Friday, October 30, 2009

Chickenless Cook of the Week: Anonymous

That's right, anonymous. No pictures. No name. No identifying features whatsoever. Just a lovely stock photo of cows in a field.

Now, it's not that this person chooses to remain anonymous... on the contrary, his home page has his name and picture right on the banner. I'm the fussy freddy behind all the discretion, and with good reason. This week's chickenless cook is technically a criminal.

First, a crash course in civics:

A long, long time ago, back when people didn't understand what germs were and thought they were the work of the devil or something, they used to keep their dairy cows in unsanitary conditions and feed them items that the FDA would not deem safe for their consumption today. (Not that the condition of your average cow is so hot in the US at present, either; but for the sake of argument, let's say dairy farms are basically cleaner than they were at the turn of the century). Folks in cities frequently got sick from milk that had been transported from rural areas. Up sprung the practices of pasteurization and homogenization. Big bad creepy-crawlies like typhoid stayed out of the milk supply, farmers were still allowed to transport their milk long distances, and for a long time everyone was content with the arrangement.

But as Bob Dylan would say, "Don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin." Today, organizations like Real Milk argue vehemently that the benefits of raw dairy outweigh the risks, as long as sanitary standards are upheld.

Trouble is, they're not allowed to test this theory. Sale of raw dairy for human consumption is illegal in a number of areas throughout Europe and the United States, all the territories of Australia, and all the territories of Canada. In my home state of Florida, only criminals deal in the raw.

Enter my anonymous cook of the week.

An acupuncturist by trade, he started volunteering on farms years ago, and developed a side business selling local products such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, and- you guessed it- raw dairy. Anyone who wants to partake can sign up on his website. Every two weeks he schleps around picking up from farms (all are within a three-hour radius). Customers can then pick up their pre-ordered contraband at his Altamonte Springs home.

Let's take a side trip and discuss the logistics of this business for a moment. Surely he uses less gas fetching your food from local sources than a chain grocery store uses importing your food across the globe. Thumbs up so far. However, those thumbs are attached to hands that are not "on". You still won't understand where your food comes from, any more than if you had bought it at Super Wal-Mart. You won't get to judge for yourself the living conditions of any animals involved, or whether the fertilizer they use on their plants is organic. You are entrusting your health and ethics to a third party. Thumbs down on that- no matter how trustworthy your third party happens to be, perpetuating a "get it all in one spot" mindset discourages diligent research and, by extension, responsible eating.

So far, I have thumbs pointing in each direction. Here's where your thumbs come in.

I considered expense when deciding whether or not to use this service. When you buy directly from a farmer, there's no middleman to jack up the price. Now, if you're a busy person, chances are it's either because you have a job that keeps you that way or are a single parent with a steadily-working spouse. In either case, you may find it worth paying a bit more for the convenience of attaining assuredly-local food from one source. In my case... well, I have more time than money, so my thumbs went down. This is a personal rather than a societal consideration, and I thought it would interest my readers to spread the idea around. Perhaps you would like to patronize a business like this in your neck of the woods. Perhaps you would even like to start one. In either case, I would strongly support you, even though I don't happen to be the ideal customer for your services.

I would also like to hear from your thumbs as far as the legal issue is concerned. We're moving back into the realm of societal consideration now, but the reason I saved this for last is because I'm not sure where I stand in the raw dairy debate. I am more than okay with the legal sale of booze and cigarettes, so long as their labels clearly warn of the health hazards. But I'm not crazy about the idea of selling something that could cause a typhoid outbreak. Potential benefits include increased nutritional value and assistance with immunization... both important, to be sure, but worth being legally allowed to place your children in danger of life-threatening disease?

If that were the whole story, I would say no. But I don't know the whole story.

What have you heard? I understand that mostly small farms engage in this activity, so is it possible that the risks of consuming raw dairy are being exaggerated by lobbyists working for large corporations? Or are raw dairy traffickers a health menace, as deserving of punishment for their crimes as drug dealers?

In an earlier post, I asked you to leave a kind word for my cook of the week; and I would still ask that if you can't say something nice about him personally, don't say anything at all. I chose him for a reason: because he is one chickenless SOB. No matter what can be said about the legality of his business practices, I personally admire him for helping people get the local foods they appreciate and deserve.

