My family has been drinking unpasteurized milk for more than 5 years. I weaned my first child on raw milk and drank it throughout my second pregnancy. We have never been slightly sick from the milk we got while we lived in Oregon including our own fresh backyard goat milk. On the other hand, in these last five years, I have had a strong reaction to pasteurized/homogenized organic milk while on vacation in Canada.
In the mid Fall of 2011 we moved to Mexico. At first we lived without milk at all until I found some raw goat milk through a neighbor. We knew very little about the farm it came from. I wasn’t sure what to do.
Drink it raw or boil it a little, or wait to test it somehow?
After some research I decided to try it ever so slowly and monitor any ill effects. We started with a teaspoon and waited 12 hours. Then we tried a ¼ cup and waited 6 hours. Then a ½ cup and after that we just drank it freely.
At one point, even after my test, I got so paranoid, I switched back to the pasteurized/homogenized (but hormone free) milk available at the store. I breathed a sigh of relief from all the worry and my kids immediately suffered from digestive upheaval. We all had gas and my youngest had full blown diarrhea. As soon as we stopped drinking the store milk he recovered. We were then in a new town and looking for a new source of raw milk.
One morning as we left the house for Tuesday Market, Fia spied a donkey in the street and we watched as it approached. It had a large metal can attached to each side and I recognized the sight from my internet research. It was the milk man! We asked about his milk and he said yes, he was carrying our precious leche cruda (raw milk). Yay!!!
The question remained, how was I to know if it was safe without testing it for pathogens and making lengthy farm visits (we didn’t have a car)? Was it possible?
So, what are bacteria anyway?
Bacteria are microorganisms that live on every surface you can imagine. They literally cover the world. They live on our skin and inside our bodies. Systems thrive by maintaining biodiversity and when this biodiversity is compromised (by disregarding Traditional Foods or introducing bacteria killing pharmaceuticals like antibiotics) the bad bacteria get the upper hand and make the organism sick. That’s the simple story. We pasteurize milk in order to compensate for two things: 1) the loss of biodiveristy in the milk and 2) the loss of biodiveristy in the milk drinker. According to Stephen Harrod Buhner,
“Regular exposure to pathogenic bacteria teaches our bodies and our symbiotic bacteria how to respond most effectively to disease and produces higher levels of health in later life.”
“There is emerging evidence…that human beings are supposed to have…one or more species of intestinal worms that co evolved with us living in our GI tracts. People in developing countries who usually have these parasites rarely develop inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers have found that the worms engage in an intricate modulation of the bodies immune system that positively affects bowel health. When Americans were given the worms by a physician, a majority…experienced complete remission of the disease. In past years in developed countries, these parasites were assumed to be evidence of disease and killed with the use of pharmaceuticals.” Language of Plants
Human beings (and every other living thing on the planet) are dependent on bacteria for health, vitality, and longevity. Drinking pasteurized milk is only one of the foods we’ve denatured in modern industrial society, but it is one of the most important ones to recover. So, wherever you are here is what you need to consider when you decide to switch to raw milk from pasteurized milk, or when you are looking for safe raw milk in your community.
When drinking unpasteurized milk, there are 3 things to consider about your milk:
What your milking ruminant eats contributes greatly to the quality of its milk’s antimicrobial properties. Mike McAffee of Organic Pastures added ecoli to his 100% grass fed milk and it was overcome by beneficial bacteria. Ecoli, and other pathogens, die in milk from healthy cows. The same is true with healthy bodies. There are layers of protection. What are your milk animals eating?
While milking our own goats we used only a brush to clean off any loose hairs that might fall into the milk bucket and warm water to gently wash their teats. We never used soap, chlorine, or iodine on the animals and cleaned the milking bucket with our farm-crafted soap and water. However, this is a minimal level of sanitation.
