A perfect example of this is milk. There is an abundance of information on this topic. Should you drink organic? Homogenized? Grass-fed or Grain-fed? Raw or Pasteurized? And if pasteurized, how pasteurized? Vat pasteurized, regular pasteurized, or ultra-pasteurized? Or perhaps you avoid cow's milk altogether and you go with some type of milk alternative? Then that leads you down another path with just about as many options.
It seems the choices are endless and just when you think you've found the article with the answer you find another one that says the opposite. Everyone is lobbying for why their milk is the best milk and there is no clear authority telling us what to choose and why.
If you can ever pull yourself away from your computer screen, and make it to the grocery store, you will find no solace there, as grocery stores are the mecca of choice these days.
Upon my entrance to the dairy department of my local grocery store, I was accosted by:
---22 kinds of organic cow's milk including the usual skim, 1%, 2%, whole, and chocolate
---20 kinds of both organic and non-organic soy milk including non-fat, reduced fat, full fat, no sugar added, vanilla, chocolate, light vanilla, light chocolate...
---19 kinds of "milk alternative" including: coconut, almond, goat and rice milk
---and the doosy...54 whopping kinds of conventional milk including: whole, 2%, 1%, skim, skim extra (the extra is apparently a thickener that makes the skim taste like 2%- yuck), lactose free, chocolate, chocolate no-sugar-added (yuck again), strawberry, banana, vanilla and rootbeer flavored milks, and last but not least, buttermilk.
Even if you think you know what you want (say, organic 1% cow's milk) you still have to make additional choices like grass-fed, homogonization, local farmer vs national brand vs store brand, and levels of pasteurization.
That doesn't even include the number of SIZES you can choose from. In case you are wondering, there are five: half pint, pint, quart, half gallon, and gallon.
This is simply TOO much choice for one person to handle. What ever happened to the good old days (the times of which I never experienced) where the milk man brought milk to your door and that was what you drank?
After I recovered from milk-mind-shock, I eventually made a decision, but since then have been back to the store four times and each time tried a different type of milk. I figured when all else fails, judge by taste, right?
Here are the results of my experience:
Milk#1: Full Circle Organic Milk
A half gallon of this milk is $3.44 at the store. These cows are not exposed to antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. It is also ultra-pasteurized, meaning it has a shelf life of up to several months. They do, however, eat grain, not grass, and there's no information on the living conditions of the cow (if that's important to you).
It tasted like... milk. If you are just looking for organic milk because you heard that organic milk is a must, you should probably just stop here or with any other national organic brand.
Milk#2: Hy-Vee (Store brand) Organic Milk
A half gallon of this milk is $3.77. It is THE most expensive milk you can buy in the store. It also has basically everything you could want from a milk. It is free of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides. These cows are also grass-fed. Some people say this makes the milk higher in good fats and the living conditions have a lower environmental impact. It was the only milk in the store that was not homogenized, meaning the cream still floats to the top, just like the old days. This means you have to shake it up every time you use it. It is also vat pasteurized, which is the most minimal type of pasteurization you can do. Some people say (notice I keep saying some people say because there is debate on either side) that the less pasteurized it is, the more nutrients and useful bacteria it maintains. This also means it has the shortest shelf life of all milks. Finally, it says this milk is sourced from local farms, though Hy-Vee being a multi-state brand, I'm not sure how valid that claim really is.
This milk seemed like the holy grail of milks. It was noticeably more creamy aka delicious as well. I even enjoyed the process of shaking the milk up when I picked it up out of the fridge. However, it went sour two days prior to its expiration date, forcing me to waste 16 oz of milk. I don't care if this milk can make you fly, if it can't even last 7 days in my fridge, it's out. However, if you drink more than 8oz of milk a day and can afford to shell out the cash, I say this one is a winner!
Milk#3: Shatto (local farmer) milk
A half gallon of this milk is $3.49. It gets props for locality and freshness, since the farm is about an hour from where I live and the milk is usually delivered to the store within 12 hours of being milked. The cows roam on acres of pasture where they enjoy all the grass they can eat. In the winter when there is no grass they eat corn, but the farmer grows his own corn-it's not GMO and he doesn't use pesticides.
How do I know all this you ask? Seems like a lot to put on the bottle. Well, I know because I talked to the farmer myself. Wanna know what else he told me? They don't use growth hormone and there are no antibiotics in the milk. I say "there are no antibiotics in the milk" instead of "they don't use antibiotics" because he explained to me that they treat their cows like children, and just like your children, if a cow gets sick you want to treat them so they get better. If that cow needs antibiotics, they give it to them, but then they don't milk the cow until he/she is 100% better and when they do start milking them they test the milk and don't use it until there's not a trace of the antibiotics left.
|Photo courtesy of Shatto Dairy|
Did I mention it comes in these super cute glass bottles (just like the old days) and you can return them to the grocery store and the farm will re-use them? Smaller carbon footprint. Added bonus.
Shatto Farms also has flavored milks which intrigue me; banana milk- how amazing would that be in cereal? Root Beer milk- sounds weird but think Root Beer Float. Better yet... think Root Beer milk frozen into popsicle molds. Sweet Jeezus.
PS- he invited me to his farm to see the cows and see how the milk is made. But that's another blog post for another day :-)
So, in the end, Farmer Joe (technically Farmer Matt) wins. I can't wait to visit his farm. Apparently they also make cheese, ice cream, and butter but I will have to visit their Country Store for those goodies.