Milk Wars

Beautiful 685, image from Troxel Dairy Farm, IN

Competitive parenting has us taking sides against each other on everything, and marketers know it.

Before our kids are born we divide over natural, drug-assisted or C-section delivery. At the hospital or at home. Doula or doctor. Bottle or breastfeeding. Cloth or disposable diapers.

Rocking to sleep or crying it out. Nanny, sitter, daycare or stay-at-home. Ballet or soccer. Piano or tennis. Swimming or Mandarin. Public, private or homeschool. Religious or secular. Hot or cold lunch. Bus or carpool.

Sadly, we even divide over milk. Conventional or organic.

The Journal of the Academy of  Nutrition and Dietetics published a study* concluding concluding there are “no biologically significant differences in quality, nutrients and hormones” between organic milk and conventional milk produced with or without rbST (recombinant bovine somatotrophin hormone). The conventional milk “had statisically lower bacterial counts,” a fact that may lead some to argue it’s safer.

as seen at Lacoste

So conventional and organic milk are compositionally the same. When you buy organic milk, you’re paying a premium for packaging that says so. Kind of like the alligator on a Lacoste shirt.

Buying organic for taste, convenience or preference is one thing. Buying it because you believe it’s safer is misguided.

It doesn’t stop with milk. In February 2011, STL Family Life published a post by a contributing writer. She saw the documentary Food, Inc., followed it up with Fast Food Nation, then, in her words, “freaked out” and decided to feed her family organic food only.

Jolly good for her. That’s her choice. Problem is, she implies all responsible parents should follow suit.

She writes buying organic food is more expensive, but cost is a poor excuse. She is willing to sacrifice things like a new car, video games, and real wrapping paper. In her words, making kids’ safety a priority is a parent’s “OBLIGATION.”

image from http://PinkePost.com

I agree our children’s safety is a priority, and the film disturbed me too. But I disagree with this mom’s implication that all conventionally-produced food is somehow unsafe or inferior.

My husband grew up on a dairy farm and has worked in agriculture his entire career. Last fall, we had the unique privilege of meeting filmmaker Rob Kenner, director and producer of Food, Inc., when he presented to a small group of agribusiness professionals.

We sat with Kenner at dinner. He’s a great guy—smart, savvy, admittedly liberal in his views. He made a sincere effort to show different sides of the issue in Food, Inc. But the large food and agricultural companies ignored his requests for an interview. As a result, their story was mostly left untold.

Can’t say I blame them for not talking to him. Sure wish they had though.

According to Box Office Mojo, Food, Inc. grossed $4,606,199. Not bad for a documentary.

The film was such a success, Kenner said environmentalist elite Prince Charles requested a private audience with him during a retreat to one of the castles. Think the royal family’s hurting for grocery money? Not on your Union Jack.

Kenner also talked of working on a second film about food for the same group of investors who backed the first Food, Inc. Cha-ching!

Meanwhile, millions of moms and dads stand before grocery store shelves and refrigeration units wringing their hands. Are they doing the right thing, buying conventionally-produced food and milk? Are they contributing to animal abuse and the destruction of the planet?

Are they bad parents? Are their children being short-changed? Do they really need all that clothing, shelter, education, transportation and wrapping paper? Maybe they should give it up to buy only organic food like responsible parents.

I mentioned my husband grew up on a dairy farm. His family named their cows and they had about 200. To this day he can tell you about cows’ individual personalities like teachers can tell you about former students.

image from Troxel Dairy Farm, IN

Good farmers don’t abuse their animals. They recognize those animals are their most valuable assets.

Good farmers love the land. They pursue the very best practices and technologies to produce the very best fruits, vegetables, grains and livestock. Seeing the healthy growth of their plants and animals is a primary force that drives them to farm.

Are there unscrupulous farmers? Yes there are. Same as there are unscrupulous butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, teachers, preachers and politicians. Should they be prosecuted? If they break the law, absolutely.

image from http://PinkePost.com

Should we all throw up our hands, head for the hills, and buy nothing but organic? You are free to do so if you choose. This is America. But please don’t guilt, scare or legislate the rest of us into doing the same.

Personally, I like having choices in this free market of ours. I buy what looks and tastes best, what my family will eat, what meets our nutritional needs, what’s available and what we can afford—conventional or organic.

It’s my responsibility as a parent to put the food on the table. It’s not my responsibility to compete with other parents or be judged for what I serve.

Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Romans 14:3 NLT

image from Troxel Dairy Farm, IN

For your listening refreshment, order up a tall glass of No Milk Today by Herman’s Hermits.

*Reflects an updated link to the abstract of the study Survey of Retail Milk Composition as Affected by Label Claims Regarding Farm-Management Practices by John Vicini et al., published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (1/2008).

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79 Comments

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79 Responses to Milk Wars

  1. Aimee, what a logical, common sense approach. I support conventional and organic farmers but appreciate the choice in our food in America. We are blessed. I think we need to support all farmers and not pit one against another. I also appreciate Robert Kenner’s willingness to sit down and learn more about agriculture even after he created Food Inc. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for including a few pictures from our family farm!

    • Thanks for reading and for the darling pictures, Katie. I agree with you about Rob. What a prince! I was so impressed with his willingness to meet with “traditional” agriculture. I hope he gives ag another chance to tell their story in his next movie. And this time, I hope they’re ready to talk.

