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    Pasteurized Milk: Not a Whole Food?

    April 14, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Last night, I received an email newsletter from our dairy, the infamous Organic Pastures. I adore our dairy. We have visited it, and can assure you that you have never seen happy cows until you have seen the herd at McAfee’s dairy basking in the California sun. It is a wonderful place from which we are happy to purchase our milk.

    Last night’s newsletter asserted something that I really thought was inaccurate. Here is the situation: Whole Foods {the grocery chain} has decided to discontinue their sales of raw dairy products. Our dairy had shelf-space at Whole Foods, so obviously this is an issue for them. You see, the newsletter declared their sorrow at this move by Whole Foods because, in their words:

    We are very disappointed in this decision and believe that it is a move away from β€œwhole food” being sold at Whole Foods. We all know that raw milk is a whole food, whereas pasteurized and ultra pasteurized milk are partial foods.

    Well, to be honest, I was shocked by this. My belief has always been that it was homogenization, which fragments fat particles, that created a type of milk which was not a “whole” food. But my {limited} understanding was that pasteurization apart from homogenization simply took a living whole food and turned it into a dead whole food. Not optimal, but no different from what happens when I soak my pancake batter in homemade raw buttermilk and then proceed to fry the batter. This results in pancakes which are “whole”–meaning they consist of unfragmented ingredients.

    Follow me?

    So I thought that pasteurization was akin to what happens when I cook my dairy-filled pancakes, and I was intending to write a post on how wrong I thought the raw milk folks were to try and draw a dividing line where there was none.

    Turns out, I was the one in error.

    Now, before I tell you what I learned, I want to make it clear that I don’t really care what sort of milk you have in your refrigerator, if you have any at all. What matters is that, whether you eat or drink, you do it all to the glory of God.

    However, comma.

    I do care about definitions and clarity, about maintaining the boundary of terms, and so on. I was convinced, when today began, that Organic Pastures had a too-narrow definition of whole foods.

    So much for that.

    After reading two extremely dull research papers on the topic of pasteurization, ultra-pastuerization, and homogenization {Processing Effects on Physicochemical Properties of Creams Formulated with Modified Milk Fat and Influence of Pasteurization on Milk Protein Breakdown in Cheddar Cheese During Aging}, I learned that the process of pasteurization–alone without ultra-pasteurizing and homogenizing–does in fact change the milk at a microbiological level. Among other effects, the various proteins are destroyed, flattened, or denatured.

    If the definition of a whole food is that it is, at the microbiological level, intact, meaning that the proteins are whole, the fat is whole, the cholesterol is whole, and so on, then I suppose Organic Pastures is correct, after all, and raw milk is the only whole food milk.

    Of course, in the process of cheese-making, the milk is also changed in structure. If you age cheese, the proteins begin to break down or change because cheesemaking is, at its core, a chemical process. Now, this happens quite naturally. I recently made homemade cream cheese from raw milk {the original “cottage” cheese} on my kitchen counter. It took less than a week {and requires no labor on my part save the effort of patience}, but the milk transformed from one thing {milk} into two others things {whey and soft cheese}. Could it not be said that cheese, therefore, is not a whole food?

    This is why I think that we should never say that whole foods are the only foods which ought to be eaten. Cheese is a wonderful way to preserve summer’s nutrient-dense milk harvest for the winter months or for travel.

    But back to the issue at hand.

    I am going to have to agree with Mr. McAfee that raw milk is the only whole food milk, as much as I didn’t believe this, oh, about two hours ago. With that said, I’m not sure I that any chain store is going to be able to take the legal risks which go along with selling an unpasteurized product. Granted, I don’t think that raw products, especially products produced by dairies as meticulous as Organic Pastures, are exceptionaly risky in reality.

    But that doesn’t matter.