That being said, would you use a service like his? If not, is it due to any of the factors I've mentioned, or is there something I haven't considered? What is your opinion on raw dairy in general? On local dieting? Please feel free to leave a comment or write

Thanks for taking the time to read this in between trips to the costume shop or the party supply store. Happy Halloween and look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Beat the eggs. Whip the cream. Show no mercy.


Mae said...

The French have been eating raw milk cheeses the entire time that the US, Australia, etc have been working harder to outlaw it. This leaves us with bland, flavorless...and essentially dead cheese. Cheeses that benefit the most from the microcosms of good bacteria out there, like brie and soft goat cheeses, bear the brunt. As you mention, though, there are lots of co-op style creameries you can buy raw milk/cheese from that work around the laws!

Peas Love Carrots

linda said...

I am all about raw milk- I love love love it! Maybe I'm a bad mom, but I give it to my one year old regularly and he loves it too. We're super lucky in Seattle to have several legal resources for raw dairy (they just have to disclaim it) and I cook with it almost exclusively for the improved flavor. I think there are so many bigger issues at hand that the FDA should focus on and let us have our delicious dairy goodness.

Tasty Trix said...

I'm with you ... this is a complicated issue and people get very emotional about it. The fact is though, that if you drink raw milk you may get sick. Should the government regulate whether or not you take that chance? I guess that's the real question. Probably not, but there have been instances of children getting very sick from raw milk. Whatever nutritional etc. benefits you get from raw milk could certainly be had from other foods ... plus, there is a whole school of nutritional thought that contends - quite persuasively - that humans have no business drinking a product meant to turn little calves into giant cows. I use milk in cooking, but I do not and would not use raw milk. I buy grass fed, non rBGH dairy, but definitely not raw. It's just not worth the risk to me. And doesn't something chemical happen in raw cheese having to do with the enzymes that makes it a different thing altogether? So ... does that answer your question? (not!)

Brie: Le Grand Fromage said...

I'm a BIG believer in raw milk and wish it would become legal to drink in FL - and wish we could once again import the raw cheeses of France & Europe. Drinking raw milk from a clean source is no more dangerous than any other food product that is maintained in a sanitary environment. It also has numerous health benefits that can easily be found through a Google search. I would much rather take a "risk" and drink raw, organic milk than head down to the supermarket and pick up prepackaged spinach, peanuts, etc. that have been seen on the news recently as causing illnesses and death. My thumbs point way up on raw milk.

Anonymous said...

I grew up on raw milk and I think it's the best. Of course I love raw milk cheeses and get them whenever I can find those!

Tasty Trix said...

I think one important thing to note is that the nutrients in which milk is most beneficial are not affected by pasteurization. Some of the vitamin A and C content is affected, but milk isn't a great source of these anyway ... That said, I don't think it should be illegal - after all tobacco's legal, why not raw milk? But I do think that people tend to exaggerate the benefits and ascribe almost holy grail status to things in their "natural" state, forgetting that plague and poison ivy are natural too ... I'm a big believer in organic, pesticide-free etc. etc., but I'm also a believer in some of the benefits of science. Treehugger has a good piece on the whole thing, concluding that "The risks of raw milk are rare but real, the health benefits are unproven."
It's a personal choice, really.

Tasty Trix said...

And ps! Raw cheese is different from raw milk because the enzymes do supposedly "kill" the potentially harmful bacteria. Organic Valley Raw cheeses are available at my Whole Foods.

Tamar1973 said...

I can't drink pasteurized/homogenized milk or eat pasteurized cheese or I get sick. I can drink raw milk and eat raw milk cheese with no ill effects whatsoever.

I believe that many people who have lactose intolerance (or believe they do) actually have that problem because pasteurization kills the natural enzymes in the milk that make it more digestible.

I think raw milk should be legalized and the government should butt out. The raw milk dairies here in California are far more sanitary than the dairies where milk for pasteurized milk are raised.

Vegetable Matter said...

Great article. I'm conflicted. I love raw-milk cheese. But I would never give my kids raw milk. So I guess I'm in the Over 18 category -- adults should be able to assume the risk if they so choose. The government allows the sale of cigarettes, but not raw milk cheese???