  2. Thank you for this write up Aimee! I think it’s about BALANCE in our life. We are such extremists in the USA. You left out the “no milk at all” argument too. I believe that I’m going to die. Every minute my body is degenerating towards death. Thankfully, it’s moving slowly. I’m going to do the best I can to take care of this body God has graciously given to me. And I’m going to encourage my family members to do the same. But it’s about balance. Not only this way or only that way. Thanks for encouraging us towards balance!

    • What? We’re going to die?! Lol, Tiffany! Mortality has a way of adding perspective, doesn’t it? I forgot about the “no milk at all” argument. Tell that one to my pediatrician! But it is a choice. People are free in America to live out their convictions with civility. I love this country!

  3. Thanks so much for invitation to re-run this post on our site. While we do appreciate your point of view, and do invite civilized clashes of opinions we can not reprint this article in it’s entirety because search engines penalize reprinted material. However, if you would like to discuss writing an amended version of this story for our site, one that opens up the doors for discussion, we’d be more than happy to work with you to craft something like that.

    • Thanks, Melody, for letting me in on why I didn’t hear from STL Family Life until now. I was unaware of your site’s restrictions. Perhaps you could post a link instead as others have done. Or you can let me know exactly what you need to abide by your restrictions, and I’ll see what we can do. You can contact me at the email address on this site. Or I believe one of your partners has my personal email address.

  4. Christel Oliphant

    Traditional vs. Organic poses a very circular arguement. Both ways of farming, each having their pro’s & con’s. Organic food is all natural, thus giving the food a better quality in taste & a substantial amount of minerals. As my mother always said when I was a child ” You are what you eat!”. However the price of organic food is exceptionally higher. Farmers who practice organic farming spend a lot more time managing the product, and get a much smaller yield. As oil seems to deminish and prices increase, I suspect their will be a large increase in organic farms for the future. Traditional farming with the use of chemicals, fertilizer, and herbicides often pose a threat to our water supply. Run -off from these products must go somewhere, and unfortunately it is usually a nearby stream or lake. The traditional farmer has less work & time involved to yield a larger crop; there for the price of the product cost less. When it comes down to it…… it’s all just a matter of your personal choice. Just remember it doesn’t matter which way you choose…….with NO FARMS there is NO FOOD!

    Christel Oliphant
    Oliphant Farms

    • I hear you, Christel. We have to keep pushing toward improving the cons while increasing the pros of different approaches. Bottom line, we all need to eat. Thanks for weighing in, my friend.

  5. I’ve been struggling with this topic. A couple of weeks ago I was angry about Root Beer flavored milk. This weekend I made the jump from “natural” no antibiotic/hormone free milk and yogurt to organic and decided not to look back.

    It’s not a black or white issue. There are many factors that influence our decisions on what we feed our family. I agree that we shouldn’t judge other families or act superior, however, I will direct critical thinking and questions towards the industries which make my food. And I do hope our legislators pay attention.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog.
    Missy

    • Missy, I agree with you. This is a lightning rod issue. What we eat is so personal. We must exercise critical thinking and hold legislators and producers to it. I think when it comes to food and farming that means not throwing the baby out with the bath water, no matter which tub you’re swimming in! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Missy. Hope to see you here again as the discussion continues.

    • PS– Root beer flavored milk? Yuck! Sounds terrible. What were they thinking?

      • Michele

        I love rootbeer flavored milk! It’s like getting a rootbeer float! It isn’t often available to buy but it is always at the Wisconsin State Fair at Herb’s Milk House along with other flavors. It is a treat to have on occasion, no different than chocolate millk; still the goodness of milk with a little extra flavor added and still much healthier than many other beverages.

        BTW, I love this discussion and have been saying the same for a long time – The food industry needs to work together, not pit one against the other and have the public afraid to buy anything which is happening. The dairy industry is one of the most regulated industries around. Every load of milk is tested and with amazing accuracy. Inspectors come around often and they are tough. If light bulbs aren’t operating, it is documented. If a farmer doesn’t meet the strict criteria, they can’t ship their milk as Grade A; and nobody wants that. I take pride in being a dairy farmer for many years and providing a safe and healthy product to the population.

  6. Aimee –

    What a terrific blog post! This is a perfect example of honoring the right to choose while presenting both sides of the story in a balanced environment. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to compost such a well written blog.

    Have a wonderful week!

  7. My thoughts exactly! I am super fortunate to work with scientists and farmers both on a daily basis – some of the brightest minds in the country or even the world in their “fields” of study. I’m no scientist or dairy farmer myself, but when these folks tell me conventionally-grown milk and other foods are safe and there’s not need to spend more for organic, I believe them! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • GoingJane, your work sounds fascinating. It is terrific to hear from someone whose work involves both the science and the farming. Wow. So glad you visited and commented. Thanks!

  8. Great to see you weighing in with your perspective. I agree the difference in conventional, biotech & organic foods is wrongly assumed to be safety by so many people. Its hard to argue with a word like “organic” but I have no reason to argue. I simply work like you do to set the record straight. It is about the farming practices used, not the safety of the food.

    For me, I work in ag but depend on farmers out there to produce the food my family & I eat. I have spent a lot of time on farms as I found a career in ag journalism and have to tell you whether they use biotech, farm old school or employ organic techniques, farmers are great about working together. They all have an important role in producing food & believe me, there is plenty of room for choice in the market!

