Raw Milk: I Have a Right to Drink What I Want

Jenny Erikson
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Photo by Kristen Bons
I'm not exactly what you'd call a crunchy mom. I love the convenience of disposable diapers. I drive an SUV that holds over 25 gallons of gasoline at a time. I'm hopelessly addicted to my BlackBerry.

Since I'm an advocate of free choice, I have no qualms whatsoever with other mamas that choose to cloth-diaper their kiddos, buckle them into the Prius, then snuggle them into the sling while they browse the aisles at their local health food store. It's just not for me.

For better or worse and to each their own. As parents, we all try to do what's best for our children within the confines of our lifestyles. We make sure they get the rest they need, we take them to the doctor when they're sick, and we kiss and bandage boo-boos with abandon. And of course we feed them as healthy of a diet as we can get into their picky little mouths and down their stubborn little throats.

Like I said, I've never exactly been the Earth Mother type. Chicken nuggets with processed ketchup constituted health food for a long time in our house. However, over the last few months, I've slowly been changing our family's diet to include more healthful choices: Whole wheat instead of white; the cloudy pulpy apple juice instead of the clear stuff; organic produce when I could afford it.

Call it a phase, call it a lifestyle change, call it a whim, call it whatever, but call it my choice. I'm the mama around here and it's my job to feed my family, and I choose to make sandwiches with whole wheat bread, and if the kids don't like it, then they must not be that hungry anyway. Not that, um, those words have ever escaped my lips at the dinner table (cough cough).

In talking to some of my lovely crunchy mom friends, I started learning about raw milk. It sounded dangerous to me. The FDA says it's unsafe, and besides, everyone that has ever watched Survivor knows you're supposed to boil water before you drink it to kill off any harmful bacteria. Shouldn't that hold true with milk as well? Surely milk needs to be cooked in the pasteurization process before it's safe to consume ... right?

Maybe not.

When milk first started to be pasteurized over a hundred years ago, it was a direct response to the dirty milk being produced at the time. Farmers were feeding their dairy cows waste products from nearby whiskey distilleries instead of fresh grass. The animals lived in their own feces and were generally hand-milked. Not exactly a healthy environment, and it produced very dirty milk that made many people very sick. Pasteurization killed off the bacteria, thus making the milk safe to drink.

Cows are no longer fed distillery waste, but they're fed soy and corn, which their bodies aren't meant to process. Either God or evolution created cows that need grass and hay to be healthy and produce clean, healthy milk. When the cows are fed grain instead of grass, their milk has to be pasteurized to make it safe for human consumption.

The problem with pasteurization is that it kills off the good stuff as well as the bad. Milk loses much of its nutritional value when it's cooked, just like any other food out there.

But what about the cleanliness of the milk? After some more research, I discovered that not all milk is created equal. Even the most ardent supporters of raw milk say that they'd never drink the stuff destined for pasteurization. Why? Because it may contain up to 100,000 bacteria per milliliter, leaving as many as 20,000 of those bugs alive after the cooking process. In comparison, raw milk standards in California require that the milk contain fewer than 15,000 bacteria per milliliter. That's right, the raw milk I buy is most likely cleaner than the more popular, heavily processed stuff.

I made the decision to provide my family with raw milk, and thankfully I can legally buy it at my local natural foods store in California. In a few days, moms in Wisconsin may be able to make the same choice that I have. On Tuesday of this week, raw milk advocates in Wisconsin will come together at the state capitol to encourage Governor Jim Doyle to sign into law a recent bill passed by the state legislator that would legalize the sale of raw milk in the state.

I'm not saying that raw milk or even milk of any kind is the right choice for every family. But shouldn't we all be able to choose for ourselves? Or should we rely on a government that tells us what we can and can't eat?

 

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