there just isn’t as much to worry about as you’ve been led to believe.
Also consider what it will cost a small farmer if he should be the cause of an illness. He could lose his whole farm. Compare that to what it costs a big dairy – nothing at all. Milk from multiple dairies is mixed together in the pasteurization plant. It is not even always possible to know where the problem milk came from. Who do you think is going to be more careful with their milk? The farmer who’s whole livelihood depends on the sale of fresh, clean, healthy milk? Or the farmer who is going to pasteurize it anyway and who receives little to no accountability for his actions?
Yes, there is some work involved (and responsibility on your part) to ensure that you are getting your milk from a high quality source. This can be a bit scary at first. But you know what I think is scarier?? … not caring where my milk comes from, what conditions the cows were kept in, what diseases were originally present in the milk, as long as it was (hopefully) pasteurized before they sent it to the store. I would much rather take responsibility for my own choices than blindly trust a system that I already know is broken.
There is no such thing as a risk-free food. Do you know what food causes the highest # of outbreaks each year in America?
Followed closely by other fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, peanut butter, and you guessed it! … pasteurized dairy.
Resources for Finding Raw Milk in Your Area
Depending on your local laws, this can require a bit of networking, but it is SO WORTH IT to find high quality dairy for your family.
Here are some resources to get you started:
You’ll find as you begin to move toward a more traditional, whole foods diet that good food (usually) costs more than the food-like products sold at the grocery store. It can be hard to know which changes are most important when you are simply not able to change everything all at once.
To me, raw, grass-fed dairy is the place to start. Raw dairy is so profoundly nutritious. If I could only choose one food to feed my children it would be raw milk. Hands down. No question. In fact, if the whole world crumbles around me, I’ll feel just fine knowing that I’ve got my own dairy animals and some kale growing (almost) year-round in my garden.
If grass-fed, sustainably raised meat is unattainable for your family at this time, get a source of raw milk! Just a gallon a week and a dozen pastured eggs will go a LONG WAY toward meeting your family’s nutritional needs and can (in some cases) be found by a local small farmer, or neighbor down the road for more reasonable prices than the health food store. Get a hold of low-cost, grass-fed cast offs like bones to use for bone broth and tallow or lard to render yourself (tutorial coming soon 😉 ) and you’ll truly have all the animal products you need. Plant some beets, tomatoes, and kale in your back yard. Stock up on sweet potatoes, squash, and cabbage when they’re in season.
I know it isn’t that simple. Feeding a family is not an easy thing to do, much less if you take into consideration the quality of food you purchase. But honestly, this is where I would start… I should say, this is where I did start. And as our family and budget got used to these small changes, we s-l-o-w-l-y made other changes.
If you are not able to choose raw milk because of an allergy, financial limitations, lack of support from your spouse (honor your spouse’s concerns!), lack of availability, or for any other reason, my recommendation would be to go dairy free.
Remember, though, that most milk alternatives are full of unnecessary sugars, starches, preservatives, emulsifiers, and other chemicals. It is probably a good idea to make your own when possible. And whatever you do, don’t use soy! Soy is almost always genetically modified, will wreak havoc on your hormones, and is NOT a food.
Organic, grass-fed milk is BY FAR superior to regular grocery store milk, but it is still pasteurized (often ultra-pasteurized), usually homogenized, and will contribute to inflammation for most people. If you decide to purchase grass-fed, organic milk, make sure to ferment it with yogurt or kefir cultures in order to increase the probiotic and vitamin content. (Tutorials coming soon! Makes sure to subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!)
Considering raising your own dairy animals?
It’s actually fairly straight forward and probably a lot more fun than you might think! We are looking forward to sharing with you all about how we sustainably raise our grass-fed Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and our little Jersey milk cow on just over an acre of pasture. Stay tuned!
Resources for Learning More About Raw Milk and Making an Educated Decision for Your Family
Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk – Some people find that they can drink goat’s milk, but not cow’s milk. This book explains why.
Other Posts in This Series:
Did you know?
that all over Europe, raw milk is sold in vending machines!!?
Did you also know that Queen Elizabeth and Donald Trump drink raw milk and have made a point of feeding it to their children and grandchildren? … I don’t know if this is more likely to persuade or dissuade you.. but the fact remains. 😂
Pin it for Later
Are you considering making the switch to raw, grass-fed milk?
What are your biggest concerns?
Have you already made the switch?
Tell us how it’s going!
And as always friends, please remember that I’ve got kids sledding down the stairs on Costco boxes as I write to you…
So, if you think I’ve forgotten something important, have any questions or comments, or simply a bit of encouragement to share, please use the comments below, send me an email, or find us on Facebook.
I’d love to hear from you.