    I hope you don’t mind my pointing out a problem with the description you have of Kenner & Food Inc. Recently I had a chance to meet him as well. We had some great dialog during the National Policy conference CropLife put on. Yes, the same people that the film claimed to refuse to participate invited him to their meeting. At the end of the day, Kenner is a movie guy. He’s not an expert on food now nor does he suggest he is.

    Of course I know colleagues who had agreed to participate in the film (see http://bit.ly/j8As7X for more info). Since I work for Monsanto I’d say at least one large ag company had agreed to participate. When I saw Kenner speak, I was next to some people from Iowa State who took issue with his saying mainstream ag cut him off. In fact, an Iowa State ag professor who did participate said there wasn’t an objective interview and he has expressed discomfort with how he was treated. You may be interested in this http://www.iptv.org/iowajournal/story.cfm/641

    • Janice, I am absolutely interested. Will read as soon as I land at a screen larger than my iPhone later today. And I don’t mind you pointing this out at all. Getting to the truth is what it’s about. As a j-school grad and former communications exec, I understand objectivity is like the Holy Grail these days. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to be unbiased and keep all of your views out of the story. The creation often resembles the creator. This elusive objectivity is the goal of good journalism, but not necessarily good movies. Plus many of the large ag companies are sophiticated enough to know PR. It’s difficult to believe no one would talk to Kenner.
      Thanks for your comment. I look forward to reading the link.

  9. Well put, Aimee! I appreciate the ability to choose in America and I celebrate it! As a mom, I realize that other moms are doing exactly what I am doing: trying to make the best decision about how to raise our families. We all come about it in different ways, though. Does that make MY way wrong or YOUR choices wrong? I don’t believe so. There is room for many different options and I applaud anyone who thoroughly researches and then selects and sticks with their decision.

    I have a blog about life on our cattle ranch, and I addressed a similar issue awhile ago. If you’re interested, the link is: http://kansascattleranch.blogspot.com/2009/09/just-doing-our-best.html

    Keep up the good work.
    -DebbieLB

    • Debbie, I like your idea that we can celebrate the privilege we enjoy of making and living by our own decisions. That’s what makes this country great. Thanks for reading and commenting, and for your link! Looking forward to virtually visiting your cattle ranch and learning about life there. How cool is that?!

  10. Thanks for sharing this insightful post. It’s hard for me to imagine the pressure of being a parent. Honestly speaking, I can understand how being pulled into a lifestyle of “competitive parenting” would be easy for any of us. Who doesn’t want to give “the best” to the ones they love?

    Considering Food, Inc.-I don’t think that many of us understand the power of a well-marketed documentary. I was lucky enough to attended a seminar at Sprint Headquarters by Drew Keller, an award winning television producer, editor, web developer and education. His experiences range from international documentaries to prime-time specials, the list goes on and on. He’s also the developer and host of StoryGuide, a video storytelling blog. It was a fantastic experience. One of Keller’s segments lead us into talking about the power of documentaries because of the environment that we watch them in.

    Think about it- When we see a commercial, YouTube video, etc, we are watching while millions of other things are happening in our lives. Kids screaming, dog barking, dinner cooking…you get the idea.

    When we sit down {maybe in a theater or on a movie night at the house} the power of a documentary can be immense. Picture the darkness of the room, the huge screen, the booming sound effects, etc. Documentaries, whether truthful or misleading can be very powerful and stir a huge amount of emotion within us simply due to our environment.

    The truth is- we need more mothers such as yourself that make decisions by understanding UNBIASED research combined with real life learning situations about how our food is raised. Thank you for writing this blog post and I look forward to reading other posts.

    • Jodi, I had not even considered the power of the documentary film medium in delivering the message. Shame on me, as my background is in communications!
      You make an excellent point. Movies engage all of our senses to sway us emotionally. It worked on me when I first saw Food, Inc. I wasn’t sure I could ever eat chicken again. However, I noticed my husband who watched the movie right alongside me didn’t seem bothered. Granted, he grew up on a farm, but didn’t he think it odd all those chickens were nearly the same size?
      I wrestled with my concerns for a few days. Then I got to thinking. What did old-fadhioned chicken farmers aspire to raise back in the day? A diverse population of poultry? The United Nations of domesticated birds with every size represented? No! They wanted to raise healthy chickens that were all about the same size! Sheesh! I talked it over with my husband who confirmed, yes, the chickens in Food, Inc. are a product of progress not poultry genocide.
      We promptly resumed eating them guilt-free. Things look different once you leave the theater and get out into the daylight of real life.
      Sorry for such a long reply, but I loved your comment. Hope you’ll visit again!

  11. Fantastic post, and thank you to Katie Pinke for pointing me to it. Through various channels, I have strong connections to both conventional and organic agriculture. I personally feel that we are blessed to have such variety. The fact that we have the luxury to pick, and the resources to educate ourselves on those choices, is something that most people take for granted these days.

    Thank you for sharing, and good luck in your efforts to share the alternate side of the story. Keep up the great work and I look foward to following your blog!

    • Kelly, I think it is definitely a blessing and luxury that we have the variety and bounty we do. And how profound that we can even debate such issues over something as basic as food. I’ll say it again: I love this country. Thanks for reading and for your comment. Hope you’ll visit again.

