Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hey Now, Brown Cow

I wish I had paid more attention in science class back in high school. I should have known it would come to this eventually, of course. Midway through college I smacked my forehead for not ever fully comprehending math and then had to do some painful knuckling-down to make it all the way through blasted differential calculus for my major. And it worked. I get math now. I get all of it. The problem though, is that I am far more interested in nutrition than accounting now, and I’m coming at it with very little scientific knowledge.

See, the raw milk debate has hit my household, and this kind of conversation works best if you know what you’re talking about. And I’m afraid I don’t exactly.

Since The Big Boy began drinking cow’s milk on his first birthday, I have only purchased the organic whole milk for him from the supermarket. Conventional milk scares me (the hormones and antibiotics involved in its production just don’t have any place in my child’s diet), and I’m not crazy about the processing involved in low-fat milk either. Matter of fact, I avoid all low-fat dairy, finding even yogurt to be suspect. Have you noticed how many more ingredients seem to go into things that have had their fat content altered?

As The Big Boy gets older, I am sure I will start steering him away from cow’s milk. Already he prefers soy milk in his cereal, but for now he drinks about 16 ounces of whole cows’ milk every day, and I don’t have much of a problem with that. He needs the calcium, he needs the fat for proper brain development (and because he’s too doggone skinny), and milk is kind of a comfort thing for him. This is not an issue for me. And when Little Miss Piggy turns one next month, I fully intend to start offering her whole cow’s milk as well.

A dairy-free diet isn’t really something I’m after for us. Cheese is entirely too important to all of us, and though I haven’t drunk (drank?) a glass of cow's milk myself in 20 years or so, I have found that soy products aren’t the most reliable substitute for dairy when, say, baking macaroni and cheese or pulling together an alfredo sauce. The soy milk is just too nutty, too off-flavored, too gritty-textured for use in some recipes. I’m pretty sure that milk will always have a place in my refrigerator.

For the past few months, as I have read more about the industrialization of organic dairy farms, and as I have tried to purchase as much of our foods locally as I can, milk has become kind of a hot button for me. Because though we are purchasing organically (at a whopping average of $6.50 per gallon, no less), suddenly that just hasn’t seemed like enough anymore. I still have no idea really where that milk is coming from, except for the disconcerting knowledge that it is coming from far away, and the processing is still a bit of an issue as well.

So, raw milk, right? It is the obvious next step. And it is readily available to us through Athens Locally Grown, from whom I have picked up three gallons now over the past few weeks. I have read a considerable amount about raw milk over the past year or so and have been somewhat flummoxed by the science behind it all, but if there is one thing I am clear on, it is that the loudest argument against raw milk is from the FDA and I just don’t see the government as being the most reliable source of nutritional information. Governmental bodies have given us the Farm Bill, the school lunch program, and the vast ethanol conspiracy amongst other travesties.

I am conflicted on this subject, and wish that I understood it all better so that I could not only feel totally confident with my decision to purchase raw milk, but also so that I could make an argument here for why others should do so too. My sister-in-law, a registered nurse and someone with whom I discuss most scientific questions with, has given me the green light for serving raw milk to The Big Boy, and she passed me a well-balanced article that has shed some light (though not quite enough for me to feel well-versed) on the subject. Just today, there was mention of raw milk in Bitten, the blog written by The New York Times’ food writer, Mark Bittman, which linked to some other articles as well.

And the thing is, The Big Boy truly loves the raw milk. I was a bit nervous when I poured him his first cup three weeks ago. The color is not quite so purely white, and the consistency is a little thicker, a bit more viscous; the taste a tad tangier. But he loved it. He saw the picture of some brown cows on the carton, and he gushed, “Brown cows make very yummy milk, mom. I really love brown cow milk.” And, lo and behold, it is less expensive than buying organic pasteurized milk at the supermarket, and if I need to, I can actually get in touch with the farmer in charge of the operation.

Today, when we got to the Locally Grown pick-up site, The Big Boy seemed more eager than usual, and I wasn’t totally sure why he was hopping around and craning his head while we waited for our bags, but the minute we got to the car, he handed me his empty big-boy cup and said, “Fill it up, mom! I can’t wait to have some more of that yummy brown cow milk.”

