PHOTO: Organic Pastures owner and founder Mark McAfee (top) with his family.
Raw milk can be hard to find. Even if you live in one of about 30 states where you can legally buy and drink the stuff, you might still have to drive an hour to a farm or store that carries it. (It doesn't help that Whole Foods dropped its sale in four states, citing high insurance costs.) See, while raw milk advocates swear their drink is safe, health officials disagree. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn about the potential for disease-causing germs in raw milk. Noted nutrition experts, too, like New York University professor Marion Nestle, say the jury's still out on the supposed health benefits. All the while, the popularity of raw milk continues to grow.
Case in point: For this past Saturday's talk at the Altadena Community Center in Altadena, Ca., Mark McAfee, the owner and founder of Fresno-based Organic Pastures—the first raw dairy with certified organic pasture land in California—brought 15 or so jugs of raw milk, thinking every attendee would be able to take one home. About 75 people showed up (and made a mad rush for the complimentary goodies at the end of the event). His hour-plus slide-show presentation touched on a number of subjects, including the origins of pasteurization, the benefits of breast-feeding, and the positive effects of drinking fresh, raw milk.
"Raw milk has living stuff in it that fights bacteria in the body," said McAfee. Boiling and partially sterilizing it makes it last longer, yes, but according to raw milk enthusiasts, it also destroys its beneficial enzymes, raw fats, and probiotic bacteria. Pasteurization, he argued, is no longer necessary in the way it was during the 1920s and 1930s, when people suffered food illnesses due to filthy farm conditions. Nowadays, raw milk dairies follow stringent safety rules and undergo frequent testing for contamination. More often than not, they feed their cows grass, not grain.
So, what actually happens when you drink raw milk? Many people who make the switch get immediately hooked on the thick, creamy taste. They also report that ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, asthma, and allergies completely disappear. Sounds compelling, but take note: McAfee recommends "baby steps" if you grew up on pasteurized milk but want to go all raw. (Also worth mentioning: Adding raw milk to coffee or anything else hot is basically like pasteurizing it. Drink it straight from the jug for the full effect.)
Where do you stand on the raw milk debate? Please leave your thoughts below.
Visit organicpastures.com to read more about the farm and order raw dairy products. (Interstate sale of raw milk is illegal.)