  12. Carrie Leverman

    Aimee, well written and please forgive me because my writing skills are not as ‘spot on’ as yours. First of all, we are an organic family and have been since 2005, long before the shock-seeking Food Inc. was produced. Initially we were only organic with diary (milk, ice cream, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc…) but in the last 3 years we have moved toward buying only organic meat and produce. Beef is a whole different issue and almost a forbidden word in our home, instead we use bison or turkey for traditional beef recipes. My husband is from the Netherlands, one of many countries which has never approved the use of rBGH, and I myself have lived in the Netherlands and two other EU countries for a approximately 5 years. Multi-cultural experiences, profound family history of cancer and having two small children aged 5 years and 9 months have all certainly influenced our decision to ‘go organic’ with our food choices.

    Second, I am a lactating mother. Combined, I have been breastfeeding to date for a total of 34 months and in that time I have learned quite a bit about milk production – from a human perspective anyways. Everything I eat and drink is passed through my milk to my baby…so you are hearing from one caffeine-deprived woman! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) medications including antibiotics pass through a mother’s milk supply to the infant, in fact, the AAP has a list available that medical professionals use to determine how safe a particular drug is while a mother is breastfeeding. Nonetheless, it passes through the milk so is that any different for a cow? I doubt it. I do recognize that pasteurizing the milk kills most bacteria (although MAP which may be linked to Crohn’s Disease is not) but my point is that if the cows are being injected with anything, then the possibility that it exists in the milk we drink is somewhat inevitable.

    Third, call me a skeptic but rBGH was not approved by the FDA until 1993 and a year later more than a third of dairy farmers were using it! Why? Because it is better for their cows, it makes for a tastier milk, NO…MONEY!!! Bottom line to everything in this country is money and you can’t tell me for one minute that the close relationship between the FDA and the ag giant didn’t have an impact on why this artificial hormone was so quickly approved after only one 90-day study on 30 rats! And, keep in mind this “study” was never published. I’m siding with the EU, Japan, Canada and the other countries who ban this hormone. Again, call me a skeptic, but I believe wholeheartedly that in due time we will learn the effects that this hormone is having on our bodies (i.e. cancer, early puberty & infertility). So it is my job as a parent to spend ~$2 more on milk, if I can, to protect my children and if there is the slightest risk that something as nutritionally necessary as milk might be harmful to my children then I choose for the organic option, for the same reasons that I fully research children’s medicine, car seats, and pediatricians before making my choice.

    I respect your point of view and don’t get me wrong I fully respect the conventional American dairy farmer, but there is nothing conventional about injecting a cow with hormones solely to increase profit. I would gladly drink conventional milk from my local dairy farmer if I were guaranteed that he/she were treating the cows with the respect they deserve and ultimately that organic label is the closest guarantee I can get. I have respect for organic farmers because they are treating the food and animals with more integrity and the result is less of a profit, but what I believe to be a healthier product for consumers. I would like to suggest the following websites for information and perspective from the other side of the table:
    http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/rbgh/
    http://www.copperwiki.org/index.php/Growth_Hormones_in_Food

    1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – I know we all have a number, but while here on earth I will do my best to keep me and my family healthy.

    With Respect,
    Carrie

    • Thanks, Carrie. You know I respect your stance too and so appreciate the dignified manner of your comment. You’re a gem, friend!
      You raise some really good points. I love how your convictions are informed and you know what you believe and why. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I think we can agree it’s usually about the money whether you’re making movies or milk and that includes organic as well as conventional. Organic is a loaded and subjective term that has its share of issues too, but that’s another post. Anyway, with all this money flying around, it would be nice to see farmers reap more of it.
      Thanks again, Carrie!

    • PS-Love, love your reference to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Thank you for including it!

      • Michele

        I totally respect anyone’s right to buy whatever product that they desire. I am only going to address the antibiotic issue here in cow’s milk as that is something that I do know about. Every load of milk is tested with extreme accuracy. The test detects an amount of antibiotic so small that is comparable to two aspirins in an Olympic sized pool. If that small amount is detected, the whole load of milk has to be disposed of and is not put in the human food supply. I admire you for wanting to eat healthy and taking care of you and your family. I assure you that the cows gets fewer medicines than most humans do and when the cow does get an antibiotic for a short term to clear up mastitis (an infection of the udder), the milk is dumped even before it could get into a bulk tank because the farmer does not want to lose the money for the whole load. Yes, sometimes, money is a factor, but in this case it is an incentive for a quality product for human consumption – a great goal for all of us.

    • Lisa

      Carrie-

      I am a conventional dairy farmer from PA. I am hoping that perhaps I can clear up a little confusion. You seem like a wonderful mother that cares very much for her children and makes decisions that you think are best for them. I would like you to know that NO MILK, conventional, natural, or organic has antibiotics in it. NONE. All animals that are treated with antibiotics have their milk tested for residues before it is able to be sold. We check animals here on the farm before we put her milk with the rest of the cows, and the milk companies check EVERY load for antibiotics as it comes into the plant. So yes, we do use antibiotics, but it will never end up in your milk. There are many precautions taken so that doesnt happen. Secondly, I would like to give you some more information on rBST. We do not use it on our farm, but it is not because I think there is something wrong with it. It is because money is tight and we dont want another bill to have to pay. Many people do choose to use it to increase milk production, but I’d like you to know that there are other reasons for using it. It helps some sick cows get better quicker. It helps to increase appetite, so if a cow is not feeling her best and we can get her to eat, it can help to avoid much larger and more painful problems down the road. Many sicknesses in dairy cows have a lot to do with their stomach and intake, and we do our very best to take care of them. Also, the horomone is naturally occuring in milk, and when cows are given rBST it only increases the amount, it does not add any new horomone. This is why there is no difference between milk from rBST and non rBST treated cows.

