Last September (9/21-22) I attended the Regional Wise Traditions Conference in Portland, Oregon.
The owner of Champoeg Creamery, Charlotte Smith, led a talk on raw milk, she titled “Raw Milk Babies”. She owns the farm with her husband, which is located about forty five minutes south of Portland, Oregon. They have about one hundred and twenty weekly families as customers and are passionate about providing safe, nutritious and delicious raw milk, especially after hearing the many health recovery stories from their customers. As Charlotte says, “Anecdotal evidence is a mom’s scientific proof.”
She begins her talk by discussing the dramatic changes in her children’s health and immune systems after making the switch to raw milk. “Our biggest a-ha moment was when we learned that what we eat today affects our health today. It doesn’t only affect our life long term.”
She is very proud of the farm she runs for many reasons. In order for the milk to be safe, healthy and tasty, the cows themselves must be healthy from eating their traditional diet of grass. Raising the cows on the proper diet keeps their immune systems strong and the milk they provide to be the most nutritious it can be. Their cows graze about nine months out of the year since this is as long as possible given the weather of the Pacific Northwest. From November to January there is very little to no new grass growing.
In addition to the cows’ natural diets, Charlotte divulges the farm’s basic practices and rules and explains how it is very important to know your farmer, especially when drinking raw milk. She says you want to make sure that your farmer practices complete transparency. At Champoeg Creamery, you can pick milk up directly from the farm at any time, there is a farm camp for kids, and everyone can interact with the animals and feed the baby cows. The unique opportunity to interact with the animals brings more awareness to their safe practices and helps customers create a special bond and appreciation for the animals that are providing their sustenance.
Charlotte also does raw milk dairy consulting to help other farmers keep their milk safe and sustainable, in the hopes that it becomes more widely available. In California you can buy raw milk at New Seasons (a food co-op) right off the shelf, yet California is in the minority. There are about ten states that legalized the retail sale of raw milk, and about seventeen other states that have legalized sale directly from a farm. I happen to know (and appreciate very much) that Central Co-op in Capital Hill (Seattle) sells some delicious raw milk, as does the Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market. My favorite raw milk brands also have drop off points in Seattle, which means you get a weekly drop off in a neighborhood closest to your home. I used to complain about needing to go out of my way to purchase the raw milk, but I’m now so very thankful that it’s available in the city at all.
What’s the main difference between raw and “normal” pasteurized milk?
First of all, I find it ironic that pasteurized milk is thought of as “normal” milk by most people today. Yes, it is more common, but I find it hard to believe that taking the big step to process a perfectly nourishing food makes it any more normal than it was in its original state. Pasteurization kills and destroys everything both good and bad in the milk. The whole point of pasteurizing is to get rid of the bad bugs, but doing so negatively alters the nutrients in the milk, so the question becomes “Is it worth it?” Deciding if it’s worth the (very small) risk is an individual decision, but there is much confusion and misinformation out there which I think should be cleared up before one decides if it’s right for them.
The pasteurization process doesn’t only get rid of any potential bad bugs, but it also rids the milk of everything that you need to digest and absorb the nutrients in the milk. Pasteurized milk is a very common allergen in America, which shows through many different symptoms and can lead to much more serious autoimmune issues down the road. Raw milk has shown to decrease allergies and asthma, and has been found to help heal a myriad of different diseases. A common story told that Charlotte hears from her clients is how much raw milk has helped people’s digestive issues, specifically constipation. Your bowel movements are completely connected to your gut flora and digestive system bacteria. Once you add in probiotic foods it helps regulate everything.
Raw milk helps build gut flora (and I’ve gone on and on about gut health’s importance already!) which is critical to the healing of any ailments, health symptoms or diseases. Charlotte pointed out just how critical it is to pass along excellent gut flora to your baby when giving birth. Her talk was tailored towards raw milk and babies, but the same is true for adults. It’s important to start building good gut flora before getting pregnant so that the baby gains the healthy microbiota from the birth canal during birth. However, Charlotte reminded us to never think it’s too late to build up yours (or your child’s) immune system.
