Never in the annals of health and nutrition has there been a food so maligned, lied about, and conspired against as raw milk. Once revered the world over as the most perfect of all foods, its demise was planned in well organized steps in order to create today’s store-shelf milk, a virtually lifeless product that only compares to the original in color. Although each new processing procedure has been espoused as an improvement in the nutritional quality and safety of milk, these steps actually led to the destruction of these properties. In its present store-shelf form, milk is not only empty of most of its nutritional value, but can actually cause many health problems.
As a youth just out of high school in 1934, my employment with a local dairy gave me a “ringside seat,” so to speak, to observe the birth of these nefarious moves. It is necessary to relate the history of Knudsen’s dairy to properly describe the diametrical opposites in the nutritional values demanded then and those found in store milk today. Only raw milk today provides those same qualities.
John Knudsen, a neighbor, operated a small dairy farm of Guernsey cows with the help of Peter, one of this three sons. Peter delivered the raw milk directly to a large local dairy and requested they send someone out to discuss this with him. When he was offered two cents a quart for his milk he rose in ire and said, “You’ll regret the day you ever said two cents a quart to me!”
At this time, Peter’s twin, Christian, manager of a dress factory on the West Coast and Daniel, a mason in nearby Hartford, lost their jobs as a result of the 1929 stock market crash and returned home. John proposed his sons go into the dairy business using the farm as the nucleus, which they did. Their competitors predicted their demise within a year. Their success vividly demonstrates the importance of a cream-rich product in those days and the part creamline played in the milk industry. So important was the butterfat content that some dairies named themselves “Creamline Dairy.” Naturally, Guernseys and Jerseys, whose milk contains the greatest butterfat content, were the most popular breed of cows. To accentuate the cream content further, Knudsen’s, among others, had orange lettering on the glass bottles to give the cream an even richer color. To further demonstrate how important the cream was, some dairies even had bottles with a narrowing of the neck a few inches down from the top and provided a special spoon that could be placed inside the bottle at the constriction allowing one to pour off the cream to use for coffee and the multitude of other uses. Some even saved it until they had a sufficient quantity to make their own butter.
To further magnify the importance of the cream content of milk, I will describe the sales method utilized by Knudsen’s that boosted their sales and allowed them to add six trucks to their fleet in one year. Virtually all milk was delivered directly to homes during the early morning hours in those days and left on the back porch or sometimes left in an insulated box on the porch to keep it cold until retrieved by the customer. Remember, this occurred in the days before refrigeration. The milk cases were heavily iced to keep the milk cold during warm weather. The few stores having ice boxes or the new refrigerated units usually carried just a few quarts of milk and small bottles of cream for local residents. It was our sales practice to arrange our route so as to follow our competitor and leave a quart sample of our milk next to his. On returning later in the morning we would introduce ourselves and ask the lady of the house if she had received our sample and would she bring out her regular supplier’s bottle so we could demonstrate the greater cream content of our product. Since most farmers kept some Holsteins mixed with their Guernseys and Jerseys, to take advantage of the Holstein cow’s greater production, few could match the cream content of the strictly Guernsey and Jersey herds. With Knudsen’s greater creamline, it was seldom we left without a new customer.
It was at this time that I witnessed the first step toward the eventual demise of milk as we had known it. While pasteurized milk was rapidly replacing raw there were still a considerable number of people demanding raw milk. It was the practice in those days for the more affluent to own or rent cottages at the shore for the summer in Connecticut. With the children home from school and mother not needing to get up early to get the children off, many took this opportunity to sleep late into the day. Few women worked outside the home in those days. This created a problem for the dairies, what with the milk standing out in the hot summer sun. While the raw milk rarely went sour, the heat did cause the cream to rise thickly to the top of the bottle and some assumed the milk was sour and called to complain. While turning the bottle upside down a few times would solve the problem, it was usually thought better to replace the bottle rather than risk losing a customer.
One summer morning, my boss, Chris, asked me to accompany him on such a journey. On the trip he remarked that we weren’t going to be doing this much longer. I asked him what he meant. He responded, “We’re going to get raw milk outlawed.”
