“Milk: It does the body good” was just one of those refrains cycling in the background of my 90s childhood. In my parents’ house, kids were not allowed up from the dinner table until we’d finished our full glass of milk. Even if it was a hot August evening and the glass of milk had got really, really warm. I took it for granted that milk, in whatever form it came in, was Good for You.
But milks are not all created equally, and not all should be considered good. As the process of getting milk from the cow to your glass at the dinner table became industrialized, the product we think of as milk changed significantly. The average dairy cow today produces six to seven times the amount of milk she produced 100 years ago. She lives through an endless cycle of artificial insemination, pregnancies, and hormones to increase her milk production in order to meet the demand for milk and milk products. The milk we drink today might be skim, 2%, fortified, ultra-pasteurized. It might have been produced by a hormone-riddled cow. It might have powdered milk mixed back in to give it a creamy consistency, without having to list powdered milk as a separate ingredient. Modern milk is much further from the farm than we’d like to think.
This doesn’t sit well with me. I may not accompany every dinner with a glass of milk, but I do still put it in my coffee, in my baked goods, and on cereal, and I, like a lot of other dairy-consumers out there, want to know where my milk is coming from. A recent piece on Modern Farmer provides great insight into the history of dairy and sheds some light on a few dairy farmers, including New York’s own Ronnybrook, who are breaking out of the industrial dairy production mold.