Raw and Ready
By Alexandra Wilson
RAW AND READY
In pursuing the advice of pretty packaging and food pyramids, the health conscious are rarely left to their own devices when deciding the foods that make them look and feel good.
‘Fat Free’, ‘Low GI’, ‘All Natural’: the labels that lace our shopping aisles all target and reinforce our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet.
What for those food products, though, that slip under the advertising radar and out of the clasps of consumer mentality?
A growing number of people can vouch that the effects of certain products under-represented in the nutritionist’s office and the grocery store often speak for themselves.
More than venturing wide and far to reap the benefits of little known organic substances, people are willing to defy government and market sanctions in order to consume what they believe to be healthy and humane.
At the forefront of a movement toward products that are not espoused with the supermarket is the consumption of raw milk. A substance that since Louis Pasteur, we have been warned not to drink, the sale of unpasteurised milk is banned in Australia due to the potential for the unadulterated product to harbour harmful bacteria.
Whilst our state recognises the downfalls of milk in its primitive form, the legalisation of raw milk in countries throughout the world, including states in America, has brought the question of benefit versus detriment into the limelight.
With both parties finding reasons to criticise the adversary’s reasoning and operations, the rationale of the legalisation debate has come to rest largely on issues of ethics and consumer protection. The Australian government has determined that as pasteurisation immobilises bacteria and increases the shelf life of dairy products, consumers are at less risk of incurring illness if only permitted to buy pasteurised milk.
Raw milk supporters on the other hand, not only question the extent of pasteurisation affectivity, yet have argued that an informed consumer should have the right to access the product.
But what exactly do we need to be informed about? Taking a look at statistics of bacteria survival and cases of food poisoning in raw milk are only confused by accounts of improved immunity to disease and allergies, all attributed to switching to the primary substance.
A Western Australian raw milk drinker that I spoke with suggested that before scientists intervened, human beings had been drinking milk straight from the udder for thousands of years. The milk that she drinks comes from cows that are grass fed, seldom exposed to stress, with the luxury of space and the freedom to roam. She, like many others batting for the raw milk team, believes that “healthy cows produce the best product and that when a dairy treats its cows nicely there is a psychosomatic reaction and a nutrient dense product.” I am forced to ask myself though, if her reaction to the milk she drinks, biased by her own opinion of its goodness, is not also psychosomatic? And would legalisation of the precious commodity put pressure on the wholesome conditions of the small-scale production method?
Mass production of milk, created for pasteurisation you see, calls for more confined spaces and a grain-based diet for cows whose infectious environment often demands that they receive antibiotics (which cause the natural evolution of antibodies to deteriorate). The marked differences in the respective conditions of large and small scale dairies has allowed raw milk aficionados to identify two distinct types of primary milk: that which is suitable for drinking and that which is not.
The means to an end, all of the steps taken in feeding, caring for and milking the cattle are fashioned to reduce the possibility of food-borne illness on a raw milk dairy.
As Australian and New Zealand Food Standards identified in a profile of Australian dairy products in 2006, “the effectiveness of pasteurisation is dependent upon the microbiological status of the incoming raw milk.” Whilst pasteurisation represents the principal process for rendering dairy products safe for consumption, according to the health protection body, primary production factors such as herd size, animal health, housing, feed, and cleanliness of equipment can be managed to reduce the risk of contamination.
Although eight of the eleven reported cases of dairy-incurred illnesses that occurred in Australia between 1995 and 2004 were caused by unpasteurised products, such a small number of incidents have been overshadowed by enforced confidence in the products’ recurring benefits.
Nutritionists within and members of The Weston A Price Foundation, an organisation promoting farming and food traditions, bear testament to diminishing lactose intolerance, joint pain, asthma and eczema on the foundation’s website.
Claiming that raw milk intake is an essential part of their health maintenance, these people believe in the healing power of the unadulterated product. Their beliefs are supported by findings that unpasteurised milk retains a high potency of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid*), vitamins and proteins that are diminished in its heat-processed counterpart.
*CLA contains antioxidant and anti-cancer properties: hindering growth of tumours in mammary, skin and colon tissues. High levels of CLA in the human diet have been shown to reduce abdominal fat, improve serum lipid profiles, and decrease glucose uptake.
Giusseppe Papalia, the retired owner of a modest Dairy farm in the South West’s Brunswick Junction recalls retrieving milk for his family, “It feels natural to drink from the animal you’ve just milked, but it’s a matter of trust in your cattle... and you know if they’re healthy or not.” He speculates that there are problems involved in the direct sale of raw milk though, having sent all of his product to pasteurisation plants on the odd chance that a customer might fall ill, “I wouldn’t want to have that on my chest, and I know that it’s (selling unpasteurised milk) illegal.”
A farmer who has enough faith to drink the primary product, yet fear of the consequences of distributing the milk, Mr Papalia represents a body of dairy farmers to which raw milk drinkers have come up with an answer.
If not through willing farmers and underground means, organic milk enthusiasts have engaged with a series of schemes that exploit legislation loopholes. An endeavour to avoid officially paying for milk, raw milk consumers can invest in herd sharing or cattle ownership, whereby monetary contributions to the upkeep of a cow’s living conditions or food needs, yields the consumer the precious product for free.
Submitting themselves to the demands of gaps in the law, and even going as far as to defy legislation, riders of the raw milk bandwagon truly value the flavour, form and function of the unpasteurised product.
For more information and the facts and forces that unpasteurised milk supporters are opposing, visit:
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