Underground Milk

I am currently working on a small family farm in Yolo County, California. My responsibilities include tending to a small herd of grass-fed Jersey cows of whom I’ve grown quite fond.

The heard

The milk that these beauties produce is some amazing stuff. Prior to coming here I did not care for milk; I found it unappetizing as a beverage on its own, and I preferred almond or soy milk in my cereal.

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Thanks to these guys I am now a full milk convert.

A cold glass of the white stuff.
A cold glass of the white stuff.

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The epicurean pleasures of drinking raw milk straight from the cow are undeniable; a rich consistency, nuanced flavor, and creamy yellow colour. It is nurturing and filling. The moment it touches your lips you can’t help but think about sun dappled pastures.

From the cow to the jar
From the cow to the jar.

I was puzzled to learn that we did not sell this potentially life-altering beverage at our farmers market stall. The reason that milk was not for sale: raw milk is a controversial and highly legislated product.

Raw milk refers to milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized. It is basically taken directly from the cow and left as is. Proponents of raw milk claim that it has a wide variety of health benefits, from clearing up skin to preventing cancer. In addition, many people who are lactose intolerant purport to be able to drink raw milk with no ill effects. I have spoken to people who talk about raw milk as though it is a magical healing elixir. While those against raw milk argue that there are many possibilities for disease transmission – such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria – so legislation becomes an issue of public safety. This is the prevailing, widespread view, and thus it is illegal to sell unpasteurized milk in most states.

The issue of raw milk ignites strong feelings in people and forms an unlikely pro-raw alliance on the far left and far right of the political spectrum. The earthy naturalist types want milk as nature intended it to be and feel that keeping it raw brings them closer to the land. The gun-toting libertarian types do not want the government interfering with their milk in any which way, so they too prefer unregulated milk.

While I am sure milk straight from the cow tastes better than what you can buy in the store, I am skeptical that it has miraculous healing properties. What I do not like about legislated pasteurization is that it supports the idea that all germs are evil and need to be destroyed at all costs. This “germ theory of disease” has become pervasive making sanitizers, antibacterial products, antibiotics and germaphobia all very prevalent. I think this is detrimentaland would like to see an ode to the good germ]. The idea that conditions which are sterile and void of life would be the optimal conditions for health does not make any sense. Along with killing bad germs, there should be equal or greater emphasis on promoting good bacteria. It has in fact been suggested that a healthy person harbors a far more thriving bacteria colony than an unhealthy person.

I’m not sure if taking in the microbes and bacteria that are meant for a baby cow is the best thing for you, but I do think that people should be aware of the biotic ecosystems they are creating in their guts, and consider the introduction of new microorganisms to be a potentially beneficial thing.

It is nice to know that milk is certifiably safe when you buy it, and that you don’t have to boil it before drinking as was once common. This assurance of safety, however, can be accomplished by knowing how your farmer produces your food; it does not need to rely on government regulation.

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