A more accurate title for this article would probably be: "The Hidden Truth About Raw Milk." Considering how much the dairy industry would change if the majority of Americans switched to raw vs. commercially produced milk, it makes sense why this truth would be hidden. If it's not hidden, it's readily challenged.
Our family has been consuming raw milk for the better part of a decade at the time of this writing. That has included three full term pregnancies, a healing from lactose-intolerance, and all of our children consuming it from reliable sources from one year of age onward. We have yet to experience anything but delicious milk and happy tummies, with a boost of probiotics in every sip.
The Elephant (Cow) in the Room
I see a specific argument rather consistently amongst the inter-webs. It’s the argument that because the dairy industry is so corrupt and absolutely horrific (partial truth) and that because cow’s milk is made for sustaining a growing calf, that it holds no nutritional or moral benefits to our body. I’m going to upset vegans everywhere now...this is an absolutely ridiculous notion. Why? Because conventional dairy is not the only option you have out there. There are small dairy farms that work day in and out to provide sustainable agriculture that actually benefits the environment, their own families, as well as yours and mine. You can find local sources almost anywhere in the United States by visiting RealMilk.com (as long as it’s legal, there are unfortunately still a few states that the sale of raw milk is still illegal to purchase).
The argument that expresses that cow’s milk is made to grow baby calves, and that’s why you “shouldn’t” consume it as a human sadly dismisses not only the incredible amount of benefits that we can obtain from it, but also ignores the biblical fact that God gave us dominion over animals on this planet. Does that mean we should go on and bury our heads in the sand while animals are treated with cruelty and horrific circumstances? Of course not. As a Christian, I hold a conscious obligation here that requires me to think deeper than “my milk comes from the shelf in the grocery store” and actually choose to acknowledge the process of how it arrived there. Which brings me to…
The Truth Behind Conventional Dairy Farms
Have you ever driven through a place like California on I-5 (or many other major freeways that run through the massive state) and noticed the black and white cows that are crammed together on nothing but dirt and shelters? If you’ve never noticed them, you’ve certainly smelled them on a warm day. If you haven’t had the joy of experiencing this lovely reality, allow me to paint the picture for you. You are traveling down the freeway and your air conditioning is running cool and clean. Suddenly this stench whiffs through your air vents and you are practically knocked off your seat. Within minutes you recognize “that smell” as you approach a mass of dark dirt and mud, and cows…hundreds of cows. These cows are always black and white (Holstein is the usual breed) and there are always SO many of them, and absolutely no green grass to graze on or enjoy. As an animal lover, it's devastating to look upon.
Now, if you think about it, you might start becoming interested in digging a little further. When you start digging, you might learn these cows are treated like milk machines and nothing more, nothing less. They are forced to breed and then their calves are removed from them (also by force) to continue the cycle of producing milk. Infections like mastitis run rampant and therefore antibiotics are widely used (and then yes, ends up in the milk you’re drinking). The only antibiotics that make their way into our bodies are not just from prescriptions.
Nine times out of ten, this is where the milk available on grocery store shelves comes from that you pickup without thinking about week after week, month after month. This is not sustainable for the animals, the environment, the soil, or even your own health. Just a little bit of research outside of this blog post will provide you with the videos and the evidence that backs up what I am sharing with you.
Denaturing a Perfect Food
So these cows are milked, and then what? Milk is bottled up and sent to the store? Nope, sadly there’s a lot more that happens from here (though, thankfully the cows “job” is done at this point). Once the cow is milked, the milk is then sent off to be processed. What do I mean by processed? Well, first it is pasteurized and homogenized. Ever notice those labels on your milk? They’re there, but what do they mean, exactly?
Pasteurization is the process in which raw milk is heated for a period of time to kill “harmful” bacteria. Let’s pause and address the FDA’s concern with raw milk. They claim that “pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, Q fever, and brucellosis.” They refuse to acknowledge the truth about raw milk. Now consider the thousands of Americans that consume raw dairy on a regular basis for years on end and have never experienced these issues. (As I write this, I’m personally pregnant with our third baby and have been consuming raw milk consistently since before and through each of my pregnancies and have stayed perfectly healthy.) Which poses this question: If there’s nothing unsafe about raw milk, why did pasteurization become the norm? The conditions the cows live in are naturally a huge culprit. Can you imagine the possibilities for disease and sanitation, etc. in the previously mentioned conditions? Is it possible that is the issue, not the raw milk itself? My whole-hearted opinion is yes. This causes me to pause and question the FDA’s intentions as a whole as well as the truth about raw milk.
RealMilk.com defends the safety of raw milk perfectly here:
Real milk that has been produced under sanitary and healthy conditions is a safe and healthy food. It is important that the cows are healthy (tested free of TB and undulant fever) and do not have any infections (such as mastitis). The cows should be eating food appropriate to cows, which is mostly grass, hay or silage, with only a small amount of grain, if any. The milk should be full-fat milk, as many important anti-microbial and health-supporting components are in the fat. The cows should be milked under sanitary conditions and the milk chilled down immediately.
