Fetching the Milk

(or: “How real food reversed my high cholesterol.”)

Finding organic, whole, local foods for our families can be a challenging and often costly endeavor. I find it well worth the extra work and expense, however, to have the peace of mind which comes with knowing where our food comes from and what’s in it.

When I began this crazy adventure two years ago, I had no idea what local food sources were available apart from the farmers’ markets nearby. As it turns out, with a little research and help from friends who were farther along the path than I was, I found providers of humanely-raised-and-slaughtered, organic, pasture-raised meat and raw, organic, whole milk and cream. These two sources have provided so much gustatory pleasure for my husband and myself!

Before I get into the “fetching the milk” portion of the post, allow me a digression…

I grew up amidst central Michigan’s farmlands, among fields and pastures and dirt roads leading for miles into the country. My vision of where meat came from was framed by my childhood; I had no idea factory farms existed until I was into my early thirties! My best friend then was vegetarian, and she showed me a book that changed my life: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.This book describes, in great detail, how we have allowed our power over our livestock to take us to indescribably cruel measures.

Halfway through the book, I gave up pork and chicken. After I had finished it, I gave up beef, too. I ate seafood for awhile, but then could no longer rationalize raping the sea for my sushi. I went wholeheartedly, obsessively, vegetarian for about nine years. I wanted no part of factory farming and the suffering they cause.

At first, it was just about the animals, but the more I learned, the more alarmed I became about the quality and contents of the meat agribusiness purveys. If an animal lives its life in constant fear and stress, drenched in antibiotics and unnatural food sources, surely the meat cannot be healthy.

I would have happily continued down the vegetarian path had I not been diagnosed with a pretty severe gluten allergy a couple of years ago. I don’t believe I was born with a gluten allergy – my feeling is I super-saturated my system with wheat-based products to make up for the lack of meat proteins. Most vegetarian meat substitutes are wheat-based, and it was always easy to fall back on pasta and baked goods.

My cholesterol levels were ridiculously high – my doctor put me on Simvastatin at age 38! I took this photo some years back when I was first diagnosed with high cholesterol; my levels seemed to suggest this was all I was eating:

Giving up gluten was even harder than giving up meat – I love pastries, artisan breads, pasta. Gluten-free substitutes are no match for The Real Thing, let me tell you. It took over a year before the cravings really began to abate, but I have to say, I still get them sometimes.

At first, I tried to find a vegetarian, gluten-free diet that worked for me. I didn’t really succeed. I do believe it’s possible, but it requires careful protein planning, and I didn’t have the time for it then. I had recently switched to buying my husband’s meat from Creswick Farms (the aforementioned humane, organic farm.) A battle began to form inside me; my body craved the nutrients in the roasted chickens I served him – the tantalizing smell was almost irresistable, but I fought it for months.

Finally, I caved. First, I started eating chicken, then beef. I got healthier. Even now, I only eat meat from this farm. I still do not eat pork, as I do not condone the use of CO2 to asphyxiate the pigs; I feel they deserve a better death, especially considering how intelligent and social these animals are.

I still believe a vegetarian diet is one of the best things to do for the environment, and that it is possible to eat a complete vegetarian diet for good health. I was simply doing it wrong.

At around the same time we found Creswick, we also found an organic raw milk source relatively nearby. Raw milk is a hot topic in food politics, and we’re not going to get into that kettle of fish here. It is illegal to sell raw milk here in Michigan, but it is legal to buy into a herd share. Essentially, we own a portion of a herd of dairy cattle nearby, and that entitles us to their milk.

Some of “our” cows lying contentedly in their organic pasture

The dairy farm is about a half hour away from us, and we get two gallons per week. So we do not have to schlep all the way out to the farm weekly, we joined a group of families in our town who use the same farm. Each family takes turns delivering the milk every Friday. It’s a great system!

On Thursday night, all the families take their coolers filled with empty jars to the delivering family’s house. That family drives to the dairy farm, swaps the empty jars for jars filled that morning, and then delivers the coolers to each family’s home.

When we first signed up for this group, I kind of hated when it was our turn to deliver. The first farm we used required us to fill our own jars, and that process took about 45 minutes to pour the 13-ish gallons for our group (26 half-gallon jars.) The whole delivery process took between three to four hours – ugh!

