With the possible exception of my brother, I used to drink more milk than anyone I knew. And I don’t know if that’s exactly why, but my fingernails have always been fabulous.
And by that I mean exceptionally strong. They always looked plain and woeful, of course, unpainted with ungroomed cuticles, but my nails were so tough, it was hard to clip them. I’d have to muster all the hand strength I could to squeeze the clippers through one. In fact, I remember one time when I was around fourth or fifth grade, my mom almost couldn’t clip my nails because they were so tough.
And again I’m not sure if this is why, but six months ago, I stopped drinking milk – and over the past few months, my fingernails have shriveled to shadows. They practically chip when striking the bed sheets and they fold and flop instead of drumming on a desk, and they’re streaked with brittle, white cracks.
The lack of calcium is the first thing people ask about when they learn we don’t drink milk, and I more or less shrugged it off. We eat high amounts of spinach, which has calcium, and Logan drinks Quinoa Milk, which still has 30 percent of daily calcium. Plus—where do other mammals get their calcium? We’re the only species that drinks milk past weaning, and surely we can’t be that different in our nutrient needs.
My nails, though, are frankly freaking me out.
From a small farmer, we received some raw milk—meaning unpasteurized—and decided to try it. We knew from the last time we’d reintroduced dairy that it most definitely affected his system, but with a calcium deficit now on my mind, I thought raw milk might be different. Pasteurizing milk kills bacteria, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes, which are all good for the body; the enzymes help digest lactose, and the good bacteria help our guts thrive. American farms started pasteurizing milk in the 1920s to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, which work their way into milk from unhealthy cows. And thanks to the mass production approach to agriculture, we have plenty of that. When the quantity over quality is emphasized, a lot of strain is put on the cows to produce as much as possible. This makes them susceptible to infection. To counteract this, they’re given antibiotics (which get passed through to us in the milk we drink). It’d be simpler and healthier to just care for the cows, but we have a lot of people’s thirst to quench and lots of money to churn out. So we pasteurize, and anything—bad or beneficial—that could be in the milk becomes dead.
When I lived in Spain for a few months during college, I remember being surprised the milk wasn’t pasteurized. Some of the other kids in my study abroad group refused to drink it. But coming from the Midwest, I was a huge milk drinker and didn’t think I could possibly go without it. So I drank the unpasteurized milk (gallons of it), and it was delicious. And it never made me sick.
So we had plenty of reasons to try this unpasteurized milk this time around. And none of us got sick from it, either.
And nothing changed with Logan’s digestion. He didn’t complain of stomach cramps or get diarrhea, the way he probably would have if h were lactose intolerant. So at first, we breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that his body was handling the dairy.
He began asking for cow’s milk constantly and tried convincing his daycare teachers he could now have cow’s milk again (we hadn’t told them they could give him any, because the milk they serve is of course pasteurized). He gulped down his glass at dinner as soon as he got it and asked for more. Worried about what suddenly going from zero to sixty ounces in a day would do to his system, we had to limit him to just two small glasses with meals, plus ice cream that we made from it after dinner. But still, it didn’t look like the milk was bothering his body at all.
Then I realized Logan hadn’t been earning a rock star badge at school lately. (His teachers at daycare hand out rock star badges to kids modeling good manners, sharing, following directions, etc. They can lose their badges, too, and even though it’s just a silly laminated piece of paper, the kids all hate to lose their rock star status.)
Then I realized it had been about a week and a half – exactly three days since introducing milk and every day since.
On Wednesday I picked up the kids from daycare, and thanks to the nice weather, the kids were all outside. I spied Logan playing at the top of the climber. A little girl was walking along the part he was on and teetered in her boots as she tried to pass him, bumping him slightly on the back. Logan whirled around and shoved her.
“Hey! Logan pushed me!” she cried.
I know why he did it – he felt a bump and assumed he was being targeted, so he lashed out. But, I told him as we drove home, that’s no excuse.
A few days later, his preschool teachers confirmed it for me. Though they weren’t aware of any changes to his diet, they’d noticed much more aggression in the past couple weeks. When Jason and I heard that, we locked eyes and both said, “Milk.”
I hate that we have to again take milk away from him, and ice cream, too. I hate messing with his body this way—I wish we’d never reintroduced milk, raw or not. While the lactose didn’t upset his system, the casein still most definitely did. I suppose a little good did come out of our experiment: further confirmation that biomedical interventions do have a big impact.