“How are you going to do that?” I asked.
“Oh we’ve got some doctors that are going to testify that raw milk causes diseases,” he responded.
“But that isn’t true,” I pointed out.
“We don’t give a damn whether it’s true or not, just so long as we can get these lazy women off our neck,” he said.
Now, this wasn’t the first assault leading to the demise of milk. Pasteurization had been going on for several years and was making headway, but was vigilantly being fought against, even by farmers, until they were won over with the assertion that with pasteurization they didn’t have to be so particular about keeping their barns clean, that pasteurization would take care of whatever germs might enter the milk. Most people believe pasteurization was developed to prolong the freshness of milk and protect the consumer from possible disease-carrying bacteria. The truth is, Louis Pasteur developed pasteurization to overcome the fermenting problem that was being experienced by French wine-makers. In fact, it is reported that Pasteur sadly lamented, “What are they doing to my wonderful food?” when informed that pasteurization was being used for milk.
Pasteurization originally consisted of heating milk to 140 degrees for 30 seconds. Since this proved insufficient to maintain the shelf life or should I say, shelf-lifelessness of milk, it was next raised to 167 degrees for 15 seconds. Even this proved insufficient to satisfy the corporate dairies, so now they heat it to 281 degrees for 2 seconds and call it ultra-pasteurization, as though they had achieved the ultimate protection for the consumer. Every second counts when your object is making money, not giving a damn about the consumer. Now milk is so lifeless it can stand for months with no fear that it will go rancid. Pasteurized milk cannot sour—or for use of a more gentle term—clabber. Pasteurized milk turns rancid with age to a foul, sickening odor, all the good bacteria having been destroyed. Clabbered milk is comparable to yogurt in flavor and was my father’s favorite desert for all his life. Every evening meal was followed with a little cinnamon and brown sugar on a bowl of clabbered milk and Swedish hardtack covered with homemade butter.
Some amusing things took place in those early days. There was both Grade “A” and Grade “B” milk in those days. People just assumed that Grade “A” was of better quality, because it cost 17 cents a quart as against 14 cents for “B”. Not so. In Connecticut at that time, only farmers whose barns received a 98 percent or better grade by the state inspector, because they had better plumbing, etc., could be classified as Grade “A”. It had nothing to do with the actual cream content or the ingredients at all. Since all farms providing Knudsen’s milk, having long ago surpassed the ability to provide all their needs from their own farm, were rated Grade “A”. Those buying the “A” were paying three cents more for the same product as those getting the “B”. At a sales manager’s meeting the staff’s jester pointed out the absurdity of this “grading system.” When the question came up about the difference between Grade “A” and Grade “B” he pointed out the difference was “three cents,” forcing a laugh from the rest of us, but the comment didn’t sit well with the manager.
Another fallacy commonly believed is that milk is deficient in vitamin D. It is virtually impossible to buy a quart of whole milk that does not have vitamin D added to it. When the adding of D to milk became necessary to be competitive, Knudsen’s started providing their farmers with Brewer’s yeast or some similar product in edible form to feed to their cows which enriched the milk with vitamin D naturally. They called it metabolized vitamin D which was certainly a more natural method to enrich the milk, but they soon decided it was cheaper and simpler to add the synthetic form of vitamin D to the milk.
I left Knudsen’s after a few years, but kept aware of the exploitation of milk for the benefit of the distributor. In a conversation with Chris in the early forties, he alerted me to the wonderful advancement of the dairy with the invention of homogenization. The corporate giants of which Knudsen’s was now a part, would no longer fight for customers over creamline. Now they could cut the butterfat contents to the legally required 3.5 percent needed to be called whole milk since butterfat now stayed in suspension and it was virtually impossible for the consumer to see or know how much cream they were really getting. Corporations could sell the extra cream at a much greater profit or use it for even greater financial returns in making ice cream. True to form, Knudsen’s soon opened a large ice cream parlor on the site of the original farm that became a local sensation for the quality of its products. By now home delivery of milk was gradually being discontinued, partly because urban supermarkets were replacing the delivery system.
