Monday, March 11, 2013

Eating Omily: Getting it Raw

Last week I got my hands on some sweet, sweet contraband: no, not that exciting.

Less exciting still.

It was milk, guys.  Pure, unadulterated milk, straight from the udders of a grass-fed Jersey cow (the breed, not the state).  How straight from the udders?  It didn't meet a pasteurizer, or a homogenizer along the way.  And actually, raw milk is legal in New York state so it wasn't really contraband.
 The debate's raging all around us: is dairy good for us?  Is it bad?  Some say it's a perfect food, and point to how well baby mammals grow on it as proof.  Others say that's just the point: each species makes the perfect food for ITS babies, so sharing milk between species, and among all age groups is not what nature intended, and the consequences are rampant.  They talk about the prevalence of lactose intolerance, increases in phlegm, calcium being leached from bones...
And then there's a splinter group that says, YES, milk is one of nature's perfect foods!  It's great for grown-ups, and better still for growing kids!  But, there's a catch.  The high heat of industrial pasteurizing (according to them) denatures milk's proteins, making them indigestible, and maybe even actively bad for you.  Homogenization, a process in which the milk is squeezed at high pressure through a screen so fine the butterfat molecules are forced to be so tiny that they can't link up to each other again, keeps the milk from separating in your fridge (Horror of horrors!  Can you imagine having to shake your milk???), and, you guessed it, these teeny tiny fat molecules are tricky for your body to work with, too.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that paseurization destroys vitamins A, and other fat-soluble vitamins and minerals in milk.  Proponents of pasteurization say that we can get those vitamins from other sources, and milk doesn't have that much of them anyway.  But here's the kicker: THEIR milk doesn't have that much of them.  MINE does, because my cow eats fresh grass every damn day of her life (well, she probably eats hay when there's several feet of snow on the ground, but you get the idea). 

In addition, pasteurization destroys the active enzymes and good bacteria in milk.  These enzymes actually exist to help break down and digest the big, complex proteins, including the ones that a lot of people don't tolerate so well in milk, and probiotics keep things happy and moving in your digestive track, and are good for your immune system, too.

Now, we started pasteurizing milk on a massive scale for a reason: salmonella, listeria, E coli: these are real bugs, and they can make us very sick, and in very very rare cases, even kill.  So is it worth taking a chance on?  Well, a healthy adult has a pretty low chance of experiencing a serious case of any of these.  Let me explain something: E Coli doesn't occur in milk naturally.  Never, never, never.  It doesn't come out of the udders.  E Coli lives in all mammal's large intestines, so we shed a lot of it in our shit, and so do cows.  So, if a cow's poop gets on its udder, and the udder isn't cleaned/disinfected before the cow is milked, and some E coli is still alive in that poop, and it's in just the right place and manages to get into the milk, THEN, there's E coli in your milk.  Hmmm...doesn't seem all that likely, does it?

AND, here's something else: you've probably consumed E coli before.   Yep.  But, your stomach acids destroyed it, so you never knew.  Why is the FDA and the CDC so freaked out about you drinking raw milk that just maybe might possible contain it then?  Well, cows fed industrial diets of grains have a much lower PH in their stomachs and intestines than cows that eat grass.  Some E Coli mutate, and are able to live in that higher acid environment, and those guys reproduce, recolonizing the digestive track with acid-tolerating bad bugs.  You consume those guys, and they will laugh at your stomach acid, and proceed to make you very sick.  Since those industrial cows also get loads and loads of antibiotics, odds are pretty good your case of E Coli will be resistant to your first line of defense antibiotics, and now you are in a whole world of trouble...but you are still very very likely to survive if you were a healthy adult when you contracted the disease.

The bottom line?  Grass fed cows are entirely different animals than industrially farmed cows, and they harbor different strains of bacteria.  The milk that comes from them is entirely different, too.  You're still taking a calculated risk, but the odds are stacked way in your favor.
At my house, we've pretty much decided that if we're using the milk in a hot preparation, it's worth taking twenty seconds to let it simmer to make sure all the baddies are dead, but when we're splashing it on our oatmeal straight out of the fridge, or whipping up a strawberry cream smoothie (You haven't lived.  You just haven't lived),  we'll take our chances, along with those tasty enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.

If you're interested in raw milk, do your research first, and it definitely wouldn't hurt to talk to your doctor, who may give you the CDC/FDA line, or she or he may be willing to discuss your personal level of risk.  Consider carefully before offering it to children, pets, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, and make sure anyone you offer it to knows what it is, and understands the risks.  You can look up the laws in your state regarding raw milk.  In a few, it's for sale in grocery stores, but I don't recommend getting it there, due to the risks that come along with industrially farmed foods.  In most states, it's legal for you to go to the farm and buy it from the farmer, but in some, you can't even do that.  Whether you're willing to live on the wrong side of the law to be in the raw is up to you.

But how does it taste??  After tolerating skim milk all my life (I've hated milk since I could profess an oppinion on the subject), I expected to be pretty grossed out by whole, raw milk that I had to shake the butter back into before I poured it.  It was definitely creamier than skim, but the flavor was decidedly less...milky.  A subtle grassy, smokiness took its place.  It tastes incredible.  I love simmering it with freshly grated ginger, and then stirring in maple syrup and a big spoonful of cocoa for a creamy, warming treat.  I love splashing some into my soups for an extra hit of protein, and velvety mouth feel...and I love whipping it up in my blender with frozen strawberries and a little vanilla extract.

I don't know if I believe the claims about curing allergies and eczema, but raw milk is here to stay in our house...and if it DOES cure my allergies and eczema, I'll be sure to let you know.  I can't wait to make cheese with this stuff!


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