This weekend I got a random text from a good college friend asking about my opinion on raw milk. She had recently watched Rotten on Netflix and wanted a dairy farmer’s thoughts. I forewarned her that this was NOT going to be a short answer because it was kind of complicated. After we texted back and forth what could have been a short novel, we agreed that I should put my thoughts down in a post. After I started writing this post, I realized it was turning into a long novel. I needed to break this into two posts: Part 1: My Changing Opinion on Raw Milk and Part 2: My Opinion on the Netflix Food Docu-Series, Rotten. So here goes Part 1; stay tuned for Part 2.
Growing up with Raw Milk
Like most families growing up on a dairy, I drank raw milk my whole life with two exceptions: a weird 2% milk phase my mom went through in the 90s and when I went to college. In one of my earlier posts, I joke about the struggles of drinking raw milk. After college, I continued to drink raw milk until the second trimester of my first pregnancy. I finally decided to give up raw milk after a long talk with my OB-GYN. He knew I was a dairy farmer and that I was drinking raw milk throughout my pregnancy. He was the type of doctor who was okay with sushi and soft cheeses in moderation. So when he continued to express concerns about raw milk and the risks of listeria, I knew he wasn’t overreacting. He had real concerns. Right then and there, I gave it up.
Making a Change
I have never drunk raw milk again since that day. To quote my friend’s reaction in our texts, “Omg, ok plot twist”. Here are the reasons behind my decision. First and foremost, I do not think the pros of drinking raw milk outweigh the cons. I have never once been sick drinking raw milk, but there is always a risk. When drinking raw milk, you can be exposed to harmful bacteria including Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella. These bacteria can make you violently sick. There is even a risk of developing life-threatening diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome. For more information on these illness check out the CDC’s website here.
These were risks I wasn’t comfortable taking for my children. If I gave them raw milk and they got sick, I would never forgive myself especially when it could be so easily prevented. I also did not want to have to buy milk every time we had friends over because I would NEVER serve raw milk to others! The people most susceptible to contracting the illnesses listed above are children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, pregnant women and guests to our home. They all might lack the immunity to fight off common bacteria found in raw milk. What scares me the most about this is the fact that people often buy raw milk for children with predetermined illnesses because they have been told raw milk has “health benefits”.
I am a firm believer in science. Scientists invented pasteurization for a reason. It dramatically reduced the number of food borne illnesses related to milk. Pasteurized milk now accounts for less than 1% of food borne illnesses. It is one of the safest products on the market. My other reason for ditching raw milk has to do with the consumer. I felt like a hypocrite every time I would preach to my friends to never drink raw milk. I would try to dodge the question about what type of milk I had in my refrigerator. It was okay for my family to drink raw milk, but not for yours? That doesn’t make sense. In the end the more research I do, the more I realize raw milk is not worth it. Pasteurization does not change the nutrients in the milk and it makes it safer. It seems like a no-brainer.
Raw Milk and Health Benefits? Not so Fast!
Advocates for raw milk, claim all sorts of health benefits from drinking it. There are a few theories I have about raw milk and the so-called “health” benefits. These are my personal opinions not scientific studies. But I did think they were worth mentioning in this post, and I have included one study that brought me to these conclusions about dairy farmers and our health. I often wonder why most dairy farmers seem fairly healthy. For example, my husband has never been sick not one time in our entire relationship. We drank raw milk our whole lives and did not have any problems. But I think it has more to do with us living on our dairies then it does with the raw milk.
Everyday we are exposed to all sorts of bacteria, good and bad, on our farm. I take the girls for walks around the dairy with that lovely dairy air blowing in our faces, we pet the newborn calves covered in their mother’s saliva, Daniel comes home in his work clothes splattered with manure and we have lots of pets who are generous with their kisses after they have spent the day roaming the dairy. We are constantly in contact with our farm. I think we build up a natural immunity to all that bacteria and dirt.
In an article written in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of scientists made an interesting discovery when looking at the asthma rates in children from two different farming groups: the Amish and the Hutterite. These two groups of people have similar lifestyles and genetic backgrounds, but Hutterite children experience much higher asthma rates than their Amish counterparts. The main difference between the two groups comes from their farming practices. The Amish live on site at their dairies while the Hutterite tend to house the cows in barns farther away from their homes. This New York Times article does an excellent job of explaining the findings in greater detail if you are interested in reading more. This has led me to believe that maybe living on our dairies and breathing in all the dust has more to do with our health than drinking raw milk.
The Glass of Pasteurized Milk is always Half Full
While I have made my decision about raw milk and will hold firm, Daniel isn’t so sure. He does still drink raw milk on occasion and would like the girls to as well. So far it hasn’t been much of an issue because G prefers yogurt to fluid milk and A isn’t older enough for cow’s milk. I guess we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But something tells me, we will continue to ditch the raw milk and stick with Fairlife. While all pasteurized milk on the market is safe and nutritious, I do love the added benefits of a glass of Fairlife especially the added DHA in Fairlife Superkids. In the end, no matter what pasteurized milk you chose, you can feel great about your choice!
I would love to hear from you. What do you choose to serve your families and why? Are there any other dairy farm families who have made the change from raw milk to pasteurized?
Udderly in love with pasteurized milk,
New Mexico Milkmaid