(photo source: honest cooking)
I’d like to first share that originally this blog post was going to be about ice cream, America’s favorite dessert. It was going to reveal some (chilling) truths about ice cream sold in stores today, including that many brands now can’t even call it ice cream (frozen dairy dessert is one name that is now often used instead because it contains nothing standard in “ice cream.”) I also was going to mention that an ingredient commonly used for flavoring vanilla iced desserts is called castoreum (basically, dried beaver anal glands) and will likely show up on the ingredient list as “natural flavoring.” All of this I was going to share, including options we can choose that don’t fall short of the real deal, until in my research I started to find out what was really in milk of today. Once I became aware of all of this, I am now compelled to tell a new story…
Milk: the drink America uses to keep bones strong, teeth white, and cereals tasty.
Milk: the 4th most consumed liquid in the US.
Milk: possibly the dirtiest thing in store bought ice cream.
Let me first begin this story by sharing that I am not vegan (yet?) and that probably my all time favorite food is parmesan cheese. I feel like my middle name should be Caesar for how much I love that dang salad (dressing, really.)
MILK of 2013: THE FACTS
–>97% of milk purchased and consumed in the US is gathered from cows that live in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), which often house up to 15,000 animals in a very very tight space. In fact, 50% of our milk comes from the biggest and most confined 4 cow farms.
–>Just like in humans, dairy milk comes from cows that have just been pregnant. The standard practice in the industry is to artificially inseminate the cows no more than 60 days after they give birth so that they are on a consistent schedule of lactation. They are continuously pregnant or lactating for their entire life that they are able.
–>Grass and sprouts is what cows are meant to eat, but grass-fed cows have a hard time yielding lots of milk and sprouts are expensive; so, these CAFO dairy farms force feed these animals cheap corn and GMO grains. They live on barren land, if they get to see light at all.
–>A normal cow in normal lactation produces about 16 pounds of milk per day. With hormones, chemicals, and antibiotics, however, the cows can produce 3-4 times this (the American AVERAGE milk-producing cow is forced to make 50lbs of milk per day). About 20 of these chemicals used are easily found in the milk we drink and feed our children.
–>When they are in lactation stages, cows’ udders are milked several times a day using electronic machines that induce production by using mild to moderate electric shocks. These machines often cause bleeding, lesions, and infection.
–>The blood, bacteria, and puss resulting from these infections is a common thing permissible in your milk and is why pasteurization is literally crucial if humans are to consume this type of milk.
+ Pasteurization is the process in which a food is flash heated for a set time in order to kill bacteria and viruses. This blog is not about pasteurization, but I will mention that while high heats absolutely do kill pathogens, they also kill good bacteria and enzymes and modify the structures of molecules and proteins, causing reduced probiotic and nutrient content (and who knows what else.)
+ The FDA allows : per ONE cubic centimeter (cc) of commercial cow’s milk is permissible to have up to 750,000 somatic cells (aka puss). So, in 1 cup of milk you are likely to have 177 million cells from puss/blood. This is close to double what Canada and Europe allows.
–>These conditions (not surprisingly) significantly increase the risk of sick and diseased cows. This is another reason pasteurization of their milk is a critical step if we are drinking it in the end game.
+ Though the average dairy cow can live 20-25 years, the average American cow on a CAFO dies within 4-6 years due to exhaustion from lactation or disease.
+ 1 out of 3 dairy cows have mastitis, a painful and serious udder infection caused by over-lactation and dirty conditions. They are still allowed to milk these cows and sell the milk to you.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
I hate to write a depressing blog, especially when it involves cheese. So, I want to be sure that I discuss our options appropriately.
1) GO VEGAN.
There is the option of avoidance entirely, and this will ensure no personal exposure to these rather disgusting toxins as well as protection for the animal, if you feel it has any rights at all. There are plenty of ways to get wholesome protein, vitamin D, and calcium besides in milk, including almond milk and soy milk. Unfortunately, this offers no solution for your brie cheese craving.
