Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raw Milk

By Diana Hsieh

I recently bought a share of a cow from Isle Farms, so that I can enjoy the delights of raw milk. One share yields about a gallon per week.

Raw milk is straight from the cow, without any pasteurization (i.e. heating to kill any bacteria) or homogenization (i.e. forced straining of fats for consistency). It's what I grew up drinking as a kid, courtesy of our local dairy farmer in New Jersey. (When I was 11, my family moved to Maryland. That was the end of our raw milk, unfortunately.) From what I've read, raw milk does entail a somewhat higher risk of food borne illness than pasteurized milk, but it's still less than other ordinary foods like deli meats and hot dogs.

The regulation of raw milk is completely insane. In California, raw milk and its products like butter and cheese can be bought directly from stores. That's ideal. However, in many states, the sale of raw milk is banned completely, as if it were cocaine. (Not that I'm in favor of the drug war, but raw milk is not on par with addictive drugs, no matter how tasty!) In other states, distribution of raw milk is permitted but heavily regulated -- at the point of the gun, as these government raids illustrate.

Colorado is one of those regulated states. Basically, it's permissible to drink raw milk from your own cow. That allows a few small farmers across the state to sell shares of cows to people like me, who then pay a monthly boarding fee, all in order to obtain a few gallons of raw milk per month. Farmers are not permitted to sell raw milk directly to willing buyers, nor even give it away. Even under the cowshare program, farms cannot distribute butter and cheese. (I have made my own butter using these simple instructions.) Still, I'm happy that raw milk is available in Colorado at all, as it's only legal in a bare majority of states. (Here's a handy summary of the state of the law in Colorado and all other states regarding raw milk.)

The New York Times ran a story last year on the demand for raw milk in face of government regulation: Should This Milk Be Legal? It's worth a quick read, if you're interested. Also, if you'd like to learn more about pervasive government control of agriculture, Monica has a good post on that, including links to information on how to fight the attempt to impose more regulations on farmers. (Those regulations would be particularly burdensome for small farms like Isle Farms.)

As for why I'm going to so much trouble to obtain raw milk, I have two reasons. First, it tastes much better. It's deeply satisfying in a way that its equivalent of pasteurized, homogenized whole milk equivalent is not. Second, it's part of an overall change in diet. I'm consuming more protein and certain kinds of fats, and I'm trying to avoid stuffing myself full of goodness-only-knows-what from processed foods, particularly carbohydrates. I'm also interested in trying natural grass-fed beef, likely from this local supplier, as I have worries about the inappropriate feed given to cows intended for consumption. (I'm also interested in more natural forms of other meats like pork, lamb, and chicken.)

I'm quite pleased with the change in my diet already. The food tastes better to me, and I've lost my gnawing cravings for sugar. That's definitely good news.

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