Why we should be crying over spilled milk
In 2006 I was sitting comfortably in my leather office swivel chair, overlooking the EU Commission in the Rond Point Schuman in Brussels. I was fresh out of Graduate School, big on social justice, and armed with a degree in International Law which, at the time, empowered me to feel as though I could change the world.
In 2006 the price of milk was hot on the EU agenda and protests by dairy famers were a regular occurance outside of my office window.
Never in a million years would I have imaginged that 11 years later, this topic would be hot on my own agenda, and that I would trade my leather swivel chair for a stainless steel ice cream scooper.
One particular protest remains etched in my memory. Farmers from near and far had ridden on their tractors to protest in front of our offices. Hay bales and tires were burning, cows were running loose, tractors blocked traffic for two days, and milk was literally spilled in the street. It felt a little like dairy-Armageddon.
I can not help but to think of the English idiom "don't cry over spilled milk".
11 years ago I was walking home on literally milk-spilled streets and today, as an academic-turned-ice-cream-maker, I could actually cry about it.
Don’t cry over spilled milk? ...
.... Don't waste your time worrying about things you cannot change?
Here's the thing: idiom aside: we should be spending time thinking about how we can make a change.
11 years have gone by and nothing much has changed with the price of milk.
Today’s modern day agricaultural system has presented many challenges for traditional dairy farmers. As a business which relies so heavily on milk, we feel that it is our duty to do our part. We feel inspired to spread a little love, and create some awareness. We want to make our message clear: milk is not just milk.
There is agriculture, and then there is sustainable agriculture. There is milk, and then there is farm fresh local milk from grass fed cows. There is ice cream and then there is artisan ice cream. There are of course two sides to every story. As artisan ice cream producers, the quality of milk is a huge priority for us. Here, we wish to provide you with a short introduction of why milk is really kind of a big deal.
Let’s start with the basics. What is milk?
According to Wikipedia, “Milk is a pale liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for infant mammals (including humans who breastfeed) before they are able to digest other types of food. Early-lactation milk contains colostrum, which carries the mother's antibodies to its young and can reduce the risk of many diseases. It contains many other nutrients including protein and lactose”
Fresh milk is rich in nutrients such as Vitamins A, D, and B12, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and even protein. Milk from grass fed cows has the advantage of being even more nutritious, and has high levels of essential Omega 3 fatty acids.
UHT-Milk (H-Milch) is a popular staple in German households. It has been pasteurised at such a high temperature that all of the nutrients have essentially been zapped out. As food snobs, we cringe at the thought of even considering UHT “Milk” to be milk. Sorry, but let's be real here: how can "milk" which has a shelf life of several months, be good for you? Milk that likes to be kept warm? nein, danke.
Milk has become a popular household staple. So much so, that most of us rarely stop to consciously question where it came from. We casually buy it at the supermarket. We stare at the carton on our table, but... do we really care?
Let’s face it: we all started out the same way. We were born and spent our most formative diaper years, as strangers to this new world, being nourished by nothing other than milk. Regardless of your current dietary beliefs, and whether or not you now choose to consume animal products, we really all entered the world thriving off of milk…
The average German citizen consumes more than 91 litres of fresh milk products per year.
So, what is the problem?
Where is milk coming from, how is it collected, and how is sold and distributed?
Why is milk cheaper than water? This is where the story gets a little hairy.
The Modern Day Milk Industry
It is no secret that our economy is motivated by the maximisation of profits. Money makes the world go round. The recent development and industrialization of farming has become a booming business, and dairy farming is one of the most striking examples.
Next time you are in the supermarket, take a look at the milk packaging. Idyllic green pastures under bright blue skies with cows grazing in the sunshine? This is something you see on a milk carton, but when was the last time you actually saw a cow grazing in real life?
(I do realize that some of you reading this are lucky enough to live in remote parts of Australia or Wyoming and you do actually see cows grazing: consider yourself lucky! and bear with me)
In places like Germany, space is so limited and space is expensive. Consequently, the vast majority of dairy cows are held in small confines – unnaturally small confines. Their efficiency and profitability have become more important than their wellbeing.
In southern Germany, roughly 1/3rd of all dairy cows are tethered on a rope, not just year round but for their entire lives. They do not see the sun shine, they do not move more than a few centimetres let alone roam freely, and they do not eat fresh grass as nature had intended.
Cows are ruminant animals who love fresh grass, hay and herbs that grow in the meadow. Today’s modern day agriculture has developed highly technical, scientifically calculated feed mixes which allow cows to produce more milk. More milk equals more profit. Cows have one large stomach with four compartments, and sadly, these highly technical feed mixes are not easily nor naturally digestible. If you have ever eaten something that did not agree with you, then you can sympathise with how it feels. A cow’s stomach was made for eating, enjoying and digesting grass, hay and herbs.
Did you know, that in order to even produce any milk, a cow must give birth to a calf every year? Nature allows the mother cow to produce 10-15 liters of milk a day, or as much as is needed to feed the calf.
Decades of selective breeding has allowed for a cow to produce double the amount.
In fact, some breeds of cows have been bred to produce up to 50 liters of milk a day. This actually requires a rather extreme metabolic performance on the cows part; something which could be compared to an extreme sport – it takes a toll on the body, is not necesssarily natural and comes with consequences – so that these cows need to be treated with an unusually high amount of antibiotics. This of course leeches into the milk, which we consume, and therefore it also leeches into us. Cheap milk comes at a high (health) price. Many scientists also believe that this contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans. A scary thought for the future, considering the same theory applies to the meat we eat.
Depending the breed, cows should be able to live for roughly 20 years. Today’s modern dairy cow however, is so over-worked that she will be out of commission after 4 to 5 years.
