A cursory glance around the internet seems to have people falling into three camps about milk:
- Milk is the debbil and should be avoided at all costs.
- Pasteurized and homogenized milk is the debbil and raw milk is the savior of which ancient texts have claimed will rise again to bring about the salvation of mankind.
- Raw milk is the debbil and it's only the filthy anti-vaxxers who want to drink it and force others to drink it to bring about the downfall of Western Civilization so they can replace it with a leftist-leaning government who will prepare us for conquest by our new alien overlords.
Clearly, none of those three seem to involve a great deal of rational thought- there's just a lot of misplaced rage at dead-end jobs, loveless marriages, shitty, recalcitrant kids, crushing debt, and erectile dysfunction driving some weird rage into some odd places. Frankly, I've never really had a dog in the fight because I never much cared for milk beyond drinking it after it soaked in some kind of delicious cereal for a while and took on a different flavor- I might have drunk three glasses of milk in my life, otherwise. Over the years I developed a suspicion of the government that put me a bit more in camp #2 than any of the others, but not so much that I ever sought out raw milk or really advocated for it in any way.
Hoffman was literally prepared to beat a man half to death with a sledgehammer if he'd not drink his milk.
Which then brings me to the now, five years after I read my last hyper-raw milk advocacy diatribe and/or anything resembling support of milk. Having bought Bob Hoffman's book Better Nutrition, it occurred to me that the GOMAD (gallon of milk a day) diet advocated by innumerable lifters and bodybuilders of the '40s and '50s had to have had some merit, especially since it occurred at least 30 years after the raw milk witchhunt. Oh, you didn't know about the witch hunt? There was one against raw milk, just as there were against all sorts of naturopathic movements in the early 20th Century. As they all fell under the same umbrella, I painted this movement with the same broad brush of "the AMA and doctors in general are a pack of evil assholes who keep people sick to make money" conspiracy theory and assumed raw milk was magical and the medical establishment couldn't battle the wizards living in cattle udders. In this case, however, this is apparently not so.
"It was common knowledge to New Yorkers that their milk was diluted. And the dealers were neither subtle nor timid about it; all they required was a water pump to boost two quarts of milk to a gallon. Nor was that the end of the mischief: to improve the color of milk from diseased cattle they frequently added molasses, chalk or plaster of Paris" (Bettman 114).
"Bacteria-infected milk held lethal possibilities of which people were unaware. The root of this problem was in the dairy farms, invariably dirty, where the milch cows were improperly fed and housed.
It was not unusual for a city administration to sell its garbage to a farmer, who promptly fed it to his cows. Or a distillery to keep cows and feed them distillery wastes, producing what they called 'swill milk.' This particular liquid, which purportedly made babies tipsy, caused a scandal in the New York of 1870 when it was revealed that some of the cows cooped up for years in filthy stables were so enfeebled from tuberculosis that they had to be raised on craned to remain 'milkable' until they died" (Bettman 115).
He'd actually come round a couple times a week to poison you! Nice guy!
If that sounds completely whacked-out-of-your-head-on-bath-salts-and-slicing-your-face-off-and-feeding-it-to-your-dog insane, that's likely because it was. When the War of 1812 popped off, the US lost its whiskey supply from Britain. To fill the gap, distilleries started popping up all over the former colonies, and this meant there was a tremendous amount of toxic sludge being created as the grain was distilled for whiskey. With no place to dump the stuff, the toothless, illiterate shitheaps mumbling non-English around the few teeth they had left rattling around in their heads started feeding the slop to their cows. Because it was, in fact, toxic sludge, the milk the cows produced couldn't be used to make butter, yogurt, or cheese, and the babies given the milk had incredibly high rates of tuberculosis and diarrhea (Roach 179).
By the beginning of the 20th Century, infant mortality rates topped 50%, and some doctors finally stepped in to put an end to the insanity. Pasteurization was introduced, a process that involved heating a liquid to kill off the microbes therein, preventing spoilage and contamination. Homogenization was then employed to prevent the cream from separating from the milk, a wholly unnecessary practice that required Vitamin A and D to be synthesized and added back into the milk to bring it back to its original nutritive content, and a vast rift began to open between the medical establishment and people who actually like the taste and texture of real milk.
So, the movement to pasteurize and homogenize milk arose not out of some evil scheme put forth by the AMA to destroy the lives and diets of Americans, but rather because milk at the beginning of the 20th Century was more tainted than Paris Hilton's asshole after the NBA Championships' victory party. While many people seem to think this was the result of some vast conspiracy against humankind, it was in fact completely the opposite- do-gooders were trying to keep the poor from dropping like flies in the street from drinking tainted milk.
Paved with good intentions.
Though their intentions were noble, milk's current form as a pasteurized and homogenized product may not be the panacea early doctors believed it would be. Raw milk advocates claim that unpasteurized and non-homogenized milk carries an array of health benefits not shared by what you typically find on the shelves of your grocery store, and that homogenization may actually make milk unhealthy. For instance:
"Recently, the European GABRIELA study determined that consumption of non-boiled farm milk by farm children resulted in fewer cases of asthma and hay fever than among those children who consumed boiled farm milk. The study concluded that a protective effect of unpasteurized milk might be associated with the whey protein fraction of the unpasteurized milk" (Schutz).
On top of that, it would appear that raw milk is theoretically more nutritive and generally healthier than Many consumers believe that raw milk is higher in nutritional content than conventional milk, which may have some merit. Raw milk comes from grass-fed cows raised on farms with much higher hygienic standards than factory-farmed cows. As a result, their milk contains higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins, micronutrients, CLA, and essential fatty acids (Kresser).