Our new provider pours the milk for us, meaning we just have to trade empty jars for full ones – it takes maybe 15 minutes for that, and another 30 to 45 to deliver. Easy-peasy!

Now when it’s our turn to deliver, I don’t resent it at all. In fact, I take pride and pleasure in the entire process. As with many aspects of a sustainable life, it’s less convenient than going to the grocery store and throwing a gallon of thin, dead milk into a shopping cart – but holy wow, is it ever worth it!

And now, the punchline:

After about 6 months on Simvastatin, I decided I wanted nothing to do with that drug. I was convinced my cholesterol was a result not only of genetics and a diet high in processed foods, but also a relatively sedentary lifestyle. I started going to yoga in the winter, and I bought a bicycle for warmer weather.

We started a backyard chicken flock for fresh, healthy eggs and filled up a 2,000 square-foot garden with vegetables.

We still indulge now and then in take-out or eating out, and there is usually something snacky in the house that’s not completely healthy… but we made a significant shift in lifestyles.

When I went in for my next bloodwork, my doctor (whom I adore) nodded approvingly at my cholesterol statistics. They were in the low-normal range! I grinned before telling him, “that’s funny, because I started eating meat again. And I’m drinking whole milk all the time.”

He nodded, and got a contemplative look on his face.

I paused, knowing he might not approve of me taking myself off the Simvastatin, but I told him anyhow. He got an exasperated look on his face at first, but it passed quickly. We talked it over, and he agreed eating fast food, frozen dinners and other highly-processed foods were likely the culprit.

I also have a sneaking suspicion the gluten allergy was causing an inflammatory effect that was elevating my cholesterol, too, but I can’t prove it.

Point being this: I went from a skim-milk-drinking vegetarian with dangerously high cholesterol to a a gluten-free, whole-milk-drinking carnivore and my cholesterol dropped 100 points in less than a year. Pretty amazing stuff!

All of this convinces me we need whole, natural foods that are right for our own bodies. Doctors and other medical professionals can give us excellent advice and help us test for allergies and sensitivities, but ultimately, we are responsible for our own health.

For me, that means eating as much healthy food as we can manage, and staying abreast of the current research regarding healthy food and food politics.

Black Chicken Host customers tend to agree! Millie at Real Food for Less Money provides outstanding, healthy, tasty recipes and insightful commentary on food in general. Jill at The Prairie Homestead offers recipes and advice for healthy eating and even has a ton of helpful advice for raising dairy stock. Chaya and Wilson of Pantry Paratus are not only a supplier of Frontier foods and helpful kitchen supplies, but also personalize their inventory with fantastic videos, reviews, commentaries and more.

I’ll say it again – I am so proud to host these folks! We invite you to host with us, as well, to strengthen and expand our community. We’re forming something wonderful.

I know I’ve rambled on a great deal here, but if you’ve stuck with me this long, I have some excellent resources for you, in addition to the customer links above:

Find raw milk in your area

Find local grass-fed meat

FRESH – the movie

GNOWGLINS – an excellent resource for whole foods

Nourished Kitchen – reviving traditional foods

There are so many more great sites and books out there – there are simply too many to list in one post. But we’ll keep at it for you!

We hope you’ll walk with us on the journey.

Contributed to: Real Food Wednesdays, Barn Hop Mondays


6 thoughts on “Fetching the Milk”

  • I came here via Real Food Wednesdays. Really interesting post, and will be checking out the links, so thanks! I wonder have you read “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith – if not, I wholly recommend it.

    • Hi Viv! I’m so glad you stopped in! I have not read that book, but I’ll definitely check into it – thanks very much!

  • Great post! Just one more month and I should have a couple of milk cows for my family. I can’t wait and am hoping this will help drop my cholesterol so that my doc will stop telling me I need meds.

    • Wow, Regina, that’s fantastic! Congratulations – I’m really jealous. 🙂 I hope drinking healthy, raw milk lowers your numbers as it did mine. If you’re not eating grass-fed meats, that will also very likely help you, too. Good luck!

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