      Just a couple last thoughts on conventional vs. organic. I will tell you why I choose to be conventional. It is not about money at all. It is about the cows and milk quality. When a cow gets an infection, her somatic cell count (SCC) goes up. Since I am conventional, I can treat her to make her better. This clears up the infection (just as any anitbiotic would when given to your children for an illness) and makes the cow feel better. If I were organic, the cow might still be in pain, still have an infected quarter, and her SCC would still be extremely high. This decreases milk quality, and increases the discomfort and overall wellbeing of the cows. I can tell you right now that if we were not allowed to use anitbiotics, there are several cows in my herd that would be dead. How does that help anybody? When she simply could have been treated and lived a healthy profitable life!? I care very much about each of my “girls”, and so I choose to be “conventional,” that way i can take care of each of them to the very best of my ability.

      I hope you find my reply helpful. I am not trying to change your mind, so long as people drink milk I don’t care which kind it is. I just wanted you to have a little more information to base your decisions on.

      • Lisa, thank you for your comment and for clarifying some facts about antibiotics, rbST, and why you chose conventional dairy farming. I was unaware of the other benefits of rsBT you mentioned, so I especially appreciate you enlightening me. Your “girls” are lucky to have you!

      • zweberfarms

        Also to clarify, Organic producers can and MUST use antibiotics if it is in best health interest of the animal. The animal can be treated, but then must leave the farm (milk never entering production line). On our farm if an animal becomes ill, we first try organic and holistic methods of treatment (which for us work 95% of the time). If antibiotics are the only solution, we will seperate her from the herd and treat her. Then when she is healthy again we sell her to a neighboring conventional farm where she can live out her full productive life.
        Just an FYI.
        Emily

        • I did not know this, and I bet not many of the non-farming readers did. Thank you for clarifying and enlightening us. Your willingness to share openly is admirable and exactly what’s needed.

  13. It’s wonderful to have the choices we do in the world we live in……a great thing living in the USA.
    We have a conventional family dairy in California and I’m constantly in conversation with various mom groups that I belong to about the difference between conventional and organic milk. Thank you for a great blog post and helping to spread the word about the benefits of both, conventional and organic food.
    For our family, I tend to buy what looks best, whether it be conventional or organic. After everything is washed and stored in the fridge, my kids have free range to eat as many fruits and veggies as they wish.
    I look forward to following your blog!

    • I shop both too. There are lots of factors that determine what I buy. Got to feed the troops, you know.
      It is a bit unreal to me that farmers have to educate and defend the food they produce to consumers, but that’s the world in which we live. Keep up the good work and keep telling the truth.
      Thank you for reading and for your comment. Hope to see you here again soon!

  14. Another great post, Aimee! More than anything, I love the last paragraph…I don’t like when others try to guilt me into a decision, and there is SO much of that with the all-organic push.

    Like you, I buy what looks best and what we can afford. Sometimes it’s organic, but mostly, it’s not. We’re called to be good stewards of our money, and for us, that means eating at the level we are now and then aiming to help those who don’t have anything to eat get something on their table, too.

    Others will do the research and come out with a different opinion, and believe that feeding their family all organic is the best choice for them – and that’s fine by me. You make the best choice for your family, and I’ll make the best choice for mine. I just really appreciate it when people are informed about their decisions and don’t blindly follow the pack, so I thank you for writing this thoughtful piece!

  15. It’s a well thought out response, Aimee. Thanks. I do, however, feel like I need to defend my friend Hannah who wrote the referenced article. I don’t think Hannah’s point or intention was to guilt anyone into thinking they has to buy organic milk and produce. She presented her findings and the the changes she felt were necessary due to what she learned. Yes, she encouraged readers to consider her point of view, but don’t we all do that when we’re passionate about a topic? You are urging your readers with equal fervor to consider your point of view. It doesn’t make either of you right or wrong.

    Hannah’s intent was never to apply pressure or call for legislation regulating farms. She was merely presenting facts as she researched them and she presented the steps she took as a mom to ensure that she could put her families health needs first. She wasn’t necessarily saying we as readers needed to take them same steps. You have provided a good counter argument and now it’s up to readers to decide what is best for them without judgement from others who have different viewpoints. :)

    • Thanks, Kelli. My intention wasn’t to attack Hannah. As I wrote, she’s free to follow her convictions and buy whatever she wants.
      But she clearly stated it was a parent’s obligation to keep their kids safe and linked it directly to her choice to buy only organic food. Then she proceeded to clearly state the higher cost of organic food is a weak excuse for parents who just didn’t want to invest in this priority. Her saving money tips so parents could free up more cash to spend on organic food and her examples of her own sacrifices sounded like a heap of guilt to me. That may not have been her intention, but that’s how it was written and published.
      This is a BIG issue, and there are a lot of people who share Hannah’s opinions. I wanted to speak to this from the point of view of the parents who are also trying to do their best for her child and do not believe buying all organic food is required to succeed.
      Thanks for reading, Kelli, and for your compelling comment.

      • While I understand where you’re coming from, I still feel like you misunderstood Hannah’s article. But the way I see it is you and I are approaching this from different viewpoints. I am actually very similar in thought to you. I am not overly concerned with buying organic nor do I go out of my way to make sure I only feed my kids whole foods. I buy what we like, what we can reasonably afford, what I feel is best for my children’s health and what tastes good, whether it be organic or not organic.

