Searching for the Milk of My Youth and of Human Kindness  

Posted by Dave in

I originally started this blog to document and share my experiences as I return to my roots in the country and in the kitchen. You see, I grew up in a rural area, with a depression era mentality. Even though it was the 1960's and 1970's, we grew and foraged much of our food, and we purchased seasonal produce from local farm stands and canned or froze or dried it for the upcoming winter. Stocking our pantry was as much a part of the daily rhythms as the the sunrise or the need to eat. Anyone can tell when its suppertime without a clock, and so with blackberry time or any other time we were aware of. The years were filled as a progression and and our pantries expanded and contracted with a regularity of a long comfortable breath.

As the years went on, like most kids, I left home and headed for the city, and so gradually lost touch with much of my food supply. Oh, I still picked berries and made my own jelly, but it was easier to spread it on some of the cake like substance the chain stores market as bread. I grew my garden and canned a few tomatoes, but the bulk of my winter vegetables came out of a can rather than a mason jar and were grown in some anonymous distant place rather than out back.

Blessed with such a healthy childhood I took for granted my reasonably decent health. But Occasionally I noticed how many of the folks I worked with battled chronic weight issues, or had minor skin ailments, or perhaps high blood pressure. Health issues were often the topic du jour around the coffee pot as everyone stuffed themselves with "healthy" bran muffins rather than the ubiquitous offering of doughnuts. Some of the younger trendier types even eschewed the coffee for a nice morning pick me up of diet soda of even water flavored with some artificial stuff I could not spell much less pronounce.

Gradually the years went by and we all aged, and more than a few of us passed from the standard illnesses of the industrial age, cancer, diabetes, heart disease. We all accepted these losses as part of the attrition of life. Like the divorces and corporate failures we endured them and moved on.

So now I find myself back in the country, in the mountains of my youth. And I begin to rebuild and restock my pantry. But my blackberry patches have been replaced with condos and my walnut trees cut for some fool's firewood. Little by little I begin to rebuild worn out soil, to search out foraging spots. I reach out to find local sources of the food I need to feed my family, only to find many of the old farms and farmers gone. Those that remain are beset on all sides. Market forces and big agribusiness have all but eliminated all the sources of local food. Tomatoes are available year round, but even in August are not from around here. Even the laws are seemingly against simple local food.

Recently I was looking for a farm to buy milk from directly. Most of the farms I worked on or around in my youth have been replaced by Housing developments and blacktop, so I asked at the Mountain Herb Shoppe when I went to buy some multi-vitamins for my kids. The folks there were so nice, and really wanted to help, but there simply was no farm locally that was selling milk directly. The reason it seems, is a fear of raw milk.

As a kid we generally drank fresh milk right from the farm. Those days we knew each cow by name and habit, and if anything was off in her health or behavior, we were sure to investigate. and if anything accidentally fell into the milk, we fed it to the calves after a serious scolding against our carelessness.

Daily we brought our jugs and, at the end of the evening's milking, we filled them from the bulk tank, a stainless steel refrigerated tank that held all of our, and the cows, efforts. The milk was fresh and creamy. Though the tank had a motorized paddle that stirred the milk to cool it more quickly and to keep the cream from separating, an hour or two after it was in the bottle, it need to be shaken to remix the milk and the cream.

Sometimes we would draw off the milk from a tap in the bottom of the jug and take the cream fro our coffee, or to make butter or ice cream, or even for whipping and serving on dessert. The skimmed milk that was left was not completely free from cream, and still tasted nearly as rich as the store stuff anyway.

Seldom was it ever wasted. Even though in its raw state milk tends to not stay fresh as long, it was not as nasty nor as harmful as the store bought stuff when it was "sour". It could still be used as sour cream or in a recipe where the slightly off taste would be noticed, heck, you could still drink it, especially if you added a bit of flavoring like chocolate or a bit of vanilla and sugar. Worst case, the dog would promise undying loyalty for just a taste.

Store milk is another story. First off, the store stuff is nowadays produced on farms that milk in a continuous, 3 shift day, from cows that are given drugs to speed their production of milk and so require more than the morning and evening milkings traditional for thousands of years. The cows are more or less simply an input in an industrial process and not a member of the extended family as were most of the cows on the farms of my youth.

Next this milk is Pasteurized, or cooked, to kill any nasty germs that may have fallen into the milk. This could happen in the barn, in the tank, in the truck on the way to the factory, or during any one of the many processes through which it undergoes. To be fair, this could happen, and probably does happen on smaller farms. but the ability to oversee and correct such problems is worse on an industrial scale. In addition, the cooking creates a nearly sterile product that has a much longer shelf life to enable shipping long distances and sales for a longer period of time.

The milk is also mechanically separated from its cream, much of it being diverted to other products and uses. A portion of the cream is forced through small screens under high pressure to break the fat particles into unnaturallly tiny pieces that can not separate when they are added back into the milk at controlled ratios to create the various percentages of milk from whole, one percent, two percent and so on.

Trouble is, the Pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria as well, and without the enzymes and bacteria that have for thousands of years helped people to digest the milk, many folks find they can not drink milk at all. Some yogurt companies have made fortunes by adding the same bacteria back into the milk and loudly proclaiming their health benefits. (They are probably right, but why kill them in the first place? But I digress). In addition, the smaller particles of cream can pass through the stomach lining of many humans and cause even more health problems.

But you see, as a large scale industrial material, milk is a controlled substance. That's right. That white liquid is subject to search and seizure and can even be classified as a hazardous waste if it has been produced, sold or consumed outside the system.

Now, I have never been any kind of an activist. I prefer to take care of my family and friends, educating as many as I can reach, but never overstepping the bounds of social propriety. I don't view store milk as a poison. It is convenient and easily available and better than nothing. But I prefer milk fresh from a farm I know, and that is now illegal in much of the country. Similar battles are cropping up in other types of food as industrial meats and vegetables are being eschewed for locally produced varieties, even as the terms "organic" and "natural" and others are coopted and diluted by the same large concerns. Caveat Emptor. But the buyer can not beware if he has no choice. I don't care if you drink cooked milk, why do you care if I drink mine raw?

Please visit my other blog, The Raw Milk Underground for news and views as I have time to post them, and in the meantime please visit The Weston A. Price Foundation and RealMilk.com for more and better information. Everyone who eats is being dragged into this battle, and even if you don't know it, decisions are being made for you that could affect your health more than any other single thing. What you eat is ultimately more important for your health than any vitamin or exercise program.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 12:33 PM and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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