And a closer view of a dairy feedlot. Not how I imagine cows should be kept...
As America grew, immigrants flocked to the cities making them crowded. They wanted milk, which was a staple, especially for their children. When the cities were small there was room to keep a family cow. Common pastures in the heart of town had been set aside for this. Boston Commons is one example. But as cities grew, pasture was lost, yet the milk demand grew. While pastures shrank another industry grew- the whiskey industry.
The process of fermentation and distillation of the alcohol produced a side product. This product was an acid refuse of chemically changed grain and water known as distillery slop, or swill. This waste product was then fed to cows by individuals who cared nothing about the animals or the quality of the milk produced. Distillery owners started housing cows next door to these distilleries and fed the hot slop directly to the cows. This was known as the swill milk system.
This system grew especially as the distillery business shrank. Pressure was put on the distillery owners to make more profits from the milk side of the business. It soon became a huge industry. Slop is of little value in fattening cattle. It is unnatural food to them and makes them diseased and emaciated. But it made cows produce a lot of milk. The milk was so defective that it could not be made into butter or cheese. But they still sold it. Three quarters of all milk sold in New York in 1852 was slop milk.
A reformist wrote a series of articles criticizing the state of the milk supply. He gave eyewitness accounts to their crowded and dark buildings. He described the cows as being sick, crowded, dirty, poorly nourished and forced to spend their milking career chained in one place. The people who hand milked into dirty, open containers were often sick themselves and had no thought as to sanitation measures. The cows died at unusually high rates.
Distillery dairies continued to sell milk up into the 1900's. The last one closed in New York in 1930. Even though reformers and medical groups called for an end to this practice of selling milk not fit for human consumption, the government did nothing. So called "milk trains" were an attempt to get clean, fresh milk from traditional dairymen in the countryside into the cities. Yet compared to the high volume distillery dairies this was nothing but a trickle.
A well known fact even at that time is that the cow's diet determines the healthfulness of the milk. If fed a diet unfit for cows then they can only produce milk that is unfit for human consumption. Many people knew this but the swill milk industry thrived because it was plentiful and cheap. Slop milk was bluish in color and very thin so dealers added different things to make it look like white, whole milk including starch, sugar, flour, plaster of paris, and chalk!
People knew that bad milk could lead to disease. "Nothing can be more certain than that the quality of milk is greatly influenced by the state of the health of the animal producing it". So said the reformer Robert Hartley in his book on the state of milk production at that time in 1842 (pg 38).
Not much has changed in 160 years. While the worst of the distillery diseases are gone, today in America cows live in confinement dairies, living in stalls they never leave, stalls sometimes welded shut, where they are fed "scientific" diets devoid of fresh grass, diets designed to maximize milk production with little thought to quality. These diets are high in grains, soybeans and "bakery waste" (bread, cakes, pastries- even candy bars) and citrus peel cake loaded with pesticides. These cows are not producing the kind of milk America's children and adults need and deserve. Read more here.
Doesn't sound too healthy does it? Now when you factor in what pasteurization does to milk, the picture gets even uglier. Instead of mandating that cows be kept in a clean & healthy environment, our corporate-driven government just mandates practices designed to mask the effects that sick, filthy, medicated, hormone-treated, malnourished cows have on their milk. The byproducts of infection, such as dead white cells, are cooked and filtered, but is that what you want to drink? Pasteurization kills bacteria, good and bad, but not all of it. There are plenty of people getting salmonella from cooked milk.
Homogenization is the practice of spinning the milk in a centrifuge and/or forcing it under extreme pressure through tiny tubes to break down the size of the fat molecules so that they stay suspended evenly in milk. That's why you don't have to shake homogenized milk before pouring it. Some say the resulting smaller molecules are transformed enough to cause health problems in humans.
Ready to buy local, support sustainable farming methods and drink the best tasting and healthiest milk available? Check out Real Milk for a state-by-state listing of where you can buy real milk. Our own state, Washington, even has real milk available in convenience stores, and we can choose from a variety of dairies. There is a dairy in Tacoma that bottles milk from each cow individually so you can get to know you milk producer on a first name basis!
If real milk isn't available in your area, here is a score card of many organic dairies so you can at least look for products from healthy cows.
Do your homework and vote with your dollars. Don't let lowest common denominator economics dictate what you eat.