We’ve all seen the commercials- at least those of us living in California. “Happy Cows Come from California” is the slogan and you get brilliantly creative animations of real cows getting foot massages from our famous CA earthquakes or “valley girl” cows grazing on plush green grass gossiping over the newcomer cow who talks about “snow” with a weird (Wisconsin) accent.
If you truly believe that “Real California Milk” comes from happy cows living on plush green pastures, then I have bad news for you. It’s all a lie.
My mother in law lives just outside of Yosemite National Park. The fastest way to get to her house from ours down in Orange County is to go over the “grapevine” and travel through the flat lands of Bakersfield and Fresno on the 99. This treck isn’t exactly the gorgeous drive you find along the coast of CA. It consists of hundreds of miles of large, smelly commercial feed-lot dairy farms, toxic non-organic produce farms, and giant industrial dairy processing plants…with communities of growing families sprinkled in between.
As you drive the 3+ hours along the 99 you discover first hand how truly disgusting the commercial dairy industry in CA really is. You see, and SMELL, the various commercial dairy farms along the highway before and after you pass the stretch of giant dairy processing centers. Last summer we were driving up in the middle of the night during one of the biggest heat waves we’ve had in over 10 years. It was 10pm and the car thermometer said 105 degrees! We were forced to stop at a rest stop to pee (if you have small kids you know what that’s like) and literally couldn’t even breathe as we stepped out of the car. My eyes were BURNING from the smell. Miles and miles of surrounding land covered in COW CRAP had literally been baking for days. The worst part is that communities of houses were all around this area. I can’t even imagine living in that!
After that potty break we passed by miles and miles of corn fields and produce farms (lots of trees and grape vineyards) and I think we developed cancer right then as we drove as fast as we could through this stretch. We’re pretty sure the pesticides were being sprayed as we drove through because the chemicals in the air were so strong it was not only burning our eyes but our throats and lungs (no joke). We had the windows up and A/C on, too. I could go on about the “Real CA produce LIE” right now, but I’ll save that for later and stick with milk right now. I will point out, however, that this GMO, pesticide-covered corn is probably used to feed all these feed-lot cows in the surrounding areas.
On our way home from that trip I took most of these pictures. I took the time to pull off to the side of the highway or take some exits to find dairy farms and snap some shots from the street. We easily found one “California Dairy Certified” farm after another on each road we took. Sadly we only found farms with rows and rows of cows living in brown, manure-covered corals, eating from troughs of (most likely*) GMO, pesticide-ridden corn and soybean meal (not to mention probable antibiotics and hormones, too). The strangest thing is that right across the street from these smelly brown pits would be acres of lush green pasture- none of it fenced, so you know it’s not for cows to graze.
*I say “most likely” because if cows are fed grass or hay, it will be labeled that way and you will be paying a premium for it. There’s no way there’s anything green or organic in these cows’ meals.
I was happy to see this one farm letting a select group of cows graze on some grass. I’m not sure why they were there, though, since their friends were all stuffed in the grass-less area behind them. Maybe it was some requirement to be considered “grass-fed” or something. (A reason to make sure your beef and dairy come from exclusively grass-fed cows.) Considering that their butts were covered in mud (manure) and the grass was pretty tall, I’m sure they don’t exactly spend very much time in that grassy area.
I will give some credit to these dairy farmers and the Real CA Milk campaign- they are much better than some of the worst offenders in the dairy industry. While my observations of these farms and processing plants disgusted me, I can’t even imagine how I’d feel seeing the cows and conditions of the worst CAFO’s in the country- with cows so obese and utters so full that they are literally paralyzed, or manure so thick on their fur that you can’t recognize them as cows, or kept in extremely small spaces without any ability to walk around. At least these cows seem to have a happy little cow life. The “LIE” I’m referring to in this post is that “Real California Milk” cows are grass-fed, green pasture-roaming cows bringing consumers fresh, farm-to-table dairy.
The “Real California Milk” campaign must think they’re doing some brilliant advertising by slapping their house-sized banners on their processing plants for drivers to see as they zoom by. But for those of us who know a little bit about dairy processing, this is a stupid move. When I look at these processing plants I see what’s inside: milk collected from thousands upon thousands of cows- all blended together into thousands-of-gallons batches, which then goes through extensive processing before they reach your refrigerator: pasteurization, homogenization, fat reducing, packaging, transporting, stocking in the stores, etc.. That’s just what I expect of basic dairy processing. There are probably many more steps I don’t even know about between the cow getting milked and your kids drinking it.
This is the kind of trip that reminds me why I pay so much and go through such an effort to get organic RAW milk from cows raised exclusively on green grass. When cows eat only grass their body functions the way it should: producing clean, nutrient-dense, creamy milk that is pristinely healthy. The milk I buy is minimally processed: cow is milked, milked gets bottled, I buy the milk from the farmer. I’m getting my milk from either one cow or a handful of well-monitored cows. But where’s the real money in that?
The dairy industry is exactly that: an industry. There’s money to made with all this processing. A cow’s physiological design and wellness needs and your family’s optimal health aren’t exactly the top priority of this industry. The attack on raw milk in this country is living proof of this money-driven industry. Why should anyone care about the tiny percentage of people choosing to go out of their way to pay top dollar for raw milk? Why is our government sending armed swat teams to family-run food co-ops to destroy and dispose of fresh, organic foods like raw milk? (Aren’t there starving people in the world who could live another day if they could have just a few drops of this food our government is throwing in the trash?!)
The reason why these “milk wars” are happening is because people are waking up to realize how wrong our commercial dairy industry is: for the cow and for your health. Obviously your dollars matter and are helping to make a difference. I believe the agriculture businesses of the USA and the world are getting scared of people discovering the truth about food- including milk. But these big businesses are putting up a big, politically-funded fight. It’s up to us to keep buying better food and making decisions that not only benefit the health of our families but local, organic farmers. In a free-market economy it’s about supply and demand. We must DEMAND better food to win these battles!
Start with buying better milk!
If you want to find a pristine source of raw milk near you, visit the Real Milk campaign website. Of course here in California you can purchase the best raw milk from Organic Pastures. They have the cleanest, safest raw milk from exclusively grassfed cows available in stores all over the state. You can find an outlet near you by visiting their website.