May 17, 2013
Should a person be able to eat any food he wants? Is it the role of the state to prevent the informed consumption of certain foods? These are two issues that I come across when I travel into different countries. An especially poignant example can be found between Slovakia and the United States on the issue of raw milk.
This widely-respected doctor uses quotation marks to distinguish between pasteurized “milk” and raw milk. He’s not sure that the former deserves the same name as the later, the reasons of which he points to in this article that – 1. Attacks the public relations departments of the dairy industry for leading consumers to believe that pasteurized milk is so good for us while 2. The lawyers and lobbyists of the dairy industry see to it that raw milk is virtually inaccessible to that same consumer.
Would your grandparents have ever said that Slovakia is freer than America? Most likely not, but today the story is a little different.
A vast array of health experts advocate for raw milk from small dairies where cows are pastured on grass. At the same time, parents all over the US risk being persecuted as criminals for going to great lengths to see to it that their children, in their formative years, have access to raw milk instead of the pasteurized puss, feces, dead microbes, antibiotics, and other additives that gets fortified and sold to us as “milk.” I’m not sure you or I are hurt when a third person and his family buy raw milk, yet the government vilifies these folks on behalf of the dairy industry, which doesn’t like having its product attacked even when the attack is accurate.
Big businesses have long used government as a way to prevent competitors from gaining a foothold in the market and the dairy industry is doing exactly that by insisting that the small family farms that make raw milk be penalized for not following the processes that are used in the dairy industry’s sometimes very disgusting factory farms. Pasteurizing is the only way to make industrial milk production appear safe. Pasteurizing is not necessary on well-run small farms to ensure safety.
Can people get sick from raw milk? Yes, it’s possible. More importantly, people can and have in recent years gotten very sick and died from pasteurized milk. In a free county that doesn’t give me the authority to outlaw what might be harmful. If anything is to be outlawed it should be the unsanitary milk that is superheated and then sold to us, or the pink slime, or the mass produced meat parts that are chemically sanitized and turned into chicken nuggets.
Heck, I find the poorly handled, mass produced meat from factories that is turned into steak to be pretty disgusting as well, especially when compared to the amazing meat that is raised by good farmers on a smaller scale.
But honestly, I would hate to see any of that nastiness outlawed either, because as disgusting as I find it, people are responsible for making decisions for themselves. There are people who want to go to Taco Bell and purchase MSG and cumin seasoned pink slime in a crunchy shell topped with guac out of a gun. While that thought disgusts me, I have no interest in using the government to stop them. Just because you don’t die today from those foods does not make those foods safe or healthful.
This is an issue that illustrates Slovakia as a freer country than the US. In the US this raw milk group, this dairy, this farm, and many others have been raided for giving their customers exactly what they paid for – an alternative to the large corporate dairies that take a mixture of feces, puss, water, and nutrients and then cook it to the point where it loses important aspects of those nutrients. Some of the nutrients are then replaced with additives. They then call it safe because not so many people die immediately from drinking it (unless you consider the 1985 Chicago Salmonella outbreak from pasteurized milk that started at 116 people affected, was soon 2,000, and eventually affected some 200,000 people, this multi-state Salmonella outbreak from pasteurized milk in the Atlantic Northeast, this Massachusetts Listeriosis pasteurized milk outbreak, this Oregon pasteurized milk outbreak of Salmonella, or this list of ten other disease outbreaks transmitted through pasteurized milk).
When milk is pasteurized you kill the “good” bacteria along with the “bad” bacteria, thus making the milk a good medium for the bad bacteria in an outbreak. There’s no good bacteria in the pasteurized milk to counter the bad bacteria.
I was terrified as a child to see someone close to me get deathly ill from exactly that type of outbreak. Let me state that again. Someone close to me almost died from innocently drinking pasteurized milk, a product of proven danger and questionable health benefits. Some people sensibly avoid that risk by buying the highest quality dairy products available.
When dealing in high quality dairy products, the great risk however is not infectious disease, rather it is that you might get caught by the government. You might get caught buying or selling a product that the vendor carefully made and that the consumer eagerly wants. There is no victim in this equation. In a free county, two people can make a contract with each other in Illinois and no one in Springfield, Illinois or Washington, D.C. has any input on what those two individuals agreed to. The contract, the agreement, the deal is between them. In a free country, a free man, a free woman can approach a farmer and legally buy any agricultural product that farmer’s willing to sell.
Decent Americans have their lives ruined, their business closed, their property confiscated, and often wind up in jail simply because they want to produce clean milk for people who realize what a load of rubbish pasteurized “milk” is. In Slovakia, a country that has been little more than two decades out of authoritarian rule, we see a very different picture and boy does that make me scratch my head, because the country I grew up considering the freest country in the world really doesn’t sound like it in this example.
