By Alex Lewin
I recently read The Raw Milk Revolution , by David E. Gumpert I recommend it to anyone who is interested in raw milk; in the viability of small-scale farming in the US today; or, more broadly, in the balance between individual rights on the one hand, and the state's role in protecting public health on the other—a civil liberties issue, really.
Gumpert describes a few specific clashes of raw milk producers with regulatory agencies, and tracks a few specific pieces of raw-milk-related legislation. By shifting his focus among these cases with excellent dramatic timing, he has given his book some of the suspense of an episode of Law and Order, sometimes leaving us on the edge of our seats. He has succeeded in writing an engaging, almost titillating, book about raw milk practice and policy—quite an accomplishment.
His bias, which he makes no effort to hide, is in favor of due process and Constitutionally-guaranteed individual liberties, and against overreaching government agencies, unaccountable bureaucrats, and thug-like police and federal agents. Although he personally believes, for political and philosophical reasons, that people should have access to raw milk, he remains even-handed in his reporting; he is able to explore the actions, motivations, and inconsistencies of both camps. Thus his book is a valuable document, and not a screed.
He makes many astute observations. The first is one that I've made before: personal accounts of the effects of food on health are often discounted as being anecdotal, but in fact can be more revealing and meaningful than scientific studies. For instance, if someone tells me that they used to have asthma, and that when they started drinking raw milk it went away, and that whenever they stop drinking raw milk it comes back, I would find this more interesting than, say, a study of rates of asthma and raw milk consumption over time in a large population, in which I gain little or no information about who exactly had asthma and who drank raw milk.
Another observation he made was of the profoundly different ways that different people look at health, illness, food, treatment, and pharmaceuticals. In the below excerpt, he is interviewing a California regulator (who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that he remain anonymous):
[Gumpert to regulator:] What about the studies indicating that children who consume raw milk have fewer chronic health problems, such as the recent major European study suggesting that raw milk reduces the incidence of asthma in children? The response: "Isn't it better to go to your doctor and get asthma medicine than to take the risk of drinking raw milk?"
It is hard to know how to span the gulf between people who seek the keys to health, wellness, and prevention on the one hand, and people who would always rather seek treatment on the other.
The tension that lies at the root of the raw milk debate, and indeed at the root of many debates these days, is the following: In the absence of conclusive, overwhelming evidence one way or the other, should the default stance of government be to permit, or to prohibit? I am quite certain where I stand on this question.
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