Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why Buy the Cow?

Last night instead of attending my classmate's potluck dinner, I was forced to lay down and relax, alternating an ice pack and heating pad to relieve my inexplicable back pain. I felt badly about canceling on dinner, but more than that I was disappointed to miss an opportunity to spend time with the thoughtful and intelligent group of women with whom I take classes. Hailing from all different walks of life, my classmates bring a wealth of experience and insight to the increasingly controversial discussions we've been having in class. One of the more interesting topics we covered this week was raw milk, in response to a recent article that appeared in The Seattle Times.

I should preface this by saying that I had never given much thought to raw milk. I spent most of my life in New York City, detached from farms and gardens, and had never even considered purchasing or drinking raw milk. As I entered the world of natural medicine I met a growing number of people who swore by raw milk, and consumed it to the exclusion of all other forms. To summarize the arguments that played out in class this week, many of which reflected the views of the Weston A. Price Foundation, raw milk constitutes a whole food and therefore is the most nutritious. The process of pasteurization, intended to destroy harmful bacteria also destroys many of the alimentary enzymes and nutrients, and even argue that it is responsible for the rise in food allergies and even chronic disease. Homogenization, which breaks up the fat particles so that store-bought milk has a smooth consistency, has also been linked to health problems. Additionally, one student extended the argument to the treatment of dairy cows, the content of their diet and the administration of antibiotics and hormones to increase their milk output.

So what's the problem with raw milk, and why are there such extensive milk laws in each state? The challenge is quality assurance. The Seattle Times article lists some of the recent cases of E. coli in Washington state that have been linked to raw milk. Concerns have led Whole Foods and PCC to pull raw milk from their shelves, forcing raw milk drinkers to buy directly from the farm. And some argue that this may be for the best. Going to the farm means there is less chance of contamination, greater connection to the farm, to see the living conditions and treatment of the cows and a boost for small, local farms. Since stores can't assure the quality of the milk, it protects them and their customers (especially pregnant women, children and the immunocompromised) from potential harm. And yet, those who are not quite as committed may simply resort back to commercial milk.

In addition to learning more than I've ever known about milk, some important themes emerged from this discussion. The first was an important point regarding nutrition recommendations for our future clients. While we make personal decisions regarding our eating own habits, it's important to recognize that as health care providers we must beware of liabilities and risks associated with our suggestions. Additionally, the whole question of raw milk seemed to blow the top off our "Bastyr bubble." I'm pretty sure that most nutrition clients are not even close to the point where their major concern is raw milk or not. Let's wean people off of refined grains and sugars and sodas and fast food and then worry about questions like raw milk.

An interesting point was raised by a classmate from the Midwest who explained that in her state the sale of raw milk was illegal. The only way around it was to buy a share of a cow, whose milk you were then entitled to and did not have to purchase. I considered how revolutionary this concept was, how it completely flipped the old adage on its head. Why buy the cow? So you can get the milk for free!

After all this discussion of milk I had dairy on the brain. So the next day in my Therapeutic Cooking class when we prepared a meal that included an enticing non-homogenized local yogurt, I decided to reconsider the place of dairy in my diet. It's been over a year since I gave up my beloved dairy products in the hopes that it might resolve some health issues. But since it did not seem to have any significant effect, I decided that Grace Harbor Farms yogurt topped with strawberries and chocolate would constitute my foray back into the rich world of dairy. I started with three small teaspoons of yogurt, weary of how I might react. But the cool feel on my tongue and the thick, creamy texture on the roof of my mouth gave me such pleasure that I decided it was time to welcome this delicious and nourishing food group back into my life. Maybe it's time to invest in a cow.


  1. Keep them coming! Enjoy reading them!

  2. Yay, welcome back dairy! It's interesting that many people now accept eating raw fish (like in sushi) even though there are risks with that...maybe raw milk will be next.

  3. Great point! It's pretty incredible how sushi has been embraced. Seafood raises its own concerns with mercury levels and sustainability. A great site for that is Seafood Watch through the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

  4. If you need to interview a heffer we have a Kobe beef heffer at the barn. She'd be very pleased to give any input, however she's not for milking and she licks. I also saw the sign for raw milk and thought "oh god, what fad have we taken to now?" I'd love to watch our fellow classmates attempt to milk a cow. It might take some of the upper level education out of them. Love your blog. Thank you for being wonderful!

  5. We did cover the subject of raw milk in Child—about 5 or even 7 years ago. As I recall, it poses a potentially big danger to kids, especially babies. I'd have to go through my archives here to hunt down exactly our take but I do remember it was cautionary.