    When my husband was sick, doctors and the authorities at disease control kept pointing their fingers at two things: our raw milk, and our pet ducks {who were just ducklings at the time}. Every single time I tried to mention that I had my suspicions about some ground beef I had purchased at a local store, the conversation would come back to our habit of drinking raw milk. {I had the ducklings tested to rule them out.}

    The fact is, because what we drink is unconventional, it was what drew attention when folks were searching for a source of infection. People really want to believe that if a person does everything just so and follows all the rules, then they will be safe. It wasn’t until over 50,000 pounds of conventional beef were recalled from our state that it was admitted that, yes, perhaps that was the culprit after all. {(And did I still have the bar code? Are you kidding me? Who keeps the packaging from their ground beef on the off-chance that it almost kills someone?}


    I now buy my ground beef from Organic Pastures. I have become somewhat paranoid about conventional beef, and knowing that McAfee farms regularly tests their milk supply for the virus that almost took my husband gives me comfort. We know the danger of eating food.

    However, Whole Foods has to think about this issue at the legal level, rather than the personal level at which our family makes its decisions. They have to know that when there is an outbreak of something, the finger will be pointed at raw milk and other unconventional products first. I know, because I experienced this firsthand.

    So though some wish to vilify Whole Foods for their decision, I think it might be more helpful to just try and understand. At the end of the day, Whole Foods is not some sort of intimate connection to a local farmer. It is a business with a nutritional marketing angle, with a bottom line to serve and a business to legally protect. The situation is what it is.

    In my personal opinion, co-ops like the ones I belong to are probably the future of buying unconventional foods, for the most part.

    If buy it we must.

    I, on the other hand, am still occasionally lobbying my husband for a pygmy dairy goat.

    You know.

    For the kids.

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  • Reply Mystie April 22, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Huh. Well, then. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Anonymous April 22, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Mystie, raw milk is not illegal in WA. I buy Dungeness
    Valley Creamery and Cozy Valley Farm raw jersey and Brown Swiss milk at the Olympia Food Co-op on a weekly basis.

  • Reply Kristy April 17, 2010 at 11:02 am

    I’m glad you posted this. I have seen enough blog posts denouncing WF for their decision, but as you said, it makes legal sense. My reaction is the other direction — I’m amazed they ever carried raw milk to begin with!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts April 15, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Rahime, I just ate a bite of ice cream, if that makes you feel any better. No one was looking and so I did it!

    Kelly, I don’t know what made me think that cows could be milked longer than a year. Maybe it is just because dairies are so good at planning their fertility cycles to keep up production. That was one thing I found interesting about OP, actually. They: (1) Run the bulls with the herd. Pregnancy happens when it happens. (2) Have a vet perform weekly pregnancy tests. (3) Cull pregnant cows and put them in their “maternity ward” which is a separate pasture with no bulls. (4) Do not milk pregnant cows.

    Now, I didn’t realize that it was standard in the industry to milk a pregnant cow. The result, they said on the tour, was that their cows keep up production far longer than the industry average (which is to age 3 or 4). They had cows there they have been milking since they first opened their doors. They believed that their humane treatment, especially in regard to not overtaxing pregnant bodies, was key to the longevity.

    Mystie: If there is anything elimination diets taught me it was how much corn is in EVERYTHING! We had a couple who had corn allergies and I couldn’t even buy catsup at our regular grocer’s! It definitely makes a person aware of what is actually in the food they are eating. Going corn-free definitely requires cooking at home, that is for sure.

    I didn’t used to like veggies, either. I think it was that I didn’t like canned veggies.

    Rachel, I think that the low-temp pasteurization that Kelly mentioned would fit your description. I thought exactly the same thing until I did a little research. Now, I don’t think it qualifies for the definition, though I am open to being wrong on that. What I read made me think that some of the proteins were shattered in the process, possibly the cholesterol as well, though I don’t think the paper I read on the latter was using as good a process of study as the other papers. So, even though we can’t see it, it is becomes a processed rather than a whole food.

    Of course, I go back to the idea of Kelly’s that what we really want is to eat real food, or just plain food, as I like to think of it, because not all good foods (like the cheese) actually fit into this technical definition of whole food.

    Unless we consider cheese-making part of “whole foods cooking” where all of the ingredients procured are whole foods. Hmmm…

  • Reply dawn April 15, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Mystie, if you like “living cookbooks” you must must read Nigella Lawson’s “How to Eat” British, witty, wonderful (she does use some crazy stuff sometimes). It is a book to read more than to cook from, although her mom’s baked chicken recipe is a hit here. And the ice cream recipe, oh, my.