Homogenization is a process that breaks down fat molecules in milk so that the cream doesn’t separate from the milk like it does with raw and non-homeginized dairy.
Organic Consumers puts it perfectly:
The nutritional bottom line is that pasteurization and homogenization destroy nutrients and proteins, make healthy fats rancid, and cause free radicals to form in the body. They denature milk by altering its chemical structure.
Yikes. So, if this process destroys nutrients and proteins in milk…what is there to drink? Ah…that explains the synthetic nutrients being added back into the milk after this process is over. Oye…that doesn’t sound great, either. Does it?
What Makes Raw Milk Better
Typically, when you find a source for raw milk, you’re going to come across a small, local dairy that cares deeply about their products and the way they are treating their animals. These farmers usually hold a high education on what their animals are being fed, how they are bred, what breed they are, and how their carbon footprint effects the earth and our livelihood. Most of these farmers even take a huge dip in income a couple of months throughout the year to give their cows a break from milking, as our producer in Northern California did year after year. This is a bummer for those that consume milk regularly, but the benefits far outweigh the disappointment of missing out for a couple of months. Sounds like a much better situation for both cows and our environment, right?
So, does breed matter? Actually, yes! Holstein cows and Jersey cows are the two I am personally most familiar with when it comes to milk and the differences. When I first started learning about the truth about raw milk, I was consuming milk that came from Holstein cows. I had never had anything different, so it tasted fine to me. Holsteins yield a high production, and is why they are the common choice for dairy farmers. However, learning about Jersey milk…oh this was a game changer. The creaminess and sweetness that a Jersey cow milk produces is enough to make you turn your back on their black and white cousins. After switching to Jersey milk, I can’t look back. It’s THAT good. Digging into the benefits of A2/A2 milk is also worth looking into if you care about the specific breed of cow you’re getting milk from.
Probiotic plug: Raw milk has LOADS of natural, GOOD bacterias that help our bodies thrive. This is 100% lacking in conventional dairy because the good bacteria is killed along with any possible bad ones when pasteurization occurs. You can get a lot more information about the “Magic of Raw Milk” on this article from the Weston A. Price Foundation.
It really is nature’s perfect food…
Another fun fact, raw milk never goes bad, y’all! If you consume store-bought conventional milk past it’s expiration date, it will not only taste terrible, but could make you very, very sick. It becomes completely useless and an absolute waste beyond expiration. Raw milk, however, is much different. It sours, absolutely, but when it sours it isn’t suddenly useless. You can use it in baking and cooking if the taste becomes unsettling, and you can also separate it into whey and curds by leaving it on the counter. What can you do with whey? Ferment just about anything (my personal favorite is homemade mayonnaise)!
Not Just Milk!
But wait, there's more! Beloved cheese, oh how I love thee. One of the huge disappointments of “becoming lactose-intolerant” was when I had to struggle with consuming cheese. When we made the switch after learning about the truth about raw milk, it wasn’t long before the switch to primarily raw cheese became imminent and permanent as well. Raw cheese is readily available where I am in grocery stores, but it is so expensive. I was very grateful when I discovered that Azure Standard had really great, affordable options in the raw cheese department.
The cheese I purchase most often from Azure comes in many size options, of which I always go with the 5lb blocks that come in a two-pack. I usually split this with a local friend (they take one block, I take the other) and I’ve been doing this for years and years now. Sometimes one 5lb block lasts us through one month, other times up to two. It depends on how much our family consumes in any given 1-2 month periods. Yes, it lasts this long and if we had to stretch it out for some reason, it shreds beautifully in a food processor and freezes and thaws like new! I do NOT recommend freezing as a whole block. It becomes very crumbly to slice or attempt to grate after it freezes.
The other flavors we have loved over the years from Sierra Nevada:
If you prefer organic, Sierra Nevada also offers that as well for a bit more cost:Traditional White Cheddar
How to Source Raw Milk
RealMilk.com is my favorite resource for sourcing raw dairy all over the United States. They have this Real Milk Finder available that allows you to lookup the closest source. In some states, it’s a lot easier to find raw milk because of different laws being passed. In California, you can go to a grocery store like Sprouts or Nugget and find it readily available on the shelf. However, in places like where I am in Texas, it’s only legal to make your purchase directly from the farmer themselves. There are some loopholes in most states. Contact (and get to know) your local farmer to find a source.
If you’re local to me in Houston, Texas area, then please visit Bimber & Barley's Raw Milk Co-Op (coming summer of 2022) and consider joining to pickup raw milk on a regular basis.
The Bottom Line About Raw Milk
The truth about raw milk is that it's not something to consider as "gross", or fear. Knowing your farmer is of upmost importance not just with dairy, but also with meats and more. Raw milk can improve you and your family’s health, while conventional options are doing nothing to benefit your well-being. It’s not "just for feeding baby cows."
Change can be hard, but sometimes it’s well worth it. Will raw milk be your gateway into natural living like it was mine? I would love to hear about your journey, and answer any further questions this blog post may have provoked. I am all ears!