There are stories hidden in our daily food. I dedicate this story to all the women in America with cancer in their breasts. I love cows. I love their lovely dangly pink udders and their patient luminous eyes. I love their milk and drank it every day growing up in the forties, until I was about twelve years old and began to lose my taste for it. Gradually I let it go: ice cream, cheese and last of all yogurt. In my thirties it made me tired. It came out on my face. It was for me no longer. Yet, Walt Whitman’s lines thrill me to the core: “I think that I could turn and live with cows.
When I was a young teacher in England I lived on a wonderful farm, which was also a hostel for children who were attending the nearby school. I took on evening chores: my favorite was milking. Every evening at 5:20 -feisty Maria, a low-slung little Portuguese dancer, and long-limbed I, would go to the barn or out into the fields to find the cows. We were looking for Daisy and Bracken – Jersey cows, soft, buff-brown, with fragrant coats from their long days in the clear air. They had been brought up by the three elderly ladies who ran the hostel, and by the children who drank their milk. All one year, Daisy was my cow to milk – she was seven years old, lanky, long-limbed, huge, and always warm to touch with beautiful long udders. Bracken was stout. She was nine years old, low-slung and tough, with a mean streak: she liked to turn over pails and stomp on toes. She was Maria’s cow.
I loved milking. I loved washing my hands, cleaning the udders, learning to pitch myself forward on a three-legged stool and hold onto the udders for dear life; I loved the rhythmic squirt and squish – and the musical streams of milk pelting the stainless steel pails. Maria and I would joke, gossip and sing rounds as the warm white quarts would rise slowly toward the bucket rim, so creamy. The milk smelled of green fields, clover and buttercups. To sweeten the milk further and as a treat for the cows, I sometimes would take Daisy and Bracken out to the far side of the house to the rose arbors. To my amazement, there the cows could wrap their soft muzzles around the petals and eat them, without once hurting themselves with the thorns. Mary, dear old Mary, who knew every detail of her kitchen, would skim the cream off their milk and turn butter in her blender and pat it, like an affectionate mother does a baby’s bottom. Or she would make quark cheese in white sacks by the sink, and then save the whey that dripped down for her chickens. All summer long the butter would smell of roses.
Winter was dusky, long and wet in that part of England. During the dank months, the milk would let off. But Maria and I would ply our cows with hay and great bunches of dried artemisia, borage, mint and tansy, saved from the garden to add flavor and substance to milk for the children and farmhands. The farmhands worked hard turning the earth by hand come spring. The children and I went to school. The yard was all mud one beautiful beatific rainbow-filled spring day. Maria and I went to let the cows out of their winter confinement. We opened the yard gates wide. Bracken put down her head with a furious glower of joy and bolted through. Daisy rushed to it too, and stumbled through the gate sideways. Then they were thudding past us onto the new grass under the hawthorn trees that were a cloud of budding sweetness. as I watched my lovely huge cow, first she circled the tree once nibbling on the buds. Round the tree, winding up, she curved and danced light- footed, almost as a princess would. Then the third time, yes, my cow rose as if on wings. Maria and I, as stunned as children at a circus, watched Daisy and Bracken both arise, all eight legs and hooves off the ground, like creatures in one of Chagall’s paintings, curving gracefully through the buds, muscular brown birds, plowing their joyous hunger through the branches of the unsuspecting tree. When Daisy came down she bounced, and she was off again, all a thousand and some pounds of her, in intergalactic ecstasy, soaring her huge body over the new moon hawthorn buds.
After the resurrection and ascension of the cows, their udders springing full again, we milked twenty-seven quarts between us – it was a record. We gave most of it to the neighbors. I loved everything about those cows.
Eventually they would go out to pasture for a natural death. When I returned to the USA to teach, I took my niece to a farm. The herd they kept there was an awesome sight. Long rows of cows stood in stanchions with massive udders. Some were swollen down like huge sacks to the floor. I asked the farmer innocently about them.
“Oh we get ’em young and keep ’em 7-8 months, sometimes nearly a year,” he said.
“Where do they go then?”
He waved his burly hand, “You know.”
“How many quarts do you expect from each cow?” “100 or more a day,” he said proudly, “we do three milkings a day here.”
“Oh dear,” I said politely.
I herded my niece back to the car. That was twenty years ago now. Those cows weren’t plied with roses. They were fed breast and milk-producing hormones. They still are. There is other sophistication sub rosa so it doesn’t sour for weeks on end, all very confusing for human breasts. Last month when I met my friend Jane, she told me she only had one more month of chemotherapy and then she was going to be fine. Recently, when I telephoned a gentle and gifted friend of mine with two adolescent daughters, she said in a small voice: “This was been a rather difficult week. I was getting dressed and I noticed liquid coming from my breast. I decided to call the doctor. You know how they usually make you wait for weeks. They asked me to come right in.” Her voice drifted away. That is why I am telling this story. Let’s wake up about milk, folks!
