The Raw Milk Revolution (Book Review)

Thomas Jefferson said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." But in the modern age, it is the flow of money, rather than blood, which mainly determines the outcome of questions of freedom versus bureaucracy. David E. Gumpert raises the curtain on the workings of state and federal agencies responding to what seems a simple question: should American citizens be allowed the personal freedom to choose to drink raw milk?

It seems like the founding fathers would make easy work of that one: an individual makes a fully informed decision, choosing to accept certain risks in return for what they believe to be yet greater benefits, which can in no way do harm to any other person. Is that not the very definition of individual liberty? What Gumpert reveals will make you question the very premise upon which the United States of America is founded.A Compelling Story

Isn't it curious that at this juncture in our culture's evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown organic tomatoes and raw milk are not?
--from the forward, by Joel Salatin

I entered this book expecting a treatise whose pages would be turned only by a compelling curiosity on the issue of raw milk. Instead, I found 228 pages packed with interesting and personal stories, knit together by an overarching philosophical question: can individual choice survive when the agents of government raise their sights against a minority practicing their beliefs?

David E. Gumpert's journalistic credentials include work for BusinessWeek.com, the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. He has followed the evolution of the Raw Milk Revolution up close and personally on his website The Complete Patient. His professionalism and depth of knowledge permit him to bring the facts and explanations regarding raw milk in America to light with no hysteria and little hype.

The Ugly Side of Food-borne Illness

Drinking raw milk or eating raw milk products is like playing Russian roulette with your health.
--John Sheehan, director of the FDA's division of plant and dairy food safety

Gumpert does not hide the disturbing consequences of the diseases which can be caused by pathogens in food. The Raw Milk Revolution includes heart-rending excerpts from the journal of a mother of a child sickened by Hemolytic Urea Syndrome (HUS), a condition related to E. coli O157:H7. It also follows the woman's own psychological struggle with her role as her only son's brush with death challenges her beliefs in food choice. The question of children's illnesses plays a key role in the struggle for rights to raw milk, both because children do not exercise informed consent and because illnesses related to raw milk are disproportionately expressed in children and people with weakened immune systems. An aside: anecdotal evidence suggests that people accustomed to consuming raw milk are less likely to succumb to illness when exposed to the same foods that have made others ill (see p. 126 in particular).

Gumpert also examines the reactions and opinions of the farmers to the potential consequences of their product. The book reveals how the herd-sharing community and the consumers of raw milk pull together to support their suppliers when the government descends with a force that can be likened only to the handling of illegal drug dealers (a vehemence which follows the FDA Director's inflammatory comparison with Russian roulette). Readers of The Raw Milk Revolution will come to feel that the players in this drama are friends as the intimate stories of each individual battle are brought to light.

The Reassuring Statistics

In this country, we have the right to purchase cancer-causing, heart-attack-causing, diabetes-causing, obesity-causing foods, because we enjoy freedom of choice.
--Ch. 6, a raw milk consumer challenging the government position on raw milk

Many choices in life present risks. If driving a car or taking prescription medicines were regulated to the same degree that raw milk is regulated, we would all have to walk and many miracles of modern medicine would be banned. The Raw Milk Revolution examines the source data on raw milk illnesses from many different viewpoints, enabling the reader to follow the pro-milk conclusions as well as to establish their individual position on the facts.

For example, The Raw Milk Revolution reveals that Listeria -- a feared cause of miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth -- is ten times more likely to be caused by deli meats, on a per serving basis. The per serving data is particularly interesting, because the low consumption rates of raw milk mean that raw milk illnesses are concordantly rare. The book compares the FDA reactions to well-publicized and wide-spread episodes of food poisoning from burgers, bagged spinach, and peanut butter to the concurrent limited cases of food poisoning epidemiologically linked to raw milk (usually, no pathogens are found in the raw milk supply to serve as direct evidence of a link).

The Frightening Conclusions

Although anecdotal evidence is not sufficient to confirm a hypothesis, it is a valid means for generating one.
--Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrient-dense food advocacy group

Although the raw milk story has not yet ended, The Raw Milk Revolution foreshadows the inevitable: small farmers faced with the nearly unlimited resources of the government agencies cannot win. As farms fail, brave souls to fill their shoes will also flinch at the burden which targeted harassment creates on top of the usual challenges of succeeding with traditional farming methods.

The cost of this failure will not be merely the loss of an alternative beverage. If no one is permitted to sell or drink raw milk, the community of people who could be the source of proof for the claims of raw milk's health-giving properties will not exist. It can never be scientifically investigated if there is truth behind the anecdotal evidence of protection from diseases such as asthma (a nearly proven link -- but one which requires raw milk consumption from a young age), chronic allergies, autoimmune diseases, or even diabetes or heart attacks. The curious potential of raw milk to "vaccinate" or create resistance to a host of food-borne illnesses will remain mere theoretical speculation.

In the end, the frightening conclusion is not about the dangers of raw milk. It is about the danger of losing our freedom to choose.

More on Raw Milk:
Raw Milk Risks and Benefits Explained
The Milk Police---Smuggling Raw Milk across State Lines
Do You Trust Raw Milk?
Amish Farmer Challenges Raw Milk Laws
How to Be an Eco-Friendly Milk Consumer

Tags: Book Reviews | Community Supported Agriculture | Diseases | Drinks | Farming | Food Safety

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