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but rather will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, through lifestyle and diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” To Charlotte, this quote speaks directly to raw milk and the ability to get “complete immunity from a traditional diet full of probiotics”.
A little about the history of raw milk:
In the mid to late 1800’s, distillery dairies grew and confined many abused, grain fed cows which produced “slop milk”- the unhealthy milk the sick cows produced. People were sickened by the milk, so pasteurized was invented as an 18th century solution to the 18th century problem. Back then, they didn’t have the knowledge or technology to create safe milk without pasteurizing it. We have both the knowledge and technology to do that today, but we (as a culture) hang on to the mindset of needing to pasteurize out of fear. It is also difficult for big milk companies to make the switch away from the process they use today. It would force them to completely revisit every aspect of their business. They would need to be extremely careful and safe with every processes with their cows, which is a lot to ask of companies that are used to doing things the “quick and dirty” way.
Louis Pasteur is known as the “Father of Pasteurization”. He had a colleague named Claude Bernard. Bernard understood people as all having their own individual “battleground” in your body that you can build through nutrition. Louis Pasteur and him would argue about this, since Pasteur believed that only doctors had the power to heal, not individual humans. Pastuer strongly believed that because of this, you must stay in a completely sterile environment, since we’re incapable of fighting of disease ourselves. This was his basis around the invention of pasteurization.
Over the past thirty years there has been an explosion of knowledge about the immune system. We’re starting to understand that a strong immune system can certainly help protect us from infectious disease, although it’s still generally accepted that pathogenic microbes are the main cause of illness (so we should be in a sterile environment). While everyone has their own personal feelings and decisions around environmental verses personal health factors and their relationship to getting sick, I personal feel that they both play an important role. So why do I choose to drink raw milk? Not only do I find that it strengthens the immune system to help defend off any bugs, but I think that the chances of getting sick from it are extremely rare. To me, the pros largely outweight the cons.
What’s in raw milk and is it really safe?
Enzymes are substances that make life possible. They’re needed for all chemical reactions that occur in the body. They start to be destroyed around 118 degrees farenheit and all are completely destroyed at 160 degrees. In the process of destroying the enzymes, the vitamins (specifically A, C, B6 and B12) are greatly diminished as well. The enzymes in raw milk help kill the bad bacteria, help you assimilate vitamins and minerals, and help digest the milk (usually even for those who are lactose intolerant). These main enzymes responsible for this in raw milk are lactoferrin and lactoperoxidase. Raw milk is also one of the best sources of calcium available.
In terms of the safety of raw milk, nobody can say it better than Chris Kresser. He explains why the risk of drinking unpasteurized milk is dramatically overstated- largely because dairy products are at the bottom of the list for foodborne disease outbreaks. Dairy products account for only 1.3% of foodborne illnesses each year. It’s also important to note that most outbreaks from dairy have been found to be quite mild compared to other foods. And here’s the real kicker- there hasn’t been a single death attributed to raw milk since the mid 1980’s even though almost 10 million people are currently consuming it regularly. To put that in perspective: thousands of people are killed by foodborne illnesses each year. However, they’re dying from fruits, nuts, eggs, meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Chris Kresser looked very closely at data surrounding raw milk illnesses between the years 2000 and 2007. He found that you had a roughly 1 in 94,000 chance of becoming ill from drinking unpasteurized milk during that time. Wow. “With approximately 9.4 million people drinking raw milk, that means you have about a 1 in 6 million chance of being hospitalized from drinking raw milk.”- Chris Kresser, ‘Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Dangerous?’
I hope that this post inspired by Charlotte Smith’s “Raw Milk Babies” talk is informative for you. My hope is that you will ultimately be able to make your own informed decision regarding raw milk. After all, all the cool kids are drinking it!