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon, Mary G, Ph.D. Enig, PhD Mary G. Enig (1999) NewTrends Publishing, Inc.; ISBN: 0967089735 In Sally Fallon’s fascinating and profoundly researched cookbook Nourishing Traditions is a wonderful description of Swiss cows in spring. See her chapter on cultured dairy products.
The Weston Price Foundation is the best resource I know for the effects of food. Write: Price Pootenger Nutrition Foundation, PO Box 2614, La Mesa, CA, 91943 or call (619) 574-7763.
The Milk of Human Kindness, by William Campbell Douglass, (Coppie House Books, Inc., Lakemont, Georgia 30552). The case for certified raw milk from well-treated cows can be found in this book. Douglass states that the US Department of Agriculture does not require milk producers to tell us what is in the milk as long as they heat it before selling it – although since the recent hue and cry against BHT, many claim they no longer add it to their milk.
Thinking Twice About “Cows”
Thoughts from the Editor
Stories can be used to raise people’s awareness regarding health issues that are yet to be resolved. It would be so easy for us if all the officials agree on prevention and treatment methods, but choosing a healthy lifestyle is not always that simple. Until I read the story, “Cows,” I was unaware of the controversy over whether or not milk was safe to drink. The author of “Cows” asked that her name would be withheld due to this controversy.
The author wrote me, “The condition of milk and its effects on both children and adults has been a concern of many health-oriented people for years. The state of the cows I describe in my story is real-they had obviously been pumped up with growth and lactation hormones for the efficiency of the farmer. My local biodynamic farmer says that antibiotics and growth hormones tend to produce unhealthy cows. Limited grazing and sunlight further disorganize the vitality of the cows. Conventional milk tends to be mixed from different farms…”
The author also informed me of Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) – a synthetic hormone which was approved for sale in 1993 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dairy farmers across the United States inject their cows with BGH every two weeks to increase milk production.1
BGH “stimulates lactation by increasing production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in cows, which in turn stimulates milk production …concerns about the potential cancer risk to humans relate to the potential absorption of bovine IGF-1, which has identical amino acid sequences and biological effects in cows and people. Human IGF-1 has attracted considerable research attention in recent years as potential promoter of certain cancers.”2
The American Cancer Society (ACS) assured me over the phone and in mailed information that there was no increased risk in developing breast cancer in women. According to ACS, evaluations conducted by five international committees concerned whether milk produced by BGH is cancer causing in humans and also looked at possible causes of “mastitis (breast infections), antibiotic residues, milk quality, reproductive effects, and other concerns raised periodically by consumer groups.” And BGH was still found by these authorities to be safe for cows and humans drinking their milk.
Others, however, disagree. A dozen European countries, Canada, New Zealand and Japan have all blocked the use of BGH there.3 Research scientists in the United Sates have urged caution as well. Doctor Samuel Epstein of the University Of Illinois School Of Public Health expressed his concern over studies linking IGF-1 to breast and prostate cancers: “there are highly suggestive if not persuasive lines of evidence showing consumption of this milk poses risks of cancers.” Doctor William von Meyer of the University of London and UCLA stated “We’re going to save some lives if we review this now. I’m sure we’re taking excessive risks with society.”4 Dairy farmers report that using BGH may “burn their cows out sooner” and there is evidence of crippling hoof problems and serious udder infections that require the herds to be given more antibiotics. These antibiotics can find their way into the milk – making your own body more resistant to antibiotics over time.5 Though research has only found a small increase in the amount of IGF-1 in the milk of cows injected with BGH, a 1995 study in the Journal of Endocrinology detailed the slowed breakdown of IGF-1 in rats due to the presence of casein, a protein in milk. If BGH has similar effects on humans, then the IGF-1 could linger longer in the body.6
Cornell University’s Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors in New York City distributed a fact sheet titled ”Consumer Concerns About Hormones In Food.” They ask “Can drinking milk or eating dairy products from hormone – treated animals affect breast cancer risk?” Because BGH has only been used for nine years in the US, they state that it is too early to study the risk for cancer. We will have to make these decisions for ourselves in the meantime.
1 See web site www.foxBGHsuit.com/exhibit%20r.htm for information and multiple links regarding the newscast that Jane Akre and Steve Wilson consulted while researching the story they investigated for FOX TV on BGH. This info gathered from their web site on 10/14/00.
2 “Bovine Growth Hormone,” The American Cancer Society, from mailed printout of information dated 3/15/99.
3 See web site www.envirolink.org/issues/biotech/bgh/ igf-1.html “Study Finds Link Between Hormone, Breast Cancer. Updated 5/8/98. See also web site www.foxBGHsuit.com/exhibit%20r.htm, ibid.
4 The American Cancer Society, ibid.
5 www.foxBGHsuit.com/exhibit%20r.htm, ibid.
6 “Fears Over Milk, Long Dismissed, Still Simmer,” by Susan Gilbert, Science Times, 1/19/99.