        With this in mind, I was not in the least bit offended or guilted by Hannah’s article. I found it to be informative and well thought out and took it as her personal opinions. BUT, the difference between you and I is that this is clearly not a hot topic issue for me. So her article didn’t move me one way or the other. Clearly, though, this is a topic that you feel more passionately about so you have a different take on what Hannah wrote.

        But what it comes down to is this: Hannah was not in any way attempting to guilt anyone into believing they were irresponsible parents. She was typing from something that she felt passionately about. I made sure to reread Hannah’s article before commenting and she never once implied that you need to take her advice to succeed as a parent. I truly felt that she was simply stating her own opinion. We’re all doing our best for our children. Some of us feel that buying organic is best, others feel that homeschooling is best, others still think that not giving them wine before bed so they’ll sleep better is important.

        Wait…did I say that out loud?

        My point is, I think we can all agree that this is a big issue, but Hannah’s article wasn’t meant to be a judgement call on those of us who buy regular milk. Nor was your article meant to be a judgement on those who prefer to buy organic no matter what financial sacrifices are necessary. Just my two cents… :)

        • I read the article repeatedly too. It clearly stated keeping kids safe is a parents’ obligation and linked it to buying only organic food. The implication is parents who don’t do as she does are irresponsible. It’s a familiar argument parents apply to each other on everything from childbirth to breastfeeding and right on down the line. I’m not arguing against her choice. If anything I’m calling for choice.
          I think (hope) we can respectfully agree to disagree on how the article reads. Come on, Kelli. What do you say? Truce?

      • Sure we can call a truce. I don’t disagree with you – I just felt that Hannah’s article was painted in an unfair light. I know Hannah and that wasn’t her intention. I just wanted to make sure that readers understood that Hannah wasn’t looking to ignite a fight and felt compelled to defend her a bit. I agree with choice and I agree that we should all do what’s best and right for our families. So does Hannah.

        So I think we’re all on the same page. :)

        • Okay, Kelli, but that’s not what she wrote. There are two links to her article in my post. Readers can click and make up their own minds.
          In the meantime, I don’t think we’re going to change each other’s minds, so I reiterate my hope we can peacefully agree to disagree. Thanks!

  16. Sorry for all the typos. I’m typing on my iPad and I’m incapable of doing so without butchering the English language.

  17. zweberfarms

    Great post! As an organic dairy farmer, I get frusterated that maketing has completely changed the “meaning” of the organic seal. The seal has nothing to do with health or nutrition. It only has to do with the way the product was produced or raised. It is sad that marketing has pitted moms, dads and farmers against each other. We are organic because it is farming style that works for our family, animals and land. The day we got our certification did not change a thing on our farm. Whether we are labeled organic or conventional, we would still be farming the same way. Most farms would qualify for 80% of the organic certification.
    We are thankful that people are willing to pay a premium so that our farm can continue to farm the way we have for 106 years. But, let be known, we are also thankful for the choice. This gives consumers the choice as well.
    I try to buy organic and get that “mommy guilt” each time I buy something conventional, which is totally silly. I want to support organic farms like ours, but I know our conventional neighbors are working just as hard.
    Thank you again for this post and thank you Katie for letting me know about it.
    Emily

    • Emily, I LOVE your comment! And I am honored to hear from an organic farmer. It is a great encouragement to know you feel comfortable joining the discussion.
      You hit on some important points I don’t believe have been previously mentioned. It is so sad people are pitted against each other over these issues in our country. Media, marketing, extremists whip us into an unnecessary frenzy. The choice to farm in a way that works best for you, the choice to feed your family as you see fit–these are to be treasured. If you don’t have your choice, who’s to say how long it is before I don’t have mine either? And I’m so glad you pointed out how hard ALL farmers work. Like soldiers, they often seem to be forgotten in the all the hype. Meanwhile, they’re the ones pulling all the weight so the rest of us can eat.
      Thank you again for reading and for your insightful comment!

  18. Great post Aimee! As a wellness coach, I spend a great deal of time recommending clients balance synthetic pesticide and hormone free choices with their economic realities. I also help them work through the available choices, creating confidence in their decisions.
    Personally, I choose organic when non-biased research indicates a strong rate of absorption. For instance, although not free from natural pesticides, I choose to purchase organic apples. The visual of ingesting over 400 chemicals per bite from industrial growers was strong enough for me that I was eliminating apples from my diet, until I found an organic solution. Perfect? Of course not, but I’ve added the fibrous fruit back into my meal planning, so I consider it a success story.
    Access to knowledge, and the ability to share opinions in non-combative environments will do more for our health than any government mandate or mommy war. Thanks for such a forum.

    • Ahhh…another voice of reason with another perspective on the debate. Thanks for weighing in as a Wellness Coach, Lisa aka Ms. Moderation. Appreciate your common sense approach to healthful eating. There is wisdom in taking multiple factors into consideration when making decisions. As you wrote, our choices may not be “perfect,” but what is in this world? We can still make wise choices and count them as success stories. You may flatter me by elevating this to a “forum,” but I love it! Whatever you want to call it, thanks again for reading and commenting.