For now, we will stick with it. Could you dash the hopes of such a cute four-year-old? And I will keep reading up on the subject until I am a little more sure that I know what I’m doing. But will I serve it to Little Miss Piggy when she’s twelve months old? I don’t know. I think I’m leaning towards waiting until she is a little older, which means I may be buying two different milks for a few years here. I really, really wish I had paid more attention in science. Ms. Gallagher, wherever you are, I would like for you to know that it may have taken 18 years, but I’m finally willing to admit you may have been right. Science is something I will need in real life.

21 comments:

Zoƫ said...

Oh, please do give Little Miss Piggy the raw stuff. My baby turns one in a few weeks and that's what I'm going to give her...we haven't bought milk since the day we were married. It's so good for their immune systems and it definitely wins the "no processing" award. Maybe start out slow though. Two whole glasses a day might be a bit much for her!

Another plus about raw milk: you can skim off some of the cream and make butter with it! I use that in my baking...it does tasted different than bought and we don't like it on our bread. You should try it!

By the way, I stumbled over to your blog from "Mama's Minutia" and I really like the way you write. I'm not a completely organic or locally grown person but I do try my best. I garden most of our veggies and try to get our fruit for canning from the area. You really must try a garden next year. It's very possible to do with children. Get them to help. Already my baby likes to dig in the dirt and next year, she'll help me plant my seeds. I'll just have to put up with a crooked row or two :)

Sorry about this very long comment. I've been reading your blog for a while, though, and finally felt the need to comment...we are dairy farmers, after all!

Sarah Beam said...

Hi Zoe - I really appreciate your comment. I'm very aware that most mainstream moms might think I'm mad for giving my children raw milk, so it's nice to know I'm not alone. And you're a dairy farmer? Very, very interesting and cool.

annalitchka said...

Have you heard about miniature cows? These are very small cows, about the size of a Great Dane, that you can keep in your YARD and milk every day, while they keep your yard mowed!! I read that one will produce a couple of pints a day. What a source for LOCAL RAW milk!?

Sarah Beam said...

Miniature cows? Are you pulling my leg? That's way stinking cool. I'm looking into this right now...

Holly said...

hey sarah :). i signed up for athens locally grown after your first blog about it. one of the first things that intrigued me was the raw milk they sell. i'd be interested to hear what you find out. i'm taking 18 hours this semester and researching this has just not happened.

i think miniature cows sound awesome! until i start hearing my fiance's voice in my head grumbling about miniature cow patties... :-P

Sarah Beam said...

Hi Holly - yeah, I'm already looking into this miniature cow thing. Besides, mini cow patties are an easier pill to swallow (argh) than big cow patties. Or something...

And Anna - honestly you may have just changed my life. I can't wait to broach this mini cow subject with The Carnivore when he gets home.

Tiana said...

Going up we had a nanny goat. About 99% of the milk we drank at home was raw goats milk. And all nine of us kids did really well. So if I was going to home produce I'd go with a nanny goat. If fact I've 'dreamed' about having a goat dairy and making cheese.

My sister has a great dairy close to her home that delivers organic milk right to her door twice a week.

:) Tiana

Suzanne said...

Selling raw milk is illegal where I live, but if you own the cow it's perfectly legal to drink its raw milk, of course. So, some clever man sold shares in his cows to people, and for that they get raw milk out of the deal. He's going to court soon for subverting the law this way, unfortunately, but I thought that was clever of him just the same.

(And there is a why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free joke in here somewhere, I just can't quite find it)

Sarah Beam said...

Tiana, I have never tried goat's milk, but lately I have been buying fresh-made goat's milk feta from Split Creek Farm in Anderson SC (local to me), and I love it. Love, love, love it. Now you've got me wondering about the milk itself.

As for actually having my own goat, I don't know. I was traumatized by a goat named Heidi when I was about 8 years old, and I'm still wary of the beasts.

Sarah Beam said...

Suzanne, there are apparently numerous ways around the law, and I don't fully understand any of them. It is supposed to be illegal to sell raw milk in GA, and to sell it across state lines, but since I buy through the Locally Grown co-op (in GA) from a farm in SC (over state lines), we are staying on the right side of the law. Though of course I think the law is asinine. I do hope your clever man makes it out of court unscathed.

annalitchka said...

