Because the topic of raw dairy is incredibly controversial, dare I say political, I wanted to address this topic all on its own before we delve into its many health benefits. I myself never even considered raw milk before I started researching it. I mean, pasteurization wouldn't be mandatory if raw milk wasn't, like, the scariest liquid in the world, right? On the contrary, what I learned after researching the truth behind the fearful smear campaign was pretty amazing. That yes, factory farmed animal milk should always be pasteurized (or better yet, completely avoided), but raw milk from healthy cows can be one of the most nourishing foods available to us. Here's the run down:
A Quick History
Pasteurization is a recent phenomenon, and one that has indeed saved many lives! Developed by Louis Pasteur in 1864 to help wines maintain integrity for long periods, pasteurization was then adopted in the late 1800’s in cities where people were literally dying by the thousands of milk born diseases, including typhoid fever, scarlet fever, septic sore throat, diptheria, and diarrhea. This is where most of us stop our learned history, assuming raw milk is inherently dangerous because so many people were d-y-i-n-g from drinking it. So let's look further.
Raw milk isn’t inherently chock full of disease; it simply doesn’t make sense that a mama cow would feed her babies a nasty slew of bacterial slime. Rather, the story of pasteurization takes us to the age of industrialization, which led hundreds of thousands of people into cities in the mid 1800’s, crowded into slums without modern day sewage, electricity, or hygiene. Imagine cesspools of disease. To this slum-like environment, insert cows. Stuck in barns with no access to hay, dairy men found a nice alternative for the cows to eat: swill. Swill was leftover mash from distilleries that still contained some nutrients, so dairymen ended up keeping cows near distilleries to feed them the swill.
Swill made cows sick, very sick, and simultaneously many of the poor milkmen were very sick. It's horrendous, but imagine rivulets of fecal matter running down the poor cows backside, while a coughing man with diphtheria milked her. Consequently the milk was a raw pot of bacteria, and sadly led to thousands of deaths. The New York Times reported in one year an estimated 8,000 babies died in New York alone! Step in pasteurization, and this epidemic cleared up basically overnight. It honestly was a gift from God that so many lives could be saved from such a simple process. The townspeople rejoiced and babies once again lived to see their first birthday.
But sometimes bad things can come from good intentions, and usually it involves someone making a buck. In the case of milk, this is when a big black cloud covers the rejoicing city people and spreads across the countryside of healthy, raw milk drinking Americans. This cloud is business man Charles North, who was the first to patent a small batch pasteurization machine. “A skilled orator and savvy businessman, he visited small towns throughout the country creating publicity and interest in his machines by claiming to have come directly from another small town just like theirs, where people were dying from drinking unpasteurized milk” (Dr. Shanahan). Of course, that wasn’t the case. No one outside of contaminated cities was dying from fresh milk. Instead, North was creating hysteria to sell his machine, using fear to overshadow the plea of doctors at the time who were staunchly opposed to pasteurization outside of cities. See, pasteurization isn't what's bad - it was Mr. North scaring people into taking fresh, healthy, raw milk, and boiling the nutrients out of it in order to sell, sell, sell.
Alas the fear caught on, and money wins again. Pasteurization became the mainstream, and raw milk today is so feared that many people (embarrassingly including myself) are still shocked to find there’s people still actively seeking it out.
What About Before Pasteurization?
Let’s go back before sick cities now, before the hysteria. What we have here is 9,000 years of healthy dairy animals, their udders covered in naturally occurring probiotics rather than running with fecal matter, their bodies nourished by grasses and sedges and minerals rather than sour whisky mash. This nourishing tradition helped grow immense civilizations; indeed there are ancient cave paintings of women milking animals! Indigenous and traditional societies didn’t have hospitals or pharmacists, so health was imperative to their everyday life. And raw milk was a part of their food sources that allowed hundreds of generations to live vibrant lives.
And After Pasteurization?
If we now go forward to the world after pasteurization, we can clearly see a slew of health problems relating to pasteurized milk that didn’t exist before. Allergies, inflammation, chronic infection, colic, diarrhea, constipation, acne, arthritis, and even osteoporosis. The list goes on and on. Pasteurization indeed saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives in the short term, but it seemed to have mutilated a once nutritious source of food, creating instead something our bodies are negatively reacting to. It also allowed corporations to shove hundreds of thousands of sick cows into feeding operations, without sun or grass, and still pass their milk off as drinkable, even "healthy". Pasteurization today allows for a lot of sick animals to make people sick in a different way, and this is not the food our ancestors thrived on.
Still, let me be very, very, very clear. Pasteurization should absolutely exist if one is to drink milk from a sick animal. Those animals with TB? Boil the milk. Poor sanitation? Boil the milk. Unsure of source? Boil the milk. Came from any factory farm in the US? Boil the milk 5 times. That’s the beauty of pasteurization, it taught us we can prevent sickness from food with harmful pathogens by heating it.
Let There Be Light
You don't need to boil raw milk from healthy animals, though. It changes the composition of the milk so entirely that it morphs from a food your grandmother or great grandmother thrived on and turns it into a distorted version of itself... something our bodies are having a hard time even recognizing. As a child I personally was severely lactose intolerant, with cheese and ice cream bloating my belly out like Little Miss Sunshine. As endo struck and I cut out dairy fully, I felt better yet. Not endo-free by any means, but it certainly seemed like my inflammation subsided enough that I decided to stay dairy-free for the next 2 years. Enter raw milk during my ancestral health revival and I was shocked - like, beyond shocked - as my health soared. Whereas I couldn't tolerate pasteurized milk at all, it turns out my body actually craved raw, grass-fed milk in it's natural state, as well as fermented, or both hard and soft cheeses. This may not be your full story (click here to read about allergies), but it's one example of thousands out there of how raw dairy helped heal a chronic disease.
If you want to read a few more stories, check out this article that talks in depth about how doctors in the early 1900's used raw milk to cure all sorts of diseases (similar to the aforementioned story in my Meats section about a doctor prescribing raw liver, so cool they used to do that!). You can also check out TheHealthyHomeEconomist to learn how raw milk helped heal her Lyme disease. CuringChronic has a story, and guess what... MyEndoCoach even recommends it as a truly medicinal food, not to be confused with pasteurized milk. Is the fear starting to abate?
And, through all the stigma that still remains, raw milk is making a resurgence back into the mainstream right under our noses. There is a much bigger fight than most of us know to legalize it in every state, and it's actually legal to buy retail in 11 states already! This includes Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington. These states have deemed it safe to sell raw milk in any grocery store, meaning it’s not such a “hippy” movement after all. With regulation and oversight, politicians, farmers, and retailers are coming together in agreement that raw milk is a healthy food and should be accessible to their populace.
So remember, especially if this is a whole new topic for you and you feel like you’re breaking the law just reading about it: raw milk from healthy sources of grass-fed animals, on healthy land, in the hands of healthy farmers is not full of pathogenic bacteria and puss. On the contrary, it’s full of probiotic bacteria, enzymes, minerals, in-tact amino acids, and is one of the most nourishing foods on the planet. Depending on your own body, raw milk may help rather than hinder your healing process, and is nothing to be feared of as long as you know the source.