*Update* Thanks to a few readers we have a little more clarity about disease. Tuberculosis & Brucellosis are not carried by, or transmitted through animals. Historically raw milk was contaminated by infected milkers who hacked into the milk. That said, if you live in a place where there are outbreaks of Tuberculosis & Brucellosis, apparently testing cows will tell you NOTHING! I suggest you do your research, know the symptoms & consequences, and what you would do if you suspected an outbreak in your family. Ask yourself things like – is it easy to recognize and diagnose, is it fatal with good treatment, what treatment would you start with / resort to? For example is there an effective homeopathic remedy you might try before a conventional medical intervention? How strong it your gut flora and immune system? Stuff like that.*
Tuberculosis & Brucellosis are diseases carried by ruminants that can be passed on to humans though consuming their milk. Here in Mexico, we have not found a farm that tests for this. So what’s a girl to do? Well, we considered the evidence: tuberculosis is not a problem in Mexico in general, and microdoses of it are actually beneficial for the immune system. We took our lives into our own hands and went ahead and consumed the milk after using the At home Tests I will describe later in this post.
When drinking unpasteurized milk, there are also 2 things to consider about the drinker:
Bacterial Balance – first line of defense:
Bacterial balance in the drinker’s system is an important factor in raw milk drinking safety. If a person does not have experience with difficult bacteria as a result of living a very sanitized life or if they have a weak intestinal flora from eating the Standard American Diet, they will need to restore balance before their system can benefit from a micro-immune challenge.
Immune Strength and Vigor:
People with compromised immune systems will have more trouble consuming anything with diverse bacterial load and will need to re-build their immune function before they will be able to eat freely.
Xoco and the Duck Poo:
My son, when he was 6 months old, persisted in seeking out bits of dried duck poo and eating it. At first I didn’t realize what he was doing so I didn’t intervene until he had already ingested quite a bit! I fretted for an hour or so until my husband mentioned, “Oh he does that all the time. He’s fine.”
I thought about it and weighed the risks of his dying from ecoli and how horrible I’d feel. I conjured up a taste of facing my kids death and decided that since he had already been eating it for 24 hrs with no ill affect, I would allow him to continue unfettered. His poo eating phase lasted about 3 months and he showed no sign of any problem.
2 Tests you can do at home:
The Teaspoon test:
Try a teaspoon and wait a few hours to see if there are any affects. If, after drinking the teaspoon of milk, you feel fine, try a little more each serving until you feel safe to drink it freely. This is a test, but it is also small inoculation. If you have any difficulties, either step back and build your immune system in other ways and return to the milk later, or if your reaction was small, occasionally give your body that same small amount of the milk to deal with and it will start a micro-immune response to anything funky about the milk you’re drinking and your reaction will decrease over time. Work on healing your gut and slowly increase your raw milk intake in order to develop your immune system resilience and increase health and longevity.
The Clabber test:
Set out a ½ cup or so of milk in a warm place (under 90º) and let it clabber. Healthy milk will smell and taste sour, but not rotten. A rotten smell can be a sign of an imbalance of bacteria (though we have drunk lot’s of milk that didn’t pass the clabber test but we knew was safe from other criteria). If it clabbers and smells wonderful, you have good milk. If you are sure your drinker is also strong, then go ahead and enjoy your milk!
*BONUS* The Community Test:
This test was pointed out by one of my readers who writes in the comments below, “I wanted to add for the benefit of some of your readers that one of our “tests” includes drinking milk from the same herder that other people we know have been drinking from and have stayed healthy.” This is a great test for people who have good gut flora and strong immune systems. If in doubt, about your system, start with “The Teaspoon Test.” Thanks to Sarah Zitterman of Saudia Arabia for offering this test, and for participating here in this Community Dialogue, your own principle in action!
Free Range Kids
At this point I want you to know about a woman who lets her 8 year old ride public transit alone. She blogged about it and found herself under attack and invited to appear on national TV. Apparently her decision was that controversial. Now her blog is all about debunking the cultural myths that interfere with raising independent, savvy, and creative kids. Check it out, and start choosing the good over the safe.
In the end it is your decision and one that you have to live with. These are just some ideas and guidelines as counterpoint to an alarmist, death fearing, disconnected world. If you find yourself worrying about your decision, consider doing some healing work to clear a space for your own connectedness and instinctual (Soft Animal) knowing.
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mister Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But Aslan is good. He’s the King I tell you.
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Check out my 6 part DIY class:
Learn all the basics of preparing traditional, sacred, and healing foods – without leaving your own kitchen!