It is a travesty that just one person in the U.S. might be subject to government harassment for selling a product considered as healthful and in demand as raw milk. You might respond “Yeah, but what is healthful is always subjective,” which in reality is even more reason that I advocate for the legalization of the buying and selling of raw milk. No one has a monopoly on determining what is healthful. What a person chooses to use as his or her food and medicine is unique to that person, and that person alone gets to decide what is allowed or not allowed to be consumed, at least in a free country.
Have you ever wondered how those “dairy creamers” could sit out on the table at many American restaurants and not go bad? It’s because they are so heavily pasteurized and then immediately packed that nothing could live in it if it tried. They are ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT). As Michael Pollan so aptly points out – things that can’t go bad are not good for you. A necessary aspect of food is that it can become food for all kinds of other critters in nature (eg. microbes). UHT milk does not pass that test.
It was fascinating to learn about this product when first moving to Slovakia. With a shelf life of years – yes, this milk will last for years and still taste the same as the day it came out of the nozzle at the factory, which is not the same taste as milk fresh from the teat – this milk is convenient if you live in a space station and can’t go out for milk once a week. Also, it allows you to stock up if you simply prefer to buy many months of milk at a time or if you go through milk slowly. There are some pretty clear benefits to this UHT milk product and in a way, the widespread availability of UHT makes the Slovak dairy market in some ways more advanced than the dairy market in the US.
My guess is that UHT milk became popular during communism as a method of dealing with the problem of predicting demand accurately and supplying demand sufficiently in the absence of a market. The price mechanism in a market helps entrepreneurs and consumers plan and ration. In the absence of a market there tend to be no tools that can be used for planning as effectively as price can. The common substitute is a government planning board operating on the basis of rough estimates and hard to make predictions. This is the cause of the famed bread lines of the Eastern Bloc, or the difficulty in being able to regularly acquire seemingly simply items such as underwear or nylons. The vast amount of information created through the mechanism of price in a free market is, as of now, impossible to replicate as accurately any other way. If this milk last years in your pantry, it can also last years in a warehouse and help out in times of milk shortages caused by poor government planning, which was often blamed on all kinds of other rascals other than poor government planning.
Equating the rise of UHT milk in Slovakia to poor government planning is just conjecture. It’s simply me taking general principles that I’ve observed and applying them in similar circumstances. This is a principle such as “communist central planning generally fails to replicate what markets do with price and therefore communist central planners had to come up with short cuts.” For a communist government to make UHT milk the norm would fit this principle. Maybe someone who lived as an adult during communism could help elucidate how Slovakia came to have UHT milk. My sources tell me that milk men were the norm in some areas of Czechoslovakia during communism, which suggests that UHT, at least in some areas, might have increased in popularity only after communism.
Nonetheless, today in Slovakia every store that sells food will have several brands of UHT milk. Big stores will carry dozens of brands and variations, most of them on room temperature shelves. UHT milk is sometimes also sold on refrigerated shelves and marketed as milk in need of refrigeration to make it seem more fresh, but this is only a marketing technique. UHT is pasteurized at 275 F (HTST – High Temperature Short Time – milk “flash” pasteurized at 161 F is also sold in Slovakia). These shelf stable, long life milks have their critics. Still, plenty of people seem to believe that UHT is the right “milk” for them. Should its critics be able to prevent it from being available to those who want it? I should hope not. In a free country, like Slovakia, that would not happen. In a free country, he who wants a product is able to buy the product.
The milk I want to look at more closely is the kind of milk that is illegal in the US. Many government bodies in the US put up significant barriers that outright make this milk impossible to come by (eg. raiding farms, arresting farmers, and confiscating inventory, plant, property, and equipment) or make it very difficult (by not outright outlawing its consumption but outlawing it’s sale, as is the case in my home state of Illinois).
I realize that this is not an issue that is on the radar screens of the average American. There is, nonetheless, a minority of consumers who are passionate about the topic and have good reason to be. There are so many legal hurdles to the purchase of raw milk in so many parts of the US that when I ran for public office back in 2008, I many times was approached by ‘unknown citizens’ who informed me about this topic. They have a story that the media seems to not want to tell and that the media does injustice to when it does tell it.
Tremendous effort is expended to stop these average Americans from buying the milk that they want to feed to their families. The thought of treating these decent people like criminals and preventing them from buying the milk they want from the farmer they want is so preposterous that I feel foolish for even writing about this topic. This level of oppression on such a small issue, such a non-issue, just doesn’t seem like something that could happen in America. It does though. It does happen in America, which makes me question what kind of commitment we really have to freedom and how accurate it is to call my homeland, America, the freest country in the world.
In contrast, in Slovakia, you can buy this “dangerous” product OUT OF A VENDING MACHINE.
I’ll take as an example this vending machine shown in Namestovo, Slovakia, a county seat in Upper Orