Milk is Not a Crime
Michael Schmidt, a maverick dairy farmer in Southern Ontario, has been attracting attention for his refusal to abandon selling raw milk even after a court order. As it turns out, raw (unpasteurized) milk is illegal in Canada because it may contain Salmonella, E. Coli and Listeria.
Schmidt remains defiant, however, comparing himself to both Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. in his passionate, milk-chugging protests on the steps of the Newmarket courthouse. He demands the “highest penalty you can find” from the Ontario judges, and maintains that he will not budge until the law is changed. The local judge, I imagine, is not thrilled.
Raw milk is a shifty, slippery beast of an issue.
Pasteurization, as a process, is hard to argue with – it does in fact kill the bacteria that can be contained within milk. Yet there legions of devotees that swear pasteurization neuters the indefinable, undescribed qualities of natural milk that make it so beneficial. A farmer I once worked for attributed his longevity to drinking milk every day, adding that he was convinced that if he had drank raw milk every day of his life, he would look ten years younger.
It comes down to a question of control – do we trust the cow? We don’t wholly trust the cow for it’s flesh, which is why we have to cook it. How can we be certain that the stuff that comes out of a cow’s udder is safe for human consumption? Do we have to alter it? Pasteur would argue that if we have a way to make a product that we are expected to consume safer, it is idiotic not to do it. The unflinching organicist would argue that nature has designed these foods better than a human being ever could.
Pasteurization took hold in this country for good reason – infant mortality was skyrocketing because babies were drinking the pale milk that came from cows fed off distillery waste products. Extensive marketing campaigns depicting clean, shiny dairy farms maintained by men in white coats eventually swung public conciousness to the degree that pastuerized milk became the only safe standard for milk consumption.
Like slaughterhouse reform brought on by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, milk safety reform came for a very good reason to fix the problems of a dangerous industrial system. But by treating brewer’s milk on par with milk from healthy, cared-for cows, those same ostensibly necessary laws served to squash local traditions and rural food systems.
I, for one, drink raw milk with abandon. I believe that milk from grass-fed, cows raised in a humane, safe and intelligent manner is safe for human consumption. Large quantities of dangerous pathogens may enter in the milk of cows chained to an industrial food system, but as for the little guys, I’ll take a biological system where a stable population of mammalian bacteria keeps itself in check. But that’s my decision – others may differ. Neither I nor Michael Schmidt would force people to drink raw milk (okay, I haven’t met Michael Schmidt) but for the government to come down with the final word on this issue is ludicrous. Until the chains of oppression have been broken and we live in grassy fields where milk flows like wine, I say to Mr. Schmidt: drink on, you crazy diamond.