Sarah, I'm delighted that I could bring miniature cows to your attention.

Here's some links:
http://www.boingboing.net/2008/08/18/miniature-cattle-fam.html
http://www.uncoveror.com/minicows.htm
http://www.littlemoos.com/photos/

I first saw it on boingboing.com.

My "name" to Google is Annalitchka, but my real name is Anne -- and I'm a mom in Austin, Texas. I want a miniature cow too!

Cindy said...

Sarah, Heidi was an elderly, aggressive, untamed and ill-mannered goat. Just because she butted ort front door open every morning and chased us both down to the river shouldn't have any bearing on your feelings now about goats. But hey, I could use miniature cow patties for my gardens. Hint Hint.

Jenny said...

Sarah, Little Miss Piggy is going to be one next month?!?!? Where has the past year gone? I haven't met her yet, and you haven't met Holland. This is getting ridiculous. I am kicking the Brown family in the butt for coming to visit you and not bringing me.

Becky said...

I don't want to put a damper on your positive flow here, and I'm certainly no scientist, but here's our story. We started getting raw milk from a local farmer and it was yummy. Everyone liked it and we switched over. Then after one batch of it was opened Dan and his son got VERY sick. For days. I got a little sick. His other son didn't have milk that day and didn't get sick at all. I didn't ditch the milk because I wasn't sure that was it, and Jess came home and had some cereal before I saw her. She got a little sick.

That said, we were buying it illegally and our farmer was quite elderly and a little forgetful. Perhaps he just didn't clean the tanks, or the milking machine that week. I'm sure the ALG source is more reliable.

You may want to research home pasteurization that may be less damaging to the milk than the factory versions, especially the shelf life extension version. Or introduce your daughter slowly so she can build resistance to the natural "bugs" in the milk. Perhaps that is the key to it. We don't build the resistance because we've been drinking the processed milk all our lives.

Meg said...

What cute little cows... I hope you can get one to raise.

Sarah Beam said...

Mama - that goat was M.E.A.N. I still get a little hinky when I'm around goats.

Jenny - I grouched at Dad just a few days ago about coming down without you. We're going to have to do something about this, and soon. I miss you.

Becky - argh. THAT is what I was afraid of hearing, but I didn't realize that home pasteurization was even an option. Now if I can just get a miniature cow (dang, that sounds cool) and pasteurize the milk myself...

Cindy said...

Jenny,I wish you were coming down here too this week. I'd love to see your baby and you.

Mama JJ said...

Sarah,

Buy raw milk! You go, girl!

When we lived in Nicaragua, we made yogurt from raw milk (scalding it first), and we ate the local cheeses. Sanitation was very poor, and that's an understatement. Sure, we always had giardia (due to unclean water, etc), or some such bug, but we were FINE.

Now, back in the states, we have shares in a local farm. The place is spotlessly clean. I have bartered for raw milk from another, less sanitary farm, making cheese from their milk, and everything turned out fine. My point is, while sanitation is VERY important, our culture as a whole tends to be a bit OCD about cleanliness. (I'm the type of mom that doesn't care if my kids eat dirt occasionally.)

If you are interested, I have documented how I make yogurt, buttermilk, and butter on my blog (see the recipe index). I'll be writing more on cheese-making in the near future.

And just a question: How much does your raw milk cost? We pay 7 dollars a gallon.

Take care,
JJ

Sarah Beam said...

JJ - I fully agree that our culture places too high an emphasis on sanitation. My mother always said that people eat a peck of dirt in our lifetime (though I did counter that I wasn't sure that was a dietary requirement).

We pay a little less than $5 per gallon for the raw stuff. And I am going to tinker around with the butter and cheese-making process. Will be lurking in your recipe index shortly...

Anonymous said...

In my book raw milk is the only way to go. Raised our 5 children on it. I do recommend introducing it slowly. Give your bodies time to get used to it.
It must be scalded and the skin removed to use in baking bread.
-V

Sarah Beam said...

V, thank you for the information on scalding the milk. I did not know that and can only imagine the trouble I would have gotten myself into without that nugget of info.