you are what you eat (and drink) pt. 1

For some time now, I have been wanting to share here about the changes to our diet that Willy and I have been undertaking. Since this past summer, we have been taking steps to eating a healthier whole-foods diet – some of the main changes we’ve implemented are eating natural animal fats and eliminating processed foods from our diet. We are not perfect and neither are our food choices, but we are taking steps in a good direction and I am proud of our progress so far.

One of the biggest changes in both our eating and our grocery spending is the milk we purchase. I wanted to share why we changed the milk we drank, both because I think it’s important, and because I sometimes have trouble explaining to people in everyday conversation why we’ve made the switch.

I grew up drinking two percent, conventional grocery store milk for part of my childhood, then switched to skim in grade school (whenever my parents made the decision to do so). For years – until this summer, really – I drank skim milk and loved it. I always felt that it was the best option, seeing that whole milk was full of unnecessary fat. I liked that I could drink skim almost like water, and that it was cheap enough that I could buy it all the time. I loved eating cereal, and I never had any idea that drinking skim was not the best choice. I was fully convinced in my mind that it was a very healthy choice.

Flash forward to this summer: I stumbled upon a blog written by a young mother who was advocating a diet based on the eating habits of traditional people groups. Through this blog and other websites and books, I became convinced that the quality of milk sold in most grocery stores is, at best, of poor quality, and at worst, not good for us to drink. Here are some of the reasons (and by the way, other websites have more extensive information on this topic, I’m just attempting to be concise here):

Conditions of cows and feedlots
– Conventional milk is produced from cows that live in crowded feedlot conditions; these cows do not forage for their own food (grasses), as is how God designed them to live and eat, but are given feed. This can consist of anything from soymeal (soy can influence horomonal balance in the human body) to chicken manure. Because these are unnatural foods for a cow, it makes the cow more susceptible to illness, disease and death; and in exchange for this unnatural process, a cow must be given antibiotics to keep it alive.
– Cows are also given growth horomones to make them able to produce an unnaturally greater amount of milk – up three times as much as normal. Even without additional growth horomones, cow’s milk can contain high levels of its own natural growth horomones.
– The industrial manner in which these cows are used for high-yield milk production means that there’s more in your milk than just the milk, or even the things I described above. You might look at this subject as a matter more of interest to PETA members than yourself until you consider the safety of the milk you buy at the grocery store. In order to process all the cows in a crowded feedlot, cows are quickly hooked up to the milking equipment and given a limited amount of attention – therefore it is nearly unavoidable that manure bits can end up in the milk, along with mastitis (i.e. bacteria) that affects unhealthy cows. Of course, this is a matter of food safety, which leads us to…

Pasteurization and food safety
– Pasteurization was developed in the 1920s to combat dirty production methods and the spread of disease. It also gives milk a longer shelf life and enables it to be transported and distributed more easily. In that time, raw milk was being produced unsanitarily, and people suffered immediate effects; in our time, pasteurization is a safeguard against disease but it doesn’t mean the milk is clean.
– As said by Sally Fallon of the Weston A Price Foundation, “times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection. And pasteurization does not always kill the bacteria for Johne’s disease suspected of causing Crohn’s disease in humans with which most confinement cows are infected. Much commercial milk is now ultra-pasteurized to get rid of heat-resistant bacteria and give it a longer shelf life. Ultra-pasteurization is a violent process that takes milk from a chilled temperature to above the boiling point in less than two seconds.
– A few effects of pasteurization: it “destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity.”

Health benefits
– What you may not know is that the vitamins associated with drinking milk are contained in the butterfat of the milk. “Average butterfat content from old-fashioned cows at the turn of the century was over 4% (or more than 50% of calories). Today butterfat comprises less than 3% (or less than 35% of calories). Worse, consumers have been duped into believing that low-fat and skim milk products are good for them. Only by marketing low-fat and skim milk as a health food can the modern dairy industry get rid of its excess poor-quality, low-fat milk from modern high-production herds. Butterfat contains vitamins A and D needed for assimilation of calcium and protein in the water fraction of the milk.”
– Another component of conventional milk is that it is homogenized. In a container of non-homogenized milk, the cream (i.e. butterfat) will separate from the rest of the milk and sit on top – a very natural process. This is what is used to make butter. In homogenization, all of the fat is chemically altered so that it will stay suspended in the milk and not sit on top. This gives milk producers the ability to determine if they want it whole, two percent, etc. This chemical process further destroys the vitality of the enzymes and vitamins in the milk, leaving us with a product that is compromised and vastly different from its original form. And – what do you know? – homogenization gives it a longer shelf life as well.

So what now?

This may be a lot of new information to you, and the options are indeed somewhat limited if you’re looking to stop drinking storebought milk. Many people associated with this movement believe in drinking only raw milk. There are many benefits associated with doing so, but let’s face it, it’s a difficult prospect. It’s not even legal in some states (including mine), and how the heck are you supposed to go find a farmer who will give you milk from their cows? There are also very real health risks, such as contagious disease and unsanitary product.

If you really want raw milk:
– There are places you can find where the farmer has a permit to legally sell his raw milk – sometimes it might require some distance, though, such as traveling to another county or state, which isn’t ideal.
– You can sometimes barter for it; some farmers are willing to do an under-the-radar exchange. We met a farmer this summer at our farmer’s market who was willing to barter bread for his milk.
– If you are interested in finding a place near you that sells raw milk, use this website: http://www.realmilk.com/where.html
– Just ask around. Go to a farmer’s market, a natural foods store, wherever. If you know any farmers, ask them; and even if they don’t have milk, they may be able to hook you up with someone else.

I firmly believe that raw milk can be produced well. We even sampled some this summer from some friends. As long as you know the source and trust it, it can be a good decision for boosting your health.

In our case, we find it much easier and more convenient to buy some local milk (http://spokanefamilyfarm.com/) that is pasteurized at a very low temperature and is non-homogenized. This makes it safer to drink but doesn’t destroy everything beneficial in it. The milk comes from a farm in Spokane, less than 100 miles from here. It is a small-scale farm, which further ensures its safety and the care put into it. Plus, you can go there and go on a tour of the farm! I have heard great things from friends who have visited. And besides, their milk is delicious.

Anyway, this was just meant to be an intro to why we believe you should buy quality milk. I’m planning on further posts relating to this as well.

For more info on real milk, visit: http://www.realmilk.com/

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