Apparently there is a movement afoot of milk connoisseurs, people who like to live on the edge and who believe that pasteurization—the heating process that destroys all those nasty bacteria and germs—also destroys the flavor of milk. And so, despite the fact that it’s illegal in half the US states, there is still a brisk underground trade in the lactic hootch.
Harper’s Magazine looks at the trade in raw milk as well the over-the-top enforcement of laws against it.
In October 2006, Michigan officials destroyed a truckload of Richard Hebron’s unpasteurized dairy. The previous month, the Ohio Department of Agriculture shut down Carol Schmitmeyer’s farm for selling raw milk. Cincinnati cops also swooped in to stop Gary Oaks in March 2006 as he unloaded raw milk in the parking lot of a local church. When bewildered residents gathered around, an officer told them to step away from “the white liquid substance.”
I don’t feel strongly about the “right” to have and consume raw milk, but does law enforcement have to deploy the same tactics they use with drug smugglers and terrorists? It’s an effect of the militarization of police, I think.
One interesting aspect of the argument of the milk purists is that people who live on farms develop fewer autoimmune disorders than those who don’t and they believe this is because they are being exposed to bacteria that their bodies learn to fight off from an early age. Many microbiologists and immunologists have made similar arguments about First World urbanites living in super-clean, antiseptic environments weakening themselves in preparation for being laid low by diseases our ancestors would have shrugged off without notice.
For our part, Melanie and I have never been the type of parent who freaks out about our kids touching “unclean” surfaces. If food falls to the floor, we pick it up, wipe it off, and pop it in her mouth. (Obviously not in places like hospitals or high-traffic areas such as malls or restaurants.) And I will point out that Isabella has hardly been sick at all her entire life, perhaps a few days total of sniffles and raised temperatures, which is a far cry from the horror stories I hear from other parents. Is it because we aren’t afraid to expose her to the bacteria found in the wild? Maybe, maybe not.
So maybe there is something to this unpasteurization movement. For the moment, I’ll stick to the organic, BGH-free milk we drink now, mainly because the taste is so good. But if it’s better for us too, that’s even better.