The History of Milk

The History of Milk

Like most things that we hear are bad for us, milk, eggs, cheese, meat and sugar, the most common statement I hear is, “We’ve always eaten this! Why is it all of a sudden so bad for us?”

And, it’s a good question! The first response is because we are eating so much more of these foods, exponentially more than our ancestors ate. 

Sweet foods that contained sugar (natural sugar that is still good for us) were difficult to find. Our brains were wired to seek it out and eat it. Today our brains are still addicted to sugar and food manufacturers put it in everything. Sugar attacks the same area of our brains, opiate receptors, as drugs like heroin.

And casein, the protein in dairy products, does exactly the same thing! That is why dairy, specifically cheese, is often referred to as “dairy crack.” 

When and why did we start eating dairy?

As best we can figure out, dairy farmers began consuming animal milk products about 7,500 years ago, about the same time they started domesticating cows.  Considering that modern humans have been around for about 200-300,000 years, that is a pretty recent occurrence.

Most humans at that time, were not able to digest the animal milk because they lacked the enzyme called lactase. Babies are born with the lactase enzyme which helps them digest mother’s milk. But as humans mature, they lose this enzyme, making it difficult and uncomfortable to digest milk products.

As the dairy farmers continued to eat the milk products, some began to develop a genetic mutation called lactase persistence. Lactase persistence meant that the lactase enzyme continued to exist into adult hood. This genetic mutation enabled humans to drink milk without suffering the extreme side effects of diarrhea and indigestion.

This gene mutation was extremely beneficial as these communities grew. Milk products were less contaminated that much of the drinking water, were readily available if you had a cow, and were not dependent on crop survival. Plus, milk was rich in fat and nutrients that were difficult to come by and were required for survival.

It is also believed that the milk may have provided protection from sickness. As the cows ate grasses and plants, they developed antibodies against some of the viruses and bacteria that were in the earth.  This protection was often passed on to those consuming the dairy products.

In fact, during the 18th century’s smallpox outbreak in Europe, milkmaids, who were in close contact with cows during milking, appeared to be immune to the smallpox disease. It was discovered that many of the cows had a similar virus, the cowpox virus. The contact between the milkmaids and cows protected the milkmaids from smallpox. A smallpox vaccine was developed from the cowpox virus and made its way to the United States by the early 19th century.

So What happened?

Remember, dairy products were expensive and eaten in small quantities. People did not have access to a wide variety of food. Also, the cows were eating plants (where a lot of the benefits were coming from) that were grown in rich, healthy soil.

The demand for milk began to rise exponentially during the 19th century. 

In the early 20th century, distilleries found that they had an overabundance of waste from the corn used to produce alcohol.  Distilleries started acquiring dairy cows and fed them the leftover “swill.”  

Unfortunately, the poor quality “swill” produced poor quality milk and sick cows. The disease from the cows spread to those who ingested the milk.

Louis Pasteur developed a way to kill the bacteria and by 1917 mandatory pasteurization was in place. Pasteurization was a hug benefit in killing the harmful bacteria, but the process also killed good bacteria and most of the beneficial enzymes.

The demand for milk continued to escalate. 

In 1920, the average American consumed approximately 294 pounds of dairy products per year. 

Today, the average American consumes approximately 605 pounds of dairy per year. 

That’s 50 pounds of fat and cholesterol per month per individual. That’s 200 pounds per month for a family of four. And that’s only in dairy!

Fat and cholesterol, which contribute to heart disease and many auto immune diseases, are found in dairy, meat, processed foods and fried foods, to name a few.  

Many processed cheeses have very little resemblance to anything healthy let alone cheese.

Industrial farming and industrial dairy farms use pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones to produce the greatest amount of food products.

Feed for animals is grown in depleted soil, sprayed with pesticides, and planted with GMO seeds. The benefits that early humans received from eating dairy have been totally removed. 

And what about the lactase persistence . . . the mutated gene? Some people still have the mutated gene. But many, including most people from Asia, Africa and South America do not. Diary products are the most common contributor to food allergies, skin rashes and acne. 

The rise in dairy consumption, specifically cheese, coincides with the rise in obesity.

The rise in dairy consumption, specifically cheese, coincides with the rise in obesity. In 1970, the average American consumed 11 pounds of cheese annually. By 2015, that had risen to 35 pounds. 

7,500 years ago, dairy products helped humans to survive, providing the scarce fat and enzymes required for survival.  Today, dairy products, consumed in ever increasing volume, threaten the health of our nation.

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