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The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized

Apr. 8, 2008

by Slow Food USA staffer Makalé Faber Cullen

This month’s Harper’s magazine features an excellent article by Nathanael Johnson who takes on the North American black market in raw milk and it’s odd bedfellow… high tech “bio-active” dairy.

The defense of the fresh stuff (aka "green top milk") has been a steady, under-the-radar activity and a 20-year Slow Food campaign since the US Food and Drug Administration banned interstate sales of unpasteurized milk in the 1980s. Most of us, in fact, have been raised to believe pasteurization is a good thing. It protects us from salmonella and E-coli poisoning. It prolongs the shelf life of dairy products, which means more people in more places have access to them.

But as Johnson explains, it’s not the fresh milk from a Holstein grazing on grass that’s producing health threats. It’s the other way around. To put it simply, grass-grazing cows eat in a way that allows them to produce milk containing enzymes that are often beneficial to us humans. “Dirty milk,” an insider’s phrase, comes from modern dairies which, in their clamor for high volume and high profit, use pasteurization as license to be unsanitary, to feed inappropriate food to cattle and engage in other unsavory activities. Ever colorful, Johnson says, “After a century of pasteurization, modern dairies, to put it bluntly, are covered in shit. Most have a viscous lagoon full of fit. Cows lie in it.” And with that, Johnson navigates us through the public health thicket of industrial milk production and the volatility of raw milk markets, with regular tours through the anatomy of cattle and how we try to alter it.

The issue is far, far more complex than I’ve described above and Johnson remains respectably objective. Please read the article. Johnson is an entertaining writer. His piece is reference quality and yet doesn’t compromise a bit on good storytelling.

I support the idea of people’s right to sell and buy raw milk and raw milk products—often of finer quality since the proteins and sugars haven’t been altered by heat. To reference Gil Scott Heron’s potent and poignant 1971 release, The Revolution will not be Televised is to commit to taking the investigation and the story a bit further. Slow Food USA’s Raw Milk Cheese Producers Association is trying to do just that –change by the producer for the producer.

While thinking about Gil Scott and the fight for justice, I’m reminded of a February post about the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. debacle. Industrial food workers, whether they’re in dairies or meat packing plants deserve humane treatment as much as animals do. What’s the story on dairy workers forced to put in 19-hour days in these "lagoons?"

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