So I've had a few people ask me why I bother driving 40 minutes to a farm every week to pick up fresh milk when I can just drive 10 minutes to the store. So I usually try to give this simplest answer I can, but I've found this is really just one of those questions people ask without really wanting to wait for an answer. But I'm going to go ahead and write my explanation anyway so I'll have it ready the next time someone asks me.
If most people have ever heard anything about raw milk it is usually that it is "unsafe" to drink. Well first of all, that isn't totally true. Yes, it COULD be unsafe to drink, but just about anything you drink or eat COULD make you sick. Even foods you wouldn't think of, like the recent outbreak of salmonella from peanut butter. The argument whether raw milk is "safe" or not all comes down to the farming methods and the animals. If the animals are properly cared for, are allowed to graze freely and maintain a proper diet then the likelihood of raw milk making you sick is very low.
The reason I choose to drink raw milk is because it has a higher nutritional value. There are those who say that nothing is killed in the pasteurization process except harmful bacteria, but I find that hard to believe. Studies done in the 1930s comparing pasteurized milk to raw milk found that the pasteurzation process makes the majority of the calcium in milk insoluble, meaning that we can't digest it. Also if no nutrients are lost in the pasteurization process, why do so many zoos use raw milk to feed their animals instead of pasteurized? Because animals fed pasteurized milk develop health problems that those fed raw milk do not. Studies have also shown that people who drink raw milk, like those who grow up on a farm, have less allergies. There is also the fact that I have actually seen the farm where the milk is coming from AND the animal that is producing the milk. So I don't have to worry if I'm getting milk from a healthy animal. Plus there is the fact that is just tastes better.
The reason that milk began to be pasteurized in the first place is because during the mid to late 1800s there were a large number of milk epidemics that were causing people to become sick with typoid, cholera, and scarlet fever. As the epidemics grew worse, there becaming an increase pressure on farmers by legislators and pasteurization plants to pasteurize all their milk. As the farmers resisted, the pasteurization plants started public campaigns against raw milk in newspapers and in 1909 the first mandatory pasteurization law was passed in Chicago. Today, only 4 states allow the sale of raw milk in stores, 24 states allow the sale of raw milk on farms, and the other 22 outlaw sale completely.
But what was missed in the argument over raw milk sales during the early 1900s was the state of the dairy farm. Most barns were filthy, cramped and filled with manure that the cows would then have to lie in. An 1895 study found that more than one-fourth of 165 herds examined in 17 states harbored tuberculosis. Not to mention that in some states, dairy farms were located next to whiskey distilleries and the cows were fed the waste produced from the whiskey production, making the cows sick. Sick cows produce bad milk which leads to illness in the drinker.
So while a large percentage of the milk being produced was leading to illness, this was a cause of bad farming practices that should have been solved by a cleanup of farming procedures, instead of a process of heating or even boiling the milk.
Now that I've given my reasons for choosing raw milk and the history behind the pasteurization process, my next blog will focus on the problems of today's large scale dairy operations.