  • Reply Rachel R. April 15, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    I’m still not sure if I agree with the distinction between raw and pasteurized, as “whole” foods. (I would not consider pasteurized milk “real food” or “traditional food” or whatever else one wants to call that category, but I do consider it “whole” if it hasn’t had the cream skimmed off.) True, the proteins and such are altered when it’s pasteurized, but doesn’t it stand to reason that these things would also be altered when we cook our pancakes? Nothing is being artificially removed by cooking the milk.

    Now, UHT pasteurization, maybe, because I would think that it might cook at higher temperatures than we cook things in our kitchens. (I can’t remember the temps right off. Have they done any studies on the milk protein in cooked foods? Don’t they all inherently, chemically become different foods altogether when cooked together?) But cooking something doesn’t make it less than a “whole” food, it just makes it not “raw” or “live.” (That – raw/live – is an important designation, just a different one.)

  • Reply Mystie April 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I agree with all your points, Brandy, except that I am not jealous about the goats. πŸ™‚ I suppose that means I’m agreeing to being adopted. I will now consider it my solemn duty to tell your father he is funny.

    “Medical” and “culinary” are both not the perfect word for the context; I should have used “health” instead of “medical” for your route. Both are perfectly valid and I find it fascinating and revealing that both approaches take one toward the same point.

    Trying to diagnose allergies by elimination diet is what kicked my interest in cooking into the right mode, too, actually. But once we figured out my husband had a stomach acid problem and not food allergies, we found that my then-toddler oldest couldn’t tolerate corn, especially corn syrup. So then it wasn’t just that I liked to cook; I *had* to cook and I had to read ingredient labels and I started getting peeved about the whole corn thing. So there were health reasons I got on the path, too. Our tastes and my cooking habits were changed, and right about the time that published cookbook authors started getting on the “real food” bandwagon.

    It’s been easier for me to lose baby weight each time, and I think it’s because our regular diet is more and more healthy each time. But not because I think “oh, we need to eat our vegetables to be healthy,” but because I’ve discovered vegetables are actually *good*. How bizarre is that?! πŸ™‚

    It is almost as if God made food, and that the food God made is both healthful and tasty and “magic.” πŸ™‚ Who would have thought?! πŸ™‚


  • Reply The BadgerMum April 15, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I’ve had the most sucess with soft cheeses and those don’t keep as long as hard ones do. Of the hard ones I’ve tried, there’s only one I like made from goat milk, feta, and I have yet to make a good batch of it — it’s either too soft and dissolves in the brine, or it’s too hard and salty.

    When the goats are dried off, we just do without milk for drinking, but I still buy cheese from the grocery store. Occasionally we’ll go to Maryland and buy raw cow milk from an Amish farmer we know there — it’s legal to sell off the farm there, but illegal here in Virginia.

    Incidentally, even cows have to be dried off for the last two months before “freshening,” i.e. giving birth. But a commercial farm can’t afford to let customers go without milk that long, so they breed the cows at different times so they always have plenty of fresh milk.

  • Reply Rahime April 15, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Sad that Whole Foods won’t offer raw milk anymore. I have a great local grocer that I get mine from usually, but on the occasions when I’m not planning to go there I will pick it up at WF. This will give me one fewer reason to shop there.

    I buy Organic Pastures’ milk too (we only have one other farm’s milk available around here, and I didn’t like the taste of their milk as much…though I did like the glass bottles)…I’m jealous you’ve been to the OP dairy. I love dairies.

    No comments on the whole/not-whole argument. Half of what I eat is junk, the other half isn’t.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts April 15, 2010 at 6:18 am

    A few thoughts:

    1. I like the Real Food label versus aiming for whole foods. One thing I keep coming back to is the idea that God gave us…food!

    2. As most of you know, we took the medical route (as Mystie called it) to real food. I am thankful for it, though, and I think that I actually gained a taste for it when I had to, and now I would never go back (unless I was somehow forced to). I am constantly amazed at how the original real food versions of dishes I used to make in a fast food version taste so much better and are so much more satisfying to eat.