While that might seem somewhat compelling, you have to bear in mind that the relative risk of becoming ill from drinking raw milk is about 9 times greater than it is from drinking pasteurized milk. Frankly, that's not terrifically worrisome, provided you're a sensible person with a healthy immune system, as the absolute risk of developing herpagonnasyphilitis or some other catastrophic disease requiring hospitalization is five times lower than the odds of you getting struck by lightning- only about 1 in 6 million (Ibid). That, however, does not mean there's no risk- Australian dairy farmers seem to enjoy poisoning small children with milk that's ostensibly sold for bathing purposes, which has sent mothers everywhere scurrying for kitchen knives to brandish illogically at raw milk advocates.
Quite frankly, the science is all over the map on the benefits of raw milk vs. pasteurized / homogenized milk. Science can't decide whether homogenization destroys some of milk's inherent health benefits or enhances them (Michalski), and while raw milk advocates claim that raw milk is far easier to digest, causes fewer and weaker allergic reactions, and does not cause "leaky gut syndrome" (Hartke), there doesn't appear to be a single substantial study supporting those claims (Ipaktchian). Going a bit deeper, there appears to be such a convoluted web of outright misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the "persecution" of raw milk that one would really have to take a leap of faith to put much stock in any of the claims of raw milk proponents.
That stated, it's hard to overlook the role raw milk has played throughout history-
- African warrior cultures like the Maasai and the Zulus relied extremely heavily on raw milk for protein in their diets. The Masai men eat a diet called moran, which is consumed for the first 15 years of their life and consists of little more than milk, meat, and blood. "The principle staple of the Masai diet was milk from their herds.They treated their cattle 'like companions and friends,' Merker tells us, and gave them all proper names. They drank milk from their beloved Zebu cattle, but especially loved sheep milk because of its high fat content.Healthy Masai always consumed milk raw, in the fresh or soured state, often mixed with fresh or cooked blood" (Masterjohn).
- The Mongols used milk as the staple of their diet, whether it be in it natural liquid form or made into one of hundreds of different cheeses they loved.
- The Vikings drank copious amounts of soured milk, while the Celtic Gauls and British Celts drank fresh milk with every meal (Smith), and the ancient Germans were renown for drinking large quantities of milk as well.
So, where does that put us? It seems that milk was the staple item for lifters in the first half of the 20th Century, building the physiques of all of Mark Berry's lifters, all of Bob Hoffman's lifters, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, and countless others, raw milk was the go to protein source for most of the baddest warriors in history, and a raw milk diet was used in the 1920s at the Mayo Foundation to successfully treat patients for everything from tuberculosis to "high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney and prostrate disease, edema, heart failure and chronic fatigue," in addition to the fact that raw milk is currently being used in German hospitals to a variety of ailments (Goldstein). In short, milk seems to be the real deal.
If you're really worried raw milk will mess you up, just drink it in the lightning strike position.
Insofar as the raw vs. pasteurized milk debate goes, there appears to be no clear answer at the moment. Given the extremely low rate of serious illness caused by raw milk, however, I would suggest that if you can lay hands on the stuff, you might as well. Provided you like the odds of being five times less likely to contract a serious illness from raw milk than you are likely to get struck by lightning, I think you can leave the hand-wringing over the dangers of unpasteurized milk to soccer moms and nanny state dictators.
Bettman, Otto L. The Good Old Days- They Were Terrible! New York: Random House, 1974.
Czapp, Katherine. Diet of Mongolia. West A. Price Foundation. 15 Feb 2008. Web. 6 Jan 2015. http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/diet-of-mongolia/
Hartke, K. Raw milk advocates respond to Stanford study that claims raw milk is no easier for the lactose intolerant to digest. Campaign for Real Milk. 8 Dec 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014. http://www.realmilk.com/raw-milk-advocates-respond-stanford-study-claims-raw-milk-easier-lactose-intolerant-digest/
Goldstein, Michelle. High quality raw milk enhances health while pasteurized milk contributes to illness. Natural News. 4 Mar 2013. Web. 6 Jan 2015. http://www.naturalnews.com/039341_raw_milk_pasteurized_illness.html
Ipaktchian, Susan. Claim that raw milk reduces lactose intolerance doesn't pass smell test, study finds. Stanford Medicine. 10 Mar 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014. http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2014/03/claim-that-raw-milk-reduces-lactose-intolerance-doesnt-pass-smell-test-study-finds.html
Kresser, Chris. Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk. Chriskresser.com. 15 Apr 2014. Web. 11 Dec 2014. http://chriskresser.com/raw-milk-reality-benefits-of-raw-milk#comment-553049
Masterjohn, Christopher. The Masai Part II: A glimpse of the Masai diet at the turn of the 20th Century. Weston A Price Foundation. 13 Sep 2011. Web. 6 Jan 2014. http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/cmasterjohn/the-masai-part-ii-a-glimpse-of-the-masai-diet-at-the-turn-of-the-20th-century-a-land-of-milk-and-honey-bananas-from-afar/
Michalski MC. On the supposed influence of milk homogenization on the risk of CVD, diabetes and allergy. Br J Nutr. 2007 Apr;97(4):598-610.
Roach, Randy. Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 1. Bloomington: Authorhouse, 2008.
Schutz, Mike and Mike Ferree. Raw Milk FAQs. Perdue Extension. Nov 2012. Web. 11 Dec 2014. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/AS/AS-612-W.pdf
Smith, Heather. Celtic and Romano British Foods from the Isles- a General Approach. Academia.edu. Web. 6 Jan 2015. http://www.academia.edu/1488019/Celtic_and_Romano_British_Foods_from_the_Isles-_a_General_Approach