A Choice to Go Raw

When Walt showed me the letter he and Jan had received from the state of Tennessee, one of the things that really stood out was the threat of criminal charges. Really? Criminal charges? For selling butter?

I guess one of the first images that popped into my mind on seeing that was a SWAT team raid on the Evergreen Dairy truck where officers would go in with guns at the ready only after tossing in tear gas to keep those dangerous raw milk people under control. But that would never happen. Our law enforcement personnel have a lot more truly dangerous criminals to worry about. They have to prioritize these things, and raw milk should be very far down the list.

And then I saw this. Wow. Really? This really happened? Unfortunately, it really did. I tried to tell myself that at least this happened in California instead of in Tennessee. But then again, California is a lot more liberal state, so if this could happen there, maybe my SWAT team image wasn’t so far off base.

The story from LA also brings up an important point about why people might want raw milk, other raw milk products, and other “dangerous” raw foods. Which foods have been in the news repeatedly over the past few years due to recalls that affect huge segments of the country? Which foods have been behind reported epidemics of food-related illness? They’re not raw foods. Instead, they’re the foods that we’re being told are “safer,” because they’re produced in regulated, industrialized facilities. And there are no criminal charges pressed against the people responsible after these recalls of millions of pounds of food.

The issue here isn’t really about raw or unprocessed versus pasteurized. The real issue is about small versus large. If raw milk were produced in the same conditions that pervade the industrialized food system, it would be dangerous. These recalls are proof of that. Small farmers like Walt and Jan are a lot more likely to be truly careful with the sanitation. They’re not depending on the pasteurization process to take care of sanitation shortcomings.

Large versus small has another facet as well. Small farms don’t have representation at government levels. Large farms do in the form of the politically powerful dairy industry. The industry can hire lobbyists. The industry has the money to present a front to uninformed politicians. The industry has the money to fix its problems, but it uses it more often to hide them.

But what this really comes down to is choice. My choice, your choice, to decide what we want to eat, what we want to feed to our families. Personally, I don’t like being told that I’m not intelligent enough to make that choice. I don’t like being told that big business and the government know what’s best for me better than I do. I don’t like being told that foods in which I see both a taste and health benefit aren’t mine to choose.

Sure, the state says that as an owner of a cow share at Evergreen Farm, I still have the right to buy raw whole milk from them. But what the state fails to explain is how that whole milk is any bit safer than skim milk could be. It doesn’t explain why butter, yogurt, half & half, whole cream, and buttermilk are dangerous when whole milk is not. If it’s a matter of processing and safety within that process, why can’t the state inspect that the same way they have to for large dairies where the same processes take place?

According to the wording of the letter sent to Jan and Walt, I can’t even use raw milk to make those products in my own home. That’s right. I can buy raw milk, I can drink raw milk, but I can’t do anything else with it. If I want to break out my Kitchen-Aid and make butter myself and drink the buttermilk that’s leftover, I’m committing a crime. If I want to make homemade yogurt with it, I’m a menace to society. If I want to take it as far as making my own cheese, I’m buying a one-way ticket to jail. If the state has the time to worry about me, that is.

No one is forcing me to buy Jan and Walt’s products. No one is telling me that I have to feed these things to my family. Tell me the risks behind choosing them. Hell, have me sign a waiver that I accept those risks. But don’t insult my intelligence, don’t tell me that I don’t really know what I want. Don’t tell me that I can’t make the things I want with the products I buy.

I want to choose.

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