Please... re-read that sentence.
....Something is seriously wrong.
WE believe that cows simply don’t get nearly enough respect. They’re no longer named Berta, Adele, or Daisy. They wear a number, have no name, and live in unnatural conditions.
Supply and Demand
Ironically, while cows on green pastures are limited, milk as a product is anything but limited. In fact, there is too much of it.
Germany has been struggling for years with having too much milk. (psssst: here's a little secret: not just Germany)
In 2016, roughly 4.2 million dairy cows were held across 75,000 dairy farms, with new farms popping up on a regular basis. In 2016 the human population in Germany was merely 80 million.
Where does it go? To keep things simple for now it leads to one milk crisis after another.
In 2016, the average price for a liter of milk in a German supermarket was .46 cents
If you as the consumer buy a liter of milk for 46 cents, and you subtract the cost of packaging, transportation, and labor, then what do you suppose the dairy farmer is left with? (if you answered with "not alot" then you're paying attention)
By comparison, a liter of beer at Munich’s Oktoberfest costs upwards of 10 euro.
Something is seriously wrong here.
Dairy farmers cannot afford to produce milk relative to the market prices, and many have been forced to close down their farms. It is simply not paying off.
(side note: dairy farming is a full time job, 365 days a year, no vacation time, little pay)
Dairy farmers have been demonstrating at the EU level for as long as I can remember. They have been demanding fairer prices and better conditions. What has changed? If the politics can't get their act together, maybe it's time for consumers to start a revolution?
Germany is one of the top producers of milk in the European Union. German milk is so cheap, that it actually makes financial sense to export it to Africa in the form of milk powder. So while the German dairy farmer is still not earning a living wage, either are the African dairy farmers. Africa actually has the chance to produce its own milk powder but the German brands are cheaper, creating a vicious cycle in underdeveloped countries, who are not even given the chance to boost their own economy with local products.
In 2013, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Newspaper reported that Chinese smuggle more milk powder than heroin.
A vicious cycle which proves one thing : that generic carton of milk sitting in your house? That milk is not just simply milk…
Stay True Stay Sustainable
Personally, we love and respect cows as animals and we are disheartened about the state of EU politics with respect to milk prices. We have a heart for farmers, as they are people who work 365 days a year to provide all of us with the food we eat. Without this food, we cannot survive. So at what point did we forget?
We have consciously decided to go a different route. Ice cream rebels.
The ice cream industry is dominated by the use of UHT Milk – H-Milch. Not only is it cheap, but it does not need to be cooled, making it even cheaper to use, as one does not need to purchase refrigerators. We mentioned before though, that we have a hard time taking UHT “Milk” seriously.
Our business is built on high quality ingredients. One of the many reasons we are named TRUE and 12.
During our first 3 ice cream seasons, we were buying a high quality, fresh and organic milk from Tirol. Great product. One downside: Tirol is not exactly close by. Being in Bavaria, we insisted on finding a more local product.
We were searching for 2 years for local fresh milk.
(I know right? what took so long?) (you wont believe how many indoor Bavarian cows there are!)
Sadly, we could only find dairy farms which held their cows tethered in a barn all year round. While the milk was, in some cases, fresh and organic, it was not from “happy” cows.
We searched and searched and finally found our dream milk supplier. Not only is the milk fresh and organic, but the cows are grass fed and the family is local! In the summer, the cows are grazing on the pasture and in the winter they are fed hay. The dairy farm is 100% free of silage.
Finding Maria and Leonhard Veicht at their "Nirschlhof" has been nothing short of a blessing.
Nirschlhof is an organically certified, family owned dairy farm in Grafing near Munich. They are actually the only dairy farm in the county of Ebersberg which offers milk from grass fed cows. They are members of the BioKreis Organic Group and have 60 dairy cows, and their calves which graze on green pastures. Their barn, should they choose to go into it, is big and roomy. They are not tethered and they are free to roam where and when they please. They see sunshine, they eat grass and they are essentially: very happy Bavarian cows! This is truly organic milk from truly grass fed cows. Happy cows make happy ice cream -
The calves are born in the meadow each spring and autumn. The mother cows produce roughly 20 liters of milk a day, which is much less than the standard dairy cow who is fed special feed and essentially bred to milk money. In fact, today - the day I sit and translate and adapt the original post in German
we receieved a milk delivery. Maria was running late, because one of the mamma cows had given birth to twins this morning.
THIS - is HOW IT SHOULD BE. This is what we dreamed of. An ice cream business with direct contact to our suppliers.
(that feeling when dreams come true? here)
In a time where the price of milk is an enormous and scandalous debate, we are more than happy to pay 1,50 euro a liter for our milk. By supporting a local farming family, we are doing our bit to help sustainable agriculture stay alive. We also find it essential to spread the message, and help create awareness on this essential yet simple and vastly underestimated staple: milk.
So, in summary, we see that while there is modern day agriculture, there is also sustainable agriculture. There is milk, and then there is farm fresh local milk from grass fed cows. There is ice cream and then there is artisan ice cream made from fresh local milk of happy cows.
We all have choices. Our mission is merely to spread the word about the realities of milk – a product that all of us take for granted – with the hopes that a little awareness will go a long way. Maybe we aren’t changing the world but we hope that our efforts at least inspire others.
A scoop of ice cream is not merely a scoop of ice cream. Our ice cream starts on the pastures of Grafing, with happy cows held in their natural environment. Grass fed, producing the best organic milk possible. As we like to say: STAY TRUE.
Go ahead, and please do cry over the spilled milk.
Food For Thought // Related Articles