Before I talk about how my family and community benefits from raw milk, let me first say that what we do and what you do may be two different things. Ultimately, it is you who must make all the health and dietary choices for you and your family.
My family and I are Mennonites, similar to the Amish in some ways. Our communities have historically been farmers, and predominantly dairy farmers. Almost everyone in our local congregation of more than 200 people has grown up drinking raw milk. Mothers drink it every day, even when they are pregnant. My mother did, and both my grandmothers did, too. My wife drank it during all six of her pregnancies. She breastfed all the children, but I’m sure that somewhere in the first six months or so they were drinking a little raw cow’s milk, too…and when they were weaned at 12 to 15 months, they went straight to raw cow’s milk.
Our family is very typical among our community, and the practice in our churches is still that way today. The number of dairy farmers is growing smaller with the years, but almost everyone still gets his raw milk from a dad or brother or uncle or even a neighbor. Our congregation is only one of about a thousand that are connected across the nation. Everywhere you go, the pattern is repeated. I even have a sister in Guatemala, and sure enough, they buy their milk raw from the dairy farmer/minister of their congregation.
What I’m driving at is that, in spite of all the hype from the medical field, in my 40 years I have never heard of even one problem with a pregnancy, or any other illness among our people, that was from the raw milk. Is that scientific? No. Does anecdotal testimony prove anything? No. But I think you can see how we do not fear it at all.
I have known many friends and acquaintances over the years who have been hurt or killed in car accidents, yet we still drive, because the benefit and ease of auto transportation outweighs the risks. With raw milk, I know of no illnesses or deaths among our people, and the benefits of increased immunity and vibrancy of health are so profound that we feel that drinking it is a no-brainer.
Now, all that being said, you will still have to make your own choices for your family. The politically correct answer to whether or not you should choose to drink raw milk is: Read the warning that the government requires us to put on the label of our milk bottles, and then make your decision.
The only problem I have with the warning is that it is a form of discrimination. This warning ought to be on all food. All food may contain a pathogen that may cause illness or death. Think:
Spinach was recalled due to E. coli in the fall of 2006.
In Massachusetts in 1983, 49 people were sickened and 14 died from Listeria in pasteurized milk. (To see a complete list of all fatalities and illnesses from drinking pasteurized milk, go to tinyurl.com/pasteurdanger.)
Ground beef is recalled all the time.
A salmonella outbreak caused by peanut butter in 2009 contributed to nine deaths and 714 cases of illness.
The Bottom Line
A bulletproof immunity is our only protection against the pathogens of our environment. And we do not build bulletproof immunities though sterile foods. We need the probiotics and prebiotics of raw milk and kefir (a fermented milk drink) to protect us. The more sterile we live, the weaker our immune systems become… until even our peanut butter is striking us down!
I have a dream. I have a dream that one day the big, scary government warning that we have been forced to put on every bottle of our wonderful raw milk is on every food on the shelf... the pasteurized milk, the peanut butter, the spinach and all foods, because it is a fact of life. All food, any food, may contain a pathogen. When this warning is on all foods, only then will the playing field be level. Only then will bureaucrats, lawyers and bacteriaphobes be knocked out of their false sense of security to realize that there is only one way to defeat pathogens, and that is to build a bulletproof immunity to them.
Long live raw organic milk from grass-fed cows, and kefir made from the same. And long live those who consume them!
Building Our Immunity
How does the “build our immunity” approach differ from the “kill all bacteria” approach?
Let’s start with an analogy: According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are nearly 3,800 drowning deaths per year in the United States. That works out to be a little more than 10 deaths by drowning per day. For every death caused by drowning, there are another four near-drownings involving hospitalization, many of which cause permanent brain damage.
These are sobering facts. This is reality for some families, somewhere in America every day. It is only normal for parents and others who care for the health and well-being of our communities to ask the obvious question: What can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from a similar tragedy?
Since all drowning occurs in water, we might conclude that water is the enemy and that the best preventive would be to prohibit people from getting into water. Make laws. Pass regulations. Establish a Federal Drowning Prevention agency to enforce the laws. The FDP would arrest anyone who dared violate the law, which obviously was established for public welfare.
You see where I’m going with this. The alternative to drowning prevention is to learn to swim, and to teach your children to swim. The ability to swim makes you and your loved ones practically immune to drowning, while avoiding water like the plague only leaves your family more vulnerable. More vulnerable because you can be sure that sometime in your life, in spite of your best attempts (and those of the FDP), you or your children will find yourselves unexpectedly in water without the least idea how to save yourselves.
Swimming does not make one 100 percent immune to drowning, of course. So the FDP will always publicize a few highly emotional stories per year (complete with videos) in which experienced swimmers still drowned. Parents who dared to risk their children’s lives by attempting to teach them to swim could be prosecuted for willful endangerment, and have their children taken from them. After all, they were willfully, carelessly, callously ignoring data from the CDC which irrefutably documents thousands of deaths per year caused by water.
I know this analogy isn’t perfect; please don’t drag me through the coals to tell me so. But there are many parallels to how the U.S. deals with raw milk and bacteria. About 5,000 people die per year in America of food-borne illness. These, too, are sobering facts. And it is only normal for people to ask the same question: What can we do to protect ourselves?
Bacteria Is Not the Enemy
Many well-meaning people have concluded that bacteria are the enemy and so have set out to sterilize themselves and their environment. Kill all the bacteria! Fight BAC! Buy Purell! Put a dispenser in every room! Get antibacterial soap! Antibiotics for every sniffle! Outlaw unpasteurized cider! Pasteurize nuts and almonds, too! Outlaw raw milk and raw milk cheeses! These foods may contain pathogens!
There is only one problem with these bacteriaphobic actions and reactions. In spite of our best attempts, in spite of living in constant fear of the microbe, and in spite of government efforts to pass food safety regulation, something will get through. If we chose to live this way, we and our children will someday find that a stray bacterium has penetrated our sterile bubble, and our artificially protected, flabby immune systems will have no defense against it.
The alternative defense against food-borne illness is to embrace bacteria as a part of a larger ecosystem within which we humans try to integrate ourselves. We focus on life instead of killing. Pro-biotic instead of Anti-biotic. This is what raw milk, raw kefir, raw cheese and raw kombucha tea are all about… building immunity and health! We learn to swim, and teach our children to swim. Instead of fearing the water, we relax and enjoy life as God created it! We embrace living, whole foods, full of immunity-building probiotic bacteria and nutrient-absorbing living enzymes. These whole, living foods are full of unadulterated, unprocessed, unmessed-with, cell-nourishing, cell-repairing raw fats and proteins.
Only living foods give life. Only living foods, full of a diversity of natural microflora from our local, natural environment, can provide the education and information that our immune systems desperately need to actually protect us as God designed it.
God has designed the entire ecosystem to live in harmony with bacteria. The sooner we drop our hubris and accept this humbling fact, the wiser we will be.
FDA Disclosure Statement
Edwin Shank is an organic dairy and chicken farmer, not a health professional. If it is a medical opinion you seek, by all means, call a doctor (maybe two or three!). This information is intended to challenge, or even provoke you to explore beyond the conventional food and health system. Please note: Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
About the Author:
Edwin Shank is a grass-based, organic, dairy and chicken farmer. He and his family go beyond simply organic to farm with a deliberate attempt to recreate and imitate the ecosystem as God designed it. As Edwin often says, “When we take God’s idea, His plan and His design, and just respect it and work with it, why should we be surprised that the food is a taste of heaven?” Visit Edwin and his farm at yourfamilycow.com.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #28.
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