Milk: Essential Part of Life

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OLD HABIT

               My first taste of raw milk was in January of 2016 when I went WWOOFing on a goat farm. I’d go out in the morning and milk the goats and without pasteurization or anything, just a simple straining funnel, the milk would be deemed drinkable by the whole family. My taste buds were the first thing to tell me that this was good milk. Although skeptical at first, I found this milk to be smoother than the milk I was used to from the store. The milk had a distinct smell of grains and grass, which was strange at first, but after a while I barely noticed it. While on the farm I also learned how to make cheese and yogurt from the milk that I collected from the goats.  Before this experience, I too thought that it would be dangerous to drink raw milk and all I had known were the labels in the grocery store; “organic milk,” “homogenized” and “pasteurized.” I thought that I would get sick or that it was in some way of lower quality than what my grocer could provide me.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

               The debate over raw versus pasteurized milk is very hot right now. There are advocates of the raw milk movement that heavily believe there are health benefits to drinking unprocessed milk. On the contrary, federal organizations like the CDC and the FDA are strongly against encouraging consumption of raw milk [5]. The consumption of raw milk however, may be dangerous to pregnant women, small children, the elderly, and those whose immune systems may be compromised due to disease and other illnesses [10]. Nonetheless, let’s get started on some simple definitions in the industry.

               When milk is pasteurized, it’s just a fancy term to say the milk has been heated up to kill off the bad bacteria in the raw milk. However, when it is heated, it also kills off a lot of good bacteria.  By heating it up, not only does it destroy beneficial bacteria for our bodies, but it also extends the shelf life of the milk to up to 9 months [2].  This has also been proven to be beneficial in that the bad bacteria that are killed off are the ones that can be most dangerous in spreading diseases such as Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, and other common foodborne illnesses [10].

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               Different from pasteurization, the process of homogenization preserves the consistency and taste of the milk. If not for homogenization, milk will continuously separate into fat layers and rise to the top. This process allows farmers to mix milk from different herds and it filters out fats to create the 2% or 1% milk that are offered in our grocery stores [4].

                A common shift in the industry is towards organic milk. In order for organic milk to be certified, the dairy animals must be fed and managed organically for at least one year prior to the production of organic milk. Feed to organic animals must be 100% organic. They are required to have access to the outdoors, and to pasture during the growing season. Farmers must also establish preventative health management practices, meaning they cannot withhold medical treatment from sick animals to maintain the animals' organic status. The use of growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering, and cloning is obviously prohibited, and so is the feeding of slaughter by-products. Finally, all organic livestock production and processing operations must be certified by USDA-accredited certification agencies in order to be labeled organic. According to these standards, a farm can become organic within three years [6].

               When purchasing milk in the grocery store we may not be thinking of how it got there. One pressing issue in the dairy industry however is the treatment of the cows on dairy farms. As with any mammal, cows are only meant to produce milk when they give birth. This means the industry is continuously artificially inseminating cows so that they are constantly producing milk. This has affected cows as their normal lifespan may be 20 to 27 years of age, but due to the stress and strain of the industry, most cows are slaughtered by 5 years. The increased birth rate has also been creating a harmful cycle for not just the mother cows but creating industries of demand such as veal. The veal industry was founded from unwanted male calves, who live in confined spaces and are unable to build up muscle resilience, so that we may enjoy tender meat [8].  

Straus Family Creamery

Straus Family Creamery

NEW HABIT

1) At the very least, consider buying organic milk in comparison to pasteurized and homogenized milk. Organic milk maybe be pasteurized and homogenized as these are processes.  Standards for organic require farmers to more humanely treat their animals such as mandated pasture grazing instead of indoor feedlots.

 

2) Give raw milk a try, if it’s legal in your state. There are different criteria of raw milk sales in different states. However, with the exception of Montana, Nevada, Iowa, Hawaii, Louisiana, New Jersey, Delaware, and Rhode Island, raw milk is legal in all the other states to different degrees.  https://www.farmtoconsumer.org/raw-milk-nation-interactive-map/ Do educate yourself on whether you are able to safely consume raw milk.

 

3) Alternatives to dairy based milk for the lactose intolerant and the animal lover. Some more well known than others; soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, and almond milk. These lactose free options have different health benefits as well, and many consider it healthier for the body containing less fat and more protein as well as a variety of vitamins that may not be found in traditional milk. [7]

 

Written by Erica Cheung. Edited by Candice Gormley.

Sources:

Editorfood, milk, dairy, raw, pasteurized