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  20. We own and operate a CAFO farm – not a factory farm – our farm is considered CAFO because of the size – we (my husband, I, and three of our four sons) are 3rd and 4th generation owners and the farm supports several other families. So many people slam large operations without any knowledge. I loved your blog – total common sense which the world seems short on. We do the best we can and take good care of our animals and land. We are honored that God allows us this opportunity. Thanks for bringing the “two sides” together. Let’s work with each other instead of against each other. Keep up the great work.

    • Diane, I am thrilled to get a response from the perspective of the CAFO (translation for non-ag readers Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). I’m glad you feel comfortable sharing here.
      You bring several valuable points to this discussion. Your farm supports your own family and several others. That counts for so much in today’s economy. You should be commended and encouraged. Also I believe you when you write you do your best and take good care of your animals and your land. That’s what good farmers do, no matter what their farm’s size. Finally I am touched by your thankfulness to God that you can farm. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  21. Joanna in Vermont

    Aimee:

    Thanks for your post. I read both – the one from STL and yours. It is a good thing that I read your level-headed post first, as it was I felt a bit “heated” after reading the other. I am a dairy farmer along with my husband with 30 milking cows, both Jersey and Holstein in Northern Vermont.. From a passer-by’s view we may appear to be organic, but we are not certified organic, nor do we ever wish to be. That said, my grandmother always said “never say never” and “be careful what you wish for.”

    Your post was most interesting as we await the arrival of our first child. Perhaps I feel a bit jaded but I have never bought into the organic label. While I support all of agriculture – with farmer friends who use a “certified organic” label and “certified humane” label, “CAFO” and locally grown, etc., I am thankful for the opportunity for choose when it comes to food options. For me and for my family, where it can be avoided, we will not choose organic, even if it is a better looking product.

    As a whole industry, I think we need to do a better job promoting all of agricutlure instead of pitting segments against another, which is why I appreciate your post so much. Though for myself and our farm, we remain open to and support the advancement of technology in order to better serve our cows, our community, our environment and our world. Just because we are working my husband’s grandfather’s farm does not mean we have to do it with the same practices he used. Though I will say a few constants hold true, for example, “Take care of the cows and they will take care of you.”

    Here’s another website to check out with good information: http://itisafact.org/

    Thanks again, Aimee.

    • Thanks, Joanna, and congratulations on your pregnancy. Thank you for the link as well. Your comment about promoting all of agriculture instead of pitting against each other is right on target for now and the future. It’s the big picture view of what I’m being more and more convinced American agriculture has to do to survive and to continue to produce enough quality food to help feed a growing world population. I’m glad you brought up that idea. Keep taking care of those cows, and thanks again for your contribution to this discussion.

  22. Thank you so much for this post! As a conventional dairy farmer, I agree with you completely! Consumers deserve choices…organic, natural, or conventional, but regardless…consumers need to know that ALL milk is MILK!…no antibiotics, no added hormones, but moreso, SAFE & WHOLESOME for your family! And thank you zweberfarms for posting! (I have leanred so much from our open-minded organic MN dairy farmers Tim & Emily)….trust the farmers, we care about your families too!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. It makes sense that good farmers care about their customers–who happen to be our families. I doubt many would choose to farm if they didn’t! I was intoduced to Emily of zweberfarms when she commented on my post, and already I have learned a lot from her. Here’s to open, helpful, civil dialog!

  23. Dan Elfenbein

    Just a comment on the “free market” for milk: there remains significant controversy about subsidies for milk farmers in the U.S. and tariffs on imports. The CATO institute (generally very pro free market) suggests that these subsidies total cost total more than $4 billion per year (http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6764). The Environmental Working Group places the subsidies at about $5 billion between 1995 and 2010. I really don’t know where the truth lies, but I do know that there are some important boundary conditions to our “choices” about milk.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan. Had to consult my in-house dairy expert (husband) on this one. He says the topic of global and American subsidies is a huge can of worms the size of the world. All righty then. Are ya’ll available to come over for dinner sometime next week? We can sort out the worms together. :)

  24. Aimee, thank you so much for back-opening comments… I’ve been itching to comment on this one, and in so many tangents.
    Organic or “regular” milk, it doesn’t especially matter to me when I buy, what does, however, is the little golden cow seal. Living in California, I prefer to buy California milk from California farmers’ California Happy Cows. :) It helps local farmers, and more importantly, reduces food miles. I once read that in Germany, a single cup of yogurt takes more “food miles” than the product mileage for a new car; as the plastic cup, the foil cap and the yogurt inside all come from different regions of the country. They each have to travel to the factory where it’s all assembled, loaded into a cooled truck and shipped off to as far as Poland, Hungary or the Netherlands. Adding up the miles the parts traveled before they arrived in your home fridge, the yogurt may as well have been on a trip around the world.
    Another note on schools and milk. I recently read that in Hungary, the Ministry of Education have entirely banned flavored milks from schools, leaving plain milk or tap water as the only beverage choices. I’m a big-time milk person, but I had a lot of friends growing up who just didn’t like the milk flavor by itself. Kids need calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and all the goodies in milk; and it’s best gotten from a natural source rather than pills. If we take out the only way these kids would drink milk, we’re effectively eliminating that calcium intake from their diet – and there wasn’t even an attempt to replace the high-calorie, high-sugar chocolate milks with a no added sugar, low calorie alternative.
    And I would have so many more tangents, especially on the “warring parent factions” – but I’ll save them for later. :)

    • CN, so glad you commented on this one!

