For the past six years or so, I have been drinking organic milk exclusively. Not that I drink a lot of milk, mind you--it primarily goes on top of cereal and in my coffee, with the occasional glass to go with a particularly rich and tasty dessert. I began buying only organic milk after learning more about how milk cows are treated in the industrial economy and about how the use of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) has increased the incidence of mastitis in said cows, leading to increased use of antibiotics. Which, of course, means more antibiotic residue for you and me.
What I didn't quite realize is that large-scale organic milk producers such as Horizon purchase their milk from feedlot dairies. These cows have little access to pasturage, and are typically imported from conventional farms, which means that they are weaned on blood, fed slaughterhouse waste, and injected with antibiotics to keep them "healthy". The cow may live an "organic" lifestyle after moving from the conventional farm to the organic feedlot dairy, but it's certainly not out munching grass and living a happy, healthy cow life. Organic Valley seems to be a bit better, insofar as they appear to function as a co-op, but there's still no way of knowing how the cows that produced the milk in your carton were treated. Happy cows, or sad industrial cows? Who knows?
So the next time I went to the grocery store (our farmer's market doesn't seem to have anyone selling milk, or, more tragically, butter), I looked specifically for local milk producers. I've had Straus Family milk before, and while it's wonderful, it's also not something that could be considered local up here in Seattle. But I did find Grace Harbor Farms, which is located in Custer near Tacoma. They also only sell raw milk (insert screams of horror here), but they're a Grade A Certified Raw Milk Dairy, which means they have to test their milk for pathogens, bacteria, and other nasties. Still....
I've actually had raw milk before. When I was growing up, my aunt had a milk cow, and whenever we visited and wanted milk, we got whatever the cow had given that morning. But there's a difference between knowing the people and the cow (in this case, my aunt and Bessie), and buying raw milk from people who are, in all senses of the word, strangers. Are they careful? Do they take steps to minimize the presence of foreign objects? Will it kill me dead if I buy it? All valid questions, I'm sure you'll agree.
But, it's local. So, after a brief inner dialogue, I decide that, since it didn't kill me all those years ago, it probably won't kill me now, and throw a quart into the basket. I feel nervous driving back to the house, as I've loaded my bags into the trunk, and it's an unseasonably warm day. What if my milk sprouts tentacles and tries to devour me when I get home?
When I reach the house, I find the milk mercifully tentacle-free. I hustle it into the refrigerator and continue with my day. The next morning, I add it to my morning coffee. It's whole milk, which means that the fat globules floating on the top of my morning coffee are filled with Vitamins A and D. The raw milk makes my coffee richer and gives it a bit of a tangy flavor, and I continue to pour a generous dollop in every morning. I do not die.
On Wednesday, I come home to find that Man of La Muncha has made strawberry pie (look for an upcoming post on our month of berries from the Man). He cuts me a generous slice and I sit down to have a post-work, pre-dinner snack. The pie is wonderful, but rich, so I decide to pour myself a glass of raw milk to go alongside my tasty snack.
There's definitely a difference between having a bit of milk in your coffee and drinking an entire glass, especially if you've been a skim milk drinker for the past couple of years (Nina Planck has set me straight). I take a slow sip of milk and stop for a moment. The milk is rich, savory, and perfectly balances the sweetness of the pie. This is how people used to eat--everything tastes clean. There are no artificial, overpoweringly sweet flavors--just the sweetness of the berries and the richness of the milk. It's an enormously satisfying end to a summer day.