    3. I think that tastebuds can be twisted into liking less authentic foods (I’m thinking foods with flavor enhancers, etc.), but once we have regained the taste for real food, our taste seems to guide us into eating foods which are nutritious and in appropriate amounts.

    4. Which means that I often see the nutrition science as confirmation of what our tastes already know.

    5. Unrelated: if you tell my father he is funny he will want to adopt you. Welcome to the family, Mystie.

    6. I am jealous (again) that Kelly owns goats.

    7. Because I was thinking in cow terms, I forgot that goat farmers often go for a few months without milk. Kelly, do you all eat your cheese when you are getting milk, or do to save it for when there is no milk to be had?

    8. I love “predigested” foods, as you called them, Kelly. I am gaining an appreciation for them. These were one of the things I have used to help allergy recovery along. It is less taxing on the body, a true “baby” food.

    9. Interesting that low-temp pasteurization still tastes raw. That is probably the example which is more akin to my dairy-filled pancake example. One of the papers I read also mentioned there is a structural impact on how quickly something is heated as well.

    10. I think that most people would love raw milk if they tried it. However, a good dairy is imperative. They have to have a commitment to putting health first. I hadn’t realized raw milk had made my dad sick as a child (learn new things every day), but what I did know is that we have to consider the source. Pasteurization became standard because dairymen were milking extremely sick cows. We cannot pretend that disease is impossible to pass through milk. It is true that in an ideal cow there would be no disease, but we live in a fallen world.

    11. Last one. During my husband’s bout with E.coli 0157:H7, there were two recalls. One was for Nestle cookie dough. If we think that only raw foods can be dangerous, we are kidding ourselves. I think that the vilification of raw milk has been detrimental because this is an attempt to make pasteurized/processed foods seem safer.

  • Reply Mystie April 15, 2010 at 3:49 am

    As someone who has never had anything but mass-produced cows’ milk, the “real” milk does have me fascinated. Kelly, you say the low-temp stuff still tastes “real.” So it comes in my mind back to “taste,” which is something that is developed and which is the path that is leading me toward paying attention to food. The classic garden-fresh tomato v. the grocery store tomato from Mexico — I’m just not going to buy that grocery store tomato anymore because it no longer (although it once did) tastes or feels or looks like a “real” tomato to me. I’m not morally opposed to having that tomato available to buy, I’m just not interested in wasting my money on tasteless vegetables. So, it makes me wonder if I ever did get fresh milk, if I would start feeling the same way about milk.

    By the way, weird dads are the best kind to have.

  • Reply Mystie April 15, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I like your definition, Kelly. πŸ™‚

    I just wanted to clarify that in using the word “culinary,” I am not — in any way *cough* — a gourmant, but that my track toward “real food” has been through a cookbook line rather than a science or medical line. I like to read cookbooks; I don’t like cookbooks that are a collection of recipes, but cookbooks whose author talks to me — Living Cookbooks? πŸ™‚ So, preparing and enjoying food simply as food is the angle I have been influenced by, but I do think the science arguments are necessary and profitable, too.

  • Reply Anonymous April 15, 2010 at 3:34 am

    By the way I love Mystie, but as a youngster we had cows and I drank fresh milk, unfortunately the cows were not healthy and I was sick for around 3 months. They treated the cows and they gave pink milk which we gave to our dogs who loved it. I am also grateful to my daugeter who did not censor my last comment. I know it is hard having a weido for a dad, but i have a great time and I am so proud of you.

  • Reply The BadgerMum April 15, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Oh, and I should have added this: I once had low-temperature pasteurized milk and if I hadn’t known that’s what it was I would have thought it was raw — it still tasted Real. Turns out, low-temp pasteurization doesn’t denature it the way regular and ultra-pasteurization does. Of course, it takes a lot more time, so large scale producers probably figure it’s not cost-effective.

  • Reply The BadgerMum April 15, 2010 at 2:04 am

    Cultured dairy products are, in a sense, predigested — and I’m guessing you know that since you’re lacto-fermenting other stuff.

