Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Raw Milk, Part IV

Early in The Untold Story of Milk, Ron Schmid recounts the history of milk in America. He does so at great length, though I'll summarize the history. Milk and its byproducts proved to be critical to the growth, health, and advancement of the United States. It became a stabilizing force in colonial America, otherwise largely bereft of the nutrition required to sustain large populations. At the time, cows were pasture fed and kept by many families—even in cities.

The growth of cities and the rise of alcohol distilleries brought cattle into confined dairies eating the leftovers of alcohol production called swill. These swill dairies were known for sick cows in unhealthy environments. Outbreaks of disease were rampant in these dairies. Up to half of the youth in cities died as a result of food pathogens found in milk and other foods. The conditions became increasingly known and rather than moving back to feeding cows on grass, pasteurization became the solution to the crisis.

Pasteurization largely solved the problems of bacteria in milk, and many called for mandatory pasteurization of milk, even for raw milk known to be produced under sanitary conditions on grass. Milk became politicized, and large dairies pushed toward homogenization, which would allow them to make a uniform glass of milk, without the cream rising to the top. The cream would then be used more profitably for ice cream. Market forces in league with government pushed ever closer to mandatory pasteurization, as we now see in most of America. Raw milk became marginalized and maligned.

As Schmid writes, "Modern, bastardized versions of these foods [raw milk, butter, and cheese] do not provide the health-building properties of the dairy foods consumed in Loetschental Valley. Homogenized, pasteurized milk from confinement animals, and butter, cheese, and yogurts made from such milk, may look the same and carry the same name, but the assumption that they are the same as milk products from the Loetschental Valley constitutes an insidious deception perpetrated on the consumer of industrialized food." (Schmid, p. 145-156)

The government holds the line that pasteurized milk products are nutritionally identical to unpasteurized milk products, but repeated studies and stories refute this belief. The politics of milk are deeply engrained in society. The belief that animal fats are responsible for the epidemic of heart disease and obesity is a lie, according to those that argue for the need to reintegrate raw milk and its byproducts into our diet. The evidence in the book is compelling. The logic of the argument is also compelling, as heart disease was largely unknown prior to the early twentieth century. (Schmid, p. 183) The obvious well known epidemic of heart disease is a new phenomenon, something that is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. The diseases and plagues of yesteryear have been replaced with new ones. Were we to retain the benefits of better sanitation and return to more primitive diets, we may well find the fountain of youth, so to speak. We may find that we are able to live fuller, healthier lives, unplagued by the neuroses of BMI indexes, fad diets, and exercise regimens.

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