YOUGUYS, it’s summer! I decided it was finally time to take the cover off the ol’ Bianchi, fill up her tires, and take a ride through the afternoon sunshine in Santa Monica. My sore butt muscles told me that the hills between me and the beach were not a good idea, so I took the flat path north to the Co-Op natural foods store on Broadway.
How have I lived in Santa Monica for over a year and never been to this place?! It’s basically a cheaper, cooler, non-corporate Whole Foods. Plus, they had a lot of stuff that Whole Foods doesn’t carry, including one particular item I’ve been hunting lately: raw dairy.
Dairy is a subject that I won’t claim to have figured out; whether or not I feel it’s ethical to produce, if my body digests it well, if I should recommend that other people eat it, etc. I’m not surprised that many people are puzzled about the role dairy should play in their diet. Movies like Forks Over Knives warned me about the links between animal proteins and our country’s epidemic of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. I’ve been told (and can vouch, as you probably can) that it is mucous-forming; this can be harmful to our digestion and nutrient absorption. But we also hear about our need for calcium and fat-soluble vitamins like A and D and how dairy is the best source. It’s confusing! Part of me says, “Emily, no other species on the planet drinks another species’ milk, or any milk at all after infancy. Isn’t it strange that humans do?” But another part of me says, “Gee, I sure do like brie.” What’s a girl to do?
The Weston Price Foundation will have you know that dairy is not only an acceptable, but important part of a healthy diet. Weston Price was a dentist who became fascinated by links he saw between dental health, and nutrition and physical health. In the 1930’s, he studied a number of non-industrialized cultures across the globe with their traditional diets still intact. His idea was to figure out what common factors existed in these diets and how they contributed to the stellar health of the people eating them. I love this approach, because clearly industry, technology, and the lack of traditional eating practices in the United States is part of how we got to the unhealthy place we are today. If what we’re doing now isn’t working, it only makes sense to observe the diets of people who survived, thrived, even, without pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements, or least of all, Cheetos.
So what did Price find? Lots of really interesting stuff, but I’m going to focus on his findings that related to dairy before this turns into my post-bacc thesis. First of all, of the 10 “primitive” diets that he studied, all of them contained animal products. Secondly, all of these diets contained TEN TIMES the amount of vitamins A and D that the typical modern American diet does. Remember, these are cultures with no access to any modern methods of cultivating or processing food whose people boasted exceptional, robust health. To make what could be a really long story short, Price figured that A and D must be super important for developing healthy humans, and his subsequent research proved this to be true. And it turns out that A and D aren’t really vitamins that we can get easily from plant foods. This guy is making a great case against vegans, eh?!
Before you go guzzling a gallon of Alta Dena 1%, there are two crucial differences between the way these cultures ate their dairy and the way Americans do today:
1) THEY DIDN’T TAKE OUT ANY FAT. Before the onset of Fatphobia, and before there was a way to remove fat from dairy, people drank (gasp!) whole milk. Straight from the cow or goat or sheep. Remember how A and D are fat-soluble vitamins? That means our bodies need fat to absorb them. So go ahead, take the fat out of your milk…but you won’t be getting the benefits of those incredibly important vitamins, which is probably the reason you think you’re supposed to be drinking the milk in the first place. We also need fat in order to use calcium properly; consuming calcium-rich milk sans fat is going to send that calcium to all the wrong places (i.e., not your bones, where you want it, but your arteries where it hardens and becomes atherosclerosis.)
2) THEY DIDN’T PASTEURIZE IT. Of course they didn’t, because they drank it straight out of the animal! Pasteurization is a process of sterilization invented by Louis Pasteur in the 1860’s to prolong the shelf-life of milk by killing microorganisms and pathogens. It also comes in handy today because most of the cows we use for milk live in their own filth and are very sick due to grain diets that are unnatural to their systems; it only makes sense that we should want to sterilize THAT milk. But the milk of these primitive cultures came from grass-fed cows that were well taken care of and healthy, so there was no need to pasteurize anything. That’s not all– as it turns out, pasteurization does all kinds of crazy things to milk! I can already sense you falling asleep at your computer, so I’ll summarize: Pasteurization involves heating up the milk to kill all of this stuff so it will last longer and be sterile. But the heat also kills or warps the stuff in milk that’s GOOD for us, ultimately making the milk harder for us to digest and devoid of nutrients that we need. Proteins become misshapen and our body mounts an immune defense against them. Also, because enzymes present in raw milk have been killed, the body must supply its own enzymes to digest the milk, requiring more energy.
Moral of Price’s story? Consume dairy the way the primitive cultures did; full-fat and raw. But good luck finding raw dairy products– it took a visit to the Co-Op for me to find it. It’s still highly “controversial” (and illegal to transport across state lines!), probably because of the dairy industry’s influence in Washington; of course Big Dairy corporations want you to buy their mass-produced, pasteurized dairy, which should be pasteurized because it comes from filthy, sick cows. But find yourself a nice family farm with grass-fed cows, and eating their raw dairy should not cause you any worry.
I should reiterate that this is just one perspective on dairy. I’d say the jury’s still out, and may never truly reach a verdict on dairy consumption. It’s different for everyone and there are a million different ways of looking at it! I’m fascinated by this raw vs. pasteurized comparison and am willing to give raw dairy a shot.
Wow, all of that was to tell you… I ate a grilled cheese for lunch today. A delicious, raw-cheddar grilled cheese with heirloom tomatoes and avocado on sprouted wheat bread. It looked like this:
Happy summer, everyone! Hope this provided you with some light beach reading.
For a plethora of information on raw dairy and Weston Price’s research, please visit http://www.westonaprice.org/.