    I can’t think of a better phrase to use than real food. My definition is, if any average housewife in the history of mankind could make it in her kitchen, it’s food. If it requires a laboratory or modern equipment, it may be an edible foodlike substance, but it’s not food.

    Making cheese is a good way to use up excess milk, but it’s also the only way to have milk when all your animals are dried off for two months before giving birth again, and for the first few days after birth. That’s the way most people have done it through history. This year we bred half our goats early in the season and the others later so we wouldn’t be without milk (the deprivation is awful!), but I’m not sure we’ll do it that way again. Milking twice a day year round does get… well, old. And I’m sure the deprivation is good for our souls.


  • Reply Mystie April 14, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    I don’t know much at all about the “whole” designation, but the definition you gave it makes sense and it at least is not subjective.

    I do think it’s a shame if we start seeing our food primarily as containers of nutrients. You’re right, there’s a “magic” in cheese that surpasses its nutrients or its usefulness. Preserving or conserving milk are merely incidental to the glory that is cheese.

    My knowledge of food comes more from the culinary aspect than the scientific, and I find as my tastes and cooking improve, I move more and more toward “whole”/”real”/whatever food. At least to me, and my temperament and history, the nutrient/scientific approach to food seems cold and utilitarian, when food is this amazing thing to play with and *love*, regardless of nutrition.`

    Of course, we need both approaches, and I recognize that we need the “whole foods” type of people and argument to try to work our society out of its “food product” rut. But it seems both sides frequently see food in terms of its utility, and that seems sad to me.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts April 14, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    To be honest, I don’t think that the Whole Foods People (whoever they are) would agree with me that cheese is not a whole food. That is just an observation I made upon reading the paper that explained the chemical process involved in aging cheddar cheese. But I do not see–and perhaps I am ignorant here–how the label “whole food” could apply to cheese according to the definition I was using.

    I firmly believe that cheese was originally a method of preservation, back before what you mentioned–refrigeration. If you read any of the old sailor literature–and here I’m thinking Stevenson, for example–you’ll notice that they carry cheese with them. I have always viewed this as a milk substitute.

    However, comma.

    It is also a handy way to use up milk. If you owned a cow, even a small cow, it would likely produce more milk than you could possibly use. If, however, you allowed it to sit and separate, you could make cheese and whey (I do not dispose of the whey, but use it to ferment beverages, condiments, etc.). If you skimmed it, you could make butter and have what Wendell Berry called a “dairy economy” and feed a pig with it, and so on.

    With that said, once I made cheese, I appreciated it a lot more. I felt like I was witnessing a slow magic. Here, we started with one thing, and yet it sat there and became another, all on its own, except for me, about four days in, emptying my jars into a sieve lined with a tea-towel to separate the curd and whey. And to make a hard, aged cheese, all I’d really need to do is wait longer (though if you want to make a specific sort of cheese, there would be more to it–culturing and such). To some extent, I think it can be said that milk wants to become cheese, or at least that it tends toward it. Cheese is its logical end. And so on.

    So that adds another component: dairy products are also a way of using up milk, of not allowing any bit to be wasted.

    I have officially fallen in love with cheese. I even whipped this soft cheese with raw honey as a whipped cream substitute and used it to top a cobbler. It was yummy!

    It is interesting to me which states allow raw milk and which states don’t. California is so over-lawyered in so many ways, but somehow we have managed to have this collection of odd freedoms, such as the one expressed in allowing raw milk.

  • Reply Mystie April 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    I am not personally invested in the food issue, but I maintain a passing interest in it. πŸ™‚ I wonder what use the term “whole food” is if cheese is excluded from it. Is the point of cheese simply in preserving the nutrients of milk, or is the benefit of cheese culinary and artistic and — poetic? If milk didn’t have to be preserved (because we now have refrigeration), would/should one still make cheese?

    So, I guess my question is that if we don’t care if our milk becomes cheese and therefore not whole, why should we care if it is pasteurized and therefore not whole?

    Raw milk is actually illegal in WA. People get around it by buying interest in a “share” of a cow rather than technically buying “milk” as a product. πŸ™‚

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