2) BUY ORGANIC.
Careful here, this isn’t exactly a perfect choice either (I can see my cheese-loving sister screaming out—phew! I already buy organic). Here are the pros and cons to buying organic milk and dairy, and currently about 3% of US farms are officially organic practicing:
+ have standards for pasture and grazing space, so they can’t be packed like sardines.
+ do not use growth hormones or high levels of antibiotics.
+ do not feed cows GMO grains/corn.
+ Not all organic farms are alike–some actually look a lot more like a CAFO…
–RATINGS OF ORGANIC DAIRY BASED ON CORNUCOPIA (look up all dairy farms there)
> examples of brands in lowest score: Horizon, Aurora. Slightly better, but still at the bottom, are brands from Costco, Safeway, and BJ’s.
> medium scores: Ben&Jerry’s, Stonyfield
> higher scores: organic valley, 365 (whole foods), Clover, Strauss, Wallaby
+still may use the same animal-unfriendly lactating schedule and machinery.
+still may feed the cows what they’re not supposed to eat—aka grains and corn (albeit, non-GMO).
3) BUY RAW and ORGANIC.
Also not a perfect or good option for everyone. If you do decide to go raw, you’d better take the step to know that your farmer produces high quality, clean, and nutritious milk. The last thing you want is to be drinking anything raw that comes from a CAFO farm as described above.
+Unpasteurized so all the good stuff in milk stays.
+You can get your milk from a farm that lets its cows graze and live as nature intended.
+From 1993-2006 less than 0.000002% of foodborne illnesses were connected to raw milk consumption.
+Takes more effort on your part to seek out a farm that’s intent is to sell raw clean milk.
+Heightened risk of foodborne illness as compared to pasteurized milk.
+Though ~50% of dairy illness is from unpasteurized milk, the total number sickened by dairy overall represents less than 14% of foodborne illness.
–To translate, you are close to 50,000 times more likely to get sick from other foods than raw milk.
To be honest, it’s tough to say what the best choice is here—and I don’t believe any nutritionist can make this choice for you. The safest AND most animal friendly source would be to abstain from dairy all together, but this isn’t something many of us want to do. Frankly, as someone who loves my lasagna, I understand that veganism isn’t the right choice for all. That said, there are some known and I imagine some unknown risks if you choose organic pasteurized or unpasteurized dairy. That said and WITHOUT A DOUBT, after reading about what 97% of Americans consume, I am VERY confident that conventional milk is NOT a good choice for you or your family—sure, you might not get immediately sick because it is super-pasteurized; but, I don’t need science to tell me that sucking milk from a diseased and over-exhausted nipple belonging to a dying cow is eventually unsafe.
I will tell you that my choice is to mostly eat vegan, but on the occasion when I do want milk/ice cream/cheese I will pick raw. If this sounds like you, here is a great website to help you find a local reputable source: http://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/. In Los Angeles, it’s available in every neighborhood, including from:
+Claravale Dairy: web: claravaledairy.com; phone: 831-628-3219. Raw Jersey milk and raw goat milk. Claravale feeds their cows a diet of hay, corn, and alfalfa.
+Organic Pastures: web: organicpastures.com; phone: 559-846-9732 or 877-Raw-Milk. A mixed breed herd feeds on irrigated green pasture at least eight months of the year and also receives a mixture of organic corn, oats, and alfalfa plus organically approved mineral supplements and salt.
+Lassen’s Natural Foods, web: lassens.com. Reader reports on individual stores would indicate that many, if not all, locations in California carry Claravale and/or Organic Pastures Dairy Company products.
+Sprouts, web: sprouts.com/stores/california-oceanside. Reader reports on individual stores would indicate that many, if not all, locations in California carry Organic Pastures Dairy Company products.
Daina Slekys, MS, MPH is a Nutritionist and co-founder of Health-Ade kombucha, in Los Angeles, CA. EMAIL Daina your health questions and she’ll be happy to help! (email@example.com)
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