Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's Talk about Milk!

When I was little, I used to drink at least one glass of milk a day, and I always put a generous splash of the stuff in my cereal-out-of-a-box. I stopped drinking milk several years ago, especially after reading about how the cows are treated and what kind of unfortunate substances end up in the milk; however, I never thoroughly researched exactly how the pasteurization of milk effects its nutritional value. 

Why did pasteurization come about in the first place? It used to be, people would just get fresh raw milk from their local dairy farmer. Farms were small and people knew exactly where their milk was coming from. Then, the familiar story of industrialization happened. Big cities were born and new technology changed how farming was done. This is when cows started to be unnaturally confined in unhealthy environments. There is plenty of information about the ugly side of dairy farming (and industrial farming in general) out there and I won't present that here. It is important to know, however, that these conditions resulted in very poor quality, bacteria laden milk. This kind of raw milk was dirty, not healthy, and certainly should not have been consumed. Rather than addressing the conditions that resulted in such a bad product, pasteurization started to be used and has been used ever since. This low quality milk is heated at high temperatures to destroy germs and make it safer to drink - yum :)

So what is the alternative? Raw milk. Why is it controversial? Because a lot of raw milk is produced according to the same industrial model as pasteurized milk. It's dirty. The good news is that there are smaller farms popping up that are going back to the old-fashioned way of doing things. They are bringing back green pastures, jersey cows, cleanliness, and ethics. In Canada, it is illegal to sell raw milk commercially; however, you can buy a cow share and get fresh, raw milk every week. In California, you can pick up raw milk at the supermarket. 

Now, let's do a bit more of a comparison between raw and pasteurized milk to see exactly how the pasteurization process changes the milk.

Pasteurization destroys:
- phosphatase, an enzyme that helps with calcium absorption
- immunoglobulins that strengthen our immune system
- probiotic bacteria, the healthy bacteria that lives in our gut and is a fundamental part of health
- lactase producing bacteria that allows us to digest the lactose in milk
- lipase, the enzyme that digests fats
- lactoferrin, nisin, lactoperoxidase, which protect us from pathogens
- delicate proteins in the milk are denatured
- vitamins A, D, B-12 are diminished
- calcium is inhibited and phosphorus is diminished

And this is on top of starting with a poor quality product that has come from cows who have been under much stress, fed antibiotics (thus contributing to a low immune system), given hormones, fed cheap grains rather than green grass, and unnaturally confined.

So why should we care about all of this? Everything that we choose to put into our mouths contributes to who we become and what kind of world we choose to support. Eating is an intimate act - the things we consume are literally the building blocks we are made of. Also, by eating something, we are affirming and supporting the method by which this food came about. If it's an organic tomato from your local farmer, you're directly supporting and giving strength to a world in which organic tomato farmers thrive and tomatoes are full of vitality and life-force. If I eat a bowl of ice cream from the supermarket, I directly support a world in which factory farming, industrial processing, flavour creation in a laboratory, and profit over the health and rights of living creatures are all acceptable. 

Now, I certainly don't mean to lecture or judge anybody's food choices - the freedom to eat what we want is one of the delights of life. However, I think it's super important to be as informed as possible about what it is that we are choosing from. Sometimes the choice isn't even really a choice but something we've been brainwashed into doing. Food is an industry, and like many other industries and corporations it is laced with deep seeded corruption and misinformation. If anything, I hope that we can continue to think about the source of our food and consider the potential power of what we eat to deeply nourish us, heal us, and reconnect us to our life-giving Earth. 

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