It was cold, calm and sunny yesterday when I made my weekly trek through wooded Oregon roads to visit my farmer, Stacie Gordon, to purchase my rations of milk and eggs. Stacie, her two small children and a number of animals pour out of her house to greet me. I’m familiar with Red Hog farm (yes, her hogs are red), to which I’ve traveled to for years. I've toured the farm many times while introducing friends and family, and when Stacie announced her sow delivered little red piglets I simply had to have another tour.
As we walked toward her breeder sow we talked about pastured pork (a delightfully different meat from what you find in most stores and restaurants) and what Stacie feeds her meat pigs. She tells me she never feeds her breeders, who are lean and fit, skim milk. She uses skim milk, which she gleans by removing the cream from milk she gets from her two Jersey milk cows, to fatten her meat pigs.
Curious, I ask, “Why do you give them skim milk? Why not full fat milk to fatten pigs?” to which she replies, “Fat satisfies their appetites. If I give them milk fat my meat pigs won’t eat!”
Farmers have long known that the most economic returns in terms of fat weight in hogs come from diets that include skim milk. From the Farmer’s Cyclopedia of Livestock, published in 1912:
Skim milk is one of the most valuable adjuncts of the farm for fattening swine. Used with corn, kafir corn or any of the common grain by-products, an almost ideal ration is formed. Hogs like it, and relish rations mixed with it. As a result of five year’s work in feeding skim milk at the New York station at Cornell, it is concluded that the most economical returns are secured when the milk is fed with corn meal.
You might think, skim milk and grains fatten hogs, but what about humans? In fact, there are studies to suggest it is the same with humans as with hogs. In the paper Milk, Dairy Fat, Dietary Calcium and Weight Gain, A Longitudinal Study of (12,829) Adolescents, Catherine Berkey et. al. conclude:
…Contrary to our hypotheses, dietary calcium and skim and 1% milk were associated with weight gain, but dairy fat was not…
OK, so full fat milk doesn't make kids fat, but what about adults?
Researchers from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute conducted a study that monitored the dietary habits of more than 20,000 Swedish women for a decade. It turned out that women who consumed full fat milk or cheese had a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) than the rest of the group. The results were convincing enough for the researchers to recommend that a glass of full fat milk every day will cut weight gain by 15%, and a portion of full fat cheese each day will cut weight gain by 30%. Alicja Wolk, professor at the Karolinska Institute stated, “The surprising conclusion was that increased consumption of (full fat) cheese meant that overweight women lost weight.”
Yet skim and 1% milk is pervasive in school lunch programs, and throughout the American diet. If you summarize the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid you see an emphasis on grains plus skim milk, the very combination that fattens hogs so efficiently! In fact, the USDA recommends we start the low-fat habit early: children as young as pre-school are recommended to consume non-fat or low fat milk, yogurt and cheese. With a food pyramid like this it's little wonder we face an obesity epidemic from childhood onward.
How can we reverse this trend? By voting with your dollars you tell milk producers and food manufacturers what you want. Give up grains, but if you cannot give them up or want to make a smoother transition off of them be sure that any grains you eat are properly prepared (sprouted [sprouted grain breads, cereals, etc.], and/or fermented [sourdough breads, e.g.]). Avoid milk (unless it is fermented, like kefir); if you cannot give it up drink sparingly and buy full-fat organic, pasture milk that is not ultra-pasteurized. If you buy cheese, buy full-fat natural and preferably raw cheese. Your dollars will positively impact the market, you'll enhance your enjoyment of food, and you'll improve your health all at the same time. Your waistline with thank you.