Homogenization has had shattering effects on milk consumption. With the removal of cream, milk has become tasteless. The cereal industry has suffered irreparably since milk no longer contributes to the taste of cereal. Despite the addition of enormous quantities of sugar and flavoring of every description, people, and children in particular, are not eating cereal as they have in the past. Dairies conformed to the fat-free rage by reducing the fat content even further. But people are not drinking the watered down versions. Of course, the push to increase milk consumption for the treatment of osteoporosis is a farce because the enzymes and vitamins in the missing cream are needed to assimilate the calcium.
In the late 1930s, the corporate powers began the most vicious, unjust wave of adverse publicity ever seen in the health field. They stooped to the lowest denominators to not only prevent the sale of raw milk in public places, but even to stop its sale from the farm. In this effort they hired writers to make the very thought of drinking raw milk seem like a lapse in one’s sanity.
So pervasive has this malicious propaganda become that some farmers even buy pasteurized milk from the very dairy that receives their raw milk! My usual response to such actions is that if their milk is so bad, I certainly would not drink it either. A friend has to actually remove the bottle of raw milk from her table when some members of her family visit—so great is their fear of even being in its presence. This is proof once again that a lie told often becomes believed.
For years since this vicious, unjust destruction of milk began, such publications as The Rural New Yorker, at that time the leading farm publication in the Northeast, tried valiantly to defend raw milk and expose thefallacy of pasteurization and the fallacy that pasteurization improves the nutritional value of milk by making it safer to consume.
To address the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of malicious, untrue stories often so asinine as to strain the intelligence of the reader, is impossible in an article of this length. But they are stories that exaggerate or simply invent afflictions from drinking raw milk. I will, however, relate a typical tale, for that is exactly what it was, a figment of the author’s imagination presented as fact. Something like War of the Worlds, but this happened in Crossroads, USA.
Dr. Harold Harris had published an article in the May 1945 issue of Coronet Magazine, a popular publication of the time. In it he states that what happened at Crossroads, USA, which “lies about 25 miles from a big city,” could happen in your town. In detail, he describes the epidemic of undulant fever that infected 25 percent of the population and killed one in four. Case histories were then presented to show how debilitating the disease could be.
The truth is there was and is no Crossroads. This never happened in any town in the USA. It was simply a figment of the author’s imagination. When cornered, Dr. Harris squirmed out of his dilemma by saying he just presented it as a possibility. This was typical of propaganda widely circulated for many years by news media most likely fearful of losing the substantial revenue reaped from advertising and other financial support of these large dairy corporations.
Undulant fever and tuberculosis were two favorite diseases falsely attributed to drinking raw milk. Undulant fever is not a common disease in the United States and cannot be transmitted by raw milk. Cows cannot pass their germ in their milk, or the germ of any disease, with the possible exception of mastitis, which may possibly be passed to a nursing mother, although I haven’t been able to find definite proof in any such occurrence in my research. To prove how long these tales can be carried, just yesterday I received a letter from a person of far greater intelligence than the average who said that years ago he knew a fellow who knew a fellow who years ago got undulant fever from drinking raw milk. The tale is old stuff, but it is the memory that hangs on.
I have personally known and have friends who lived on raw milk diets for weeks as part of their health programs. In the 1940s, milk spas were popular health resorts devoted to curing physical problems. The clientele at these spas lived exclusively on raw milk for days at a time as a body purification process. Milk baths were a substantial part of the program. So much respect and confidence was placed in the purity of milk that seldom a week went by in those days that some famous person, usually a movie actress, was portrayed in the news media taking a milk bath, attributing her velvety skin and luscious beauty to the milk, of course. Now, I am well aware of the extent movie producers will go to promote their star and I am not about to defend the veracity of their claim, but it certainly explodes the argument that the very presence of raw milk was a threat to one’s well-being.
Often during my talks on milk, many people attend who relate the wonderful health they have experienced since adding raw milk to their diet. As for myself, I am 83 years old, have drank at least two quarts, and usually a gallon, of raw milk a day virtually from birth. I am in unusually good health and I know much of it is a result of my raw milk consumption. I encourage everybody with or without health problems to take it up.
This article was adapted from the article appearing on realmilk.com.