Is it okay to just pick up a gallon of the store brand milk, or should I be buying the more expensive milk?
Hmmm.. there it is… Food Guilt in the dairy aisle. This isn’t guilt over eating something you know isn’t good for you. No, this is the guilt placed on you by the food marketing machine. Sure, they want you to believe the more expense items are more healthy. Shouldn’t you be buying the best for your family? Does price really indicate a more nutritious product?
Take a deep breath. Let’s take a look…
All milk sold in stores has the same 8 essential vitamins and minerals and is tested over and over to be sure it is free of antibiotics. Milk is a safe, healthy, and nutritious choice regardless of price.
So, why is some milk more expensive?
While there aren’t nutritional differences in milk, there are differences in how the milk is produced, processed, and packaged.
The Organic Question:
In my relationship with the AgChat Foundation, Inc., I’ve had the opportunity to meet many dairy farmers, both organic and non-organic. One farmer who has been very helpful in helping me understand writes a blog called The Wife of a Dairyman. Nancy’s post about Organic vs. Conventional Dairy Farms is enlightening. I encourage you to read it. Here are some highlights:
… may I first begin by saying, Dominic and I are friends with MANY dairymen and women, both conventional and organic. We are all friends with one another and have a mutual respect for one another. It is never “conventional vs.organic” between the dairy farmers, it’s just one big dairy community. And I love that.I think it is important to have both organic and conventional as long as we support dairy as a whole. What is extremely important to both organic and conventional dairy farmers is that our cows are healthy, comfortable and the product is nutritious and safe. …The biggest differences between organic and conventional dairy farms are: organic cows eat organic food (hay, silage and yes, grains too), organic farms may only use organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, the cows must receive 30% of their dry matter intake from pasture during the growing season (in CA, that’s 120 days & this is a new national organic standard that has just passed) the cows do not receive conventional wormers or antibiotics. When an organic cow is treated with antibiotics for an illness, she may never be milked in an organic herd again. She must be removed from the dairy. A conventional dairy farmer feeds the highest quality feeds available. Most of a conventional cow’s diet is made up of alfalfa, and silage (which is fermented grass), with cottonseed, tofu, corn & distillers dried grains (such as wheat) thrown into the mix as well. Our cows do go outside and bask in the sunlight at their own free will during the growing season as well. They are just not required to receive 30% of their dry matter intake from pasture.
So, one reason milk may be more expensive is if it is produced organically.
The Antibiotic Question:
Some milk is labeled “Antibiotic Free” and may be more expensive. Again, all grade A milk is tested several times to be sure it is free of antibiotics. Nancy indicated above that organic cows never receive antibiotics. Conventional cows are removed from the milk supply when they are ill and in need of medication and kept out of the supply until they are healthy and have processed the medication out of their systems.
The Hormone Question:
Some milk is labeled “rBST Free” or “No Synthetic Hormones” and may be more expensive, this milk however, looks exactly the same chemically as milk from cows who may have received hormones. Farmers use hormones to help a cow convert her food to milk more efficiently at the end of her milking cycle. Hormones do not put her udder into overdrive, as some people think. According to the Dairy Council, smaller farms are more likely to use hormones since the cows must be individually monitored. Larger farms are not able to individually monitor cows as easily are more likely to manage milk production through cow nutrition. Farmers may sign a pledge not to use hormones and the result is the “hormone free” labeled milk.
The Local Question:
One might think your store brand milk comes a far distance and the more expensive milk is local. That may or may not be true. Nancy turned me on to a cool site called Where Is My Milk From? Check out where your favorite brand is produced. If you care about supporting your local farmers, you might want to check into home milk delivery. We use Oberweis Dairy and I’m always delighted to drive around Southeastern Wisconsin and see the Oberweis signs on dairy farms.
The Taste Question:
How it is processed makes a difference! While milk may all be the same nutritionally – it doesn’t all taste the same! Some fat free milk tastes chalky and gross while others taste creamy. My grandma (a dairy farm daughter) always said she loved spring milk because she could taste when the cows were eating fresh grass again. Now, I don’t have that kind of educated milk palette, but I know good milk when I taste it! I’m willing to spend a bit more to have great tasting milk. Try several brands until you find one you like!
The Profit Question:
Many believe farmers profit from higher milk prices, sadly that isn’t true. On average a farmer receives just 30 cents of every dollar spent on milk.
Nancy puts it best:
in the past year and a half, all conventional dairy farmers have been losing money every month (thousands of dollars every month) we are definitely not in it for the money. So why do we continue? We love our cows and we love the business we’re in, it’s our way of life and that’s what keeps us going and hopefully we will all be able to sustain our dairy business.
So, make the choice that is right for you and your family. Base it on price, taste, or production style, whatever works for you – and don’t feel guilty about giving your family a great and nutritious product!
Check out more information about dairy farming – and some great recipes on Nancy’s Blog
Eliz Greene survived a massive heart attack while seven-months pregnant with twins, struggled to lose the 80 pounds gained during her pregnancy, and searched for a way to hold on to the perspective and passion she found in her near-death experience. Drawing on her background as an adaptive movement specialist, Eliz developed simple strategies and tips to help other busy women be more active, eat better and manage your stress.
As the Director of the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative, Eliz travels the country energizing and inspiring audiences in keynotes and workshops on women’s heart health. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs. Find more at www.EmbraceYourHeart.com.