      Local milk is wonderful if you can get it in your state. There are milk-deficit states like FL that don’t produce enough milk on their own and have to import it from surrounding states. And I agree with you about kids needing calcium in their diets. So does our pediatrician. She instructed us (and our son) that children should drink milk at EVERY meal, or another beverage fortified with calcium.

      Tip: This post MAY have been chosen as a Reader’s Choice and MAY show up in the near future again (MAYBE next week) so you MAY have to log another comment or two, but you didn’t hear it from me. Would love to read a few more of your tangents! :)

      • Oooh, you twisted my arm. :) I even forgot my favorite tangent here on what is one of my favorite posts from you (aside from Cindy, but that’s already claimed… :D)
        While I personally don’t like the flavor of fresh, unpasteurized milk by itself, back in Hungary, my grandma would buy a gallon and a half each week to make her own cottage cheese and sour cream. That was the best cottage cheese I ever had. So, since now I do live in Cowtown, Dairyland, I thought I should give it a go on my own now. However, apparently, in California, it’s easier to buy drugs than to get unpasteurized milk. The only way you are allowed to get your hands on fresh milk like that is owning a cow. Yes, it cannot be sold under any circumstances, only the owner(s) of a cow can enjoy the fresh and good milk. So the idea of herd shares cropped up: multiple people “own” a cow, and they get their share of the milk each week – your share in the cow determines how much milk you get, and how often. But getting into such a herd share is about as easy as to walk in and join the upper levels of the mafia. Here in CA we tend to be regulation-nazis, so it just blows my mind why we can’t just regulate the sale of raw milk in a way that ensures freshness and food safety, but grants access to people…?
        But yes, as I said, it is one of my favorite posts of yours, and I would definitely recommend it for a readers’ choice!

        • CN, that is fascinating. I didn’t know that about getting unpasteurized milk!

          Surprises me in a way about CA. On the one hand, CA seems to over-regulate, but on the other hand, CA seems to want all things green, unprocessed, whole… What to do, what to do. Buy a cow or a herd share of course. Too funny although I love the inventiveness of trying to find a way to meet a demand. CA is a beautiful state of contradiction.

          I imagine all this drives you crazy as a chef. Maybe you should consider moving to greener (less regulated) pastures :)

      • As unbelievable as it sounds, they are trying to outlaw herd shares, too, as then you “don’t really own the cow”, and each cow may have 5-10 owners. Back in Hungary, my grandma used to get the milk from the farmer, so it was still “udder-ly warm”. In the capital, most farmers markets have a stall where the milk is stored in a huge, cooled steel tank, and they dispense the fresh milk in taps from there; usually into 2-liter soda bottles. I guess they would discard the leftovers at the end of the day, or make cheese, cream or butter from it (the same stall usually sells these, doo), but I’ve never seen a day when a “Sorry, no more milk” sign wasn’t out by noon or so….

        To be honest, the pastures I’m leaving is the hospitality industry… I’ll just keep cooking as a personal passion, family pleaser and excuse to write a blog about :) I’m pretty happy here in California, however, the paths the industry is heading towards is less and less appealing. For now, it’s back to school for me :)

        • Good for you! What are you studying?
          My husband grew up on a dairy farm and said they used to drink unpasteurized milk. Of course he said they knew the herd, so they knew the milk was coming from healthy cows.
          PS: Glad you’re planning to continue blogging your passion for cooking and delicious food :)

      • It’s Paralegal for now – perhaps working a bit, taking a few “family years” off, and then maybe expanding it all the way to a J.D.; but that’s all future. My husband is heading into Civil Engineering, so I’m really excited for him too.
        Food will always be a “thing” for me, just as my motto says – I do believe people should have a specific right to delicious food (which is why I alluded to the Pledge of Allegiance). And now that I found a way to spread my recipes and ideas even further, I just feel a NEED to continue. Ad astram aspira; maybe one day I’ll host a cookery show!

      • Now that is an interesting parallel… For me it’s more a leftover piece from two years of high school Latin. I probably don’t remember much else than proverbs, but with some brain-digging I can probably get around 50 or so to the surface. Most of that Latin has morphed into my Italian :) (As another tangent, this practically means I’m trilingual: English, Hungarian and Italian. Here in CA, job postings often call for a “bilingual” worker – which still doesn’t make me eligible, as they specifically look for English/Spanish. Word your ad correctly, people!)

        • lol. no habla español? me neither. however, my son will be switching from French to Spanish with his new school change next week. because he also knows how to count to ten in Chinese AND because of his Italian heritage on my side of the family, he boasts he will be able to “speak” five languages :)

      • Well well, I DID take some German in grade school, and I know how to ask for a beer in Swedish, as well as a few assorted insults in Finnish… A couple of words picked up from a trip to the Czech Republic, a few from the Netherlands… Does it count that I know the whole takeout menu from the nearest Chinese place by heart? :)

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  29. Courtney Tweten

    I whole heartedly agree with your comments; I too was raised on a small dairy farm in Canada. Our family now raises beef cattle, and I am so thankful we can grow our own garden and raise our own eggs. Information supporting conventional farming is few and far between. We are constantly being bombared by the so called benefits of organic farming. Farmers and ranchers are some of the most proud and honest, not to mention hard working people. I never once question the food I purchase in the grocery store, I buy my food feeling grateful that we have access to affordable food to feed our family. I welcome the support of the conventional farmer, afterall they are best at what they do; Production, not always marketing. Food production is such an important issue and I can’t say it enough. We need to love and support our farmers.

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