We humans have been hanging out with cows for over 10,000 years and we’re better for it. They work hard, survive on grass, produce fertilizer and they taste good. They are also endlessly entertaining for children and childish adults alike, and they have served well in many aspects of our popular culture – ad campaigns, pop art, record covers and even Halloween costumes. People love cows. And we also love milk. Did you know that a healthy dairy cow can produce an average of 2400 gallons of milk per year? That’s approximately ten tons of milk…from one cow. Total milk production throughout the world is estimated to be 178,185,697,674 gallons per year with Israel boasting the most productive average 3642 gallons per year, per head of cattle.
So what is it about milk that has driven us to breed cows that can produce ten tons of milk in a year? For starters milk is chock full of nutrients, protein and calcium being chief among them. It also lends itself to all kinds of recipes and drink mixes, and, most importantly, it’s used to make ice cream. That’s a big selling point in this household.
The problem with milk is that is doesn’t have a very long shelf life. Like most of the natural world milk is thick with bacteria, and under the right conditions these bacteria leap into action, to very pungent effect. Without refrigeration milk won’t stay perfectly fresh for more than two hours. Ancient man quickly figured out that milk was better off kept cool, but it wasn’t until the arrival of modern refrigeration in the late 19th century that milk really started to last on the shelf. However milk can still potentially carry harmful bacteria and refrigeration does nothing to kill it; that takes heat.
The Chinese and Japanese have long known the benefits of heating wine and beer to preserve them, but it took Louis Pasteur modernizing the technique to really promote its use, and since then pasteurization is claimed to be 90% effective. Some think this absence of bacteria isn’t good, they prefer their milk unprocessed, or “raw”. Raw milk proponents say that the beneficial bacteria and enzymes present in unprocessed milk are a huge boost to the health of the body and the immune system, and while they understand the potential risk of non-pasteurized milk they state that the cleanliness of modern dairy facilities and the antimicrobial properties of raw milk are reason to have confidence in the product. Where the sale of raw milk is not altogether illegal it is highly regulated, but these laws are being reconsidered as raw milk gains popularity. This is a highly controversial topic and people need to make their own, informed decisions. Here are a few links:
Cow picture by Alexander Renstrom