I wonder what the world would be like if we identified ourselves – before race or nationality or gender or political party – by the kind of milk we drink.
Imagine, the skim milk and whole milk diehards, scrunching up their noses and eyebrows at each other from opposite sides of the aisle, the 2%ers in the middle looking back and forth at each camp: “Can’t we just compromise?” In the corner sit the raw milk enthusiasts, whispering to each other that the entire room of fanatics and moderates don’t even know what they’re missing. Some of the vegans are outside protesting.
But truly, in this world we live in, how many of us have thought about milk beyond the way it feels in our mouths and stomachs? How often do we think about where it comes from (yes, utters, but like, where it really comes from)?
Know what’s what: Milk
For the sake of simplicity, I’m referring specifically in this post to milk from cows.
In many states, pasteurization is required by law for milk to be sold in grocery stores or even by farmers. Pasteurization is: heating milk and then cooling it to eliminate certain bacteria in raw milk. It’s usually heated to at least 161.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.
This milk is heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two seconds. Ultra-pasteurized milk (which requires an “ultra-pasteurized” label) has a shelf-life of up to 9 months.
Homogenization is a mechanical process separate from pasteurization. It doesn’t involved additives. Homogenization is: breaking down fat molecules in milk so that they don’t separate. In non-homogenized milk, all the fat molecules rise to the top (That’s cream).
Why do it? Homogenization makes processing easier for dairies (for reasons ranging from mixing milk from different herds and extending shelf life to simply appealing to consumers who are not used to having to shake their milk cartons). It also makes creating skim, 1% and 2% milks easier.
WHOLE, SKIM, 1% and 2% MILKS
During manufacturing, different processes are employed to remove fat from and sometimes add fat back into milk.
Whole milk is unadulturated, with around 3.5% fat.
2%, 1% and skim (aka fat-free or non-fat) milks each have some dairy fat removed, making them less creamy. It should be noted here that nutritionists and foodies alike are becoming more and more on-board with the idea that not all fats are bad, and the argument rings true for dairy fats as well.
Raw milk is: milk straight from the cow. It’s not pasteurized or homogenized. Cream rises to the top, and the bacteria and enzymes stay put. (Like with fats, there’s a whole world of pro-bacteria activists.)
Disclaimer: I drink raw milk throughout most of the year, so when I talk about bias, I am including my own in the mix.
Different states have different laws regarding raw milk. Here in Colorado, consuming raw milk is legal only if it’s from one’s own cow. I like the rich taste and the feeling I get from drinking raw milk, so I legally own a part of a cow – a “herd share” – that lives on a nearby farm.
Find your state’s raw milk laws here.
Raw milk is widely debated, and it should be considered, when looking at various research studies, who might be funding the research. This very biased infographic by the CDC shows us that the federal government has taken a clear stance against raw milk.
RAW VS. PASTEURIZED
The truth is, you will probably find a logical argument for whatever you want to believe. Whether you’re concerned most about safety, nutritional benefit or supporting your local community, there are pros and cons to both types. Different studies, statistics, anecdotes, paradigms and perspectives will tell you different stories about raw milk vs. pasteurized milk.
Your best bet is to do your research and know your farmer. Before you judge either side, consider the difference (or rather, the similarity) between putting all your trust in the fact that a product made it onto the shelf at the grocery story, and buying raw milk from a stranger on the side of the road.
The same holds true for organic vs. non-organic…
ORGANIC MILK VS. NON-ORGANIC MILK
These are both pretty vague categories, as farming practices for both organic and non-organic farms can vary. While organic dairies are subject to more specific laws, the label (or lack thereof) doesn’t tell the whole story.
Here’s the gist, from a great article by Sarah Jampel:
As background, organic milk comes from cows that have been raised according to organic farming practices: The animals are never given antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, non-organic feed, or GMO feed, and they must be let out to organic pasture for at least 120 days of the grazing season…
If I’m unsure of where the milk is coming from — and thus how the animals are cared for, what they’re generally fed with, how large the herd size is — I’d turn to organic because many of these variables are dictated by law…
But when I do have time to do the research to find a dairy or distributor I trust, I certainly wouldn’t rule out conventional milk. It’s less expensive — a real factor for me as a consumer — and, if I know where it’s coming from, there’s a chance it might be just as good for all parties involved.
Self-identified milk enthusiasts
Now what would our milk world look like, with all of us well-informed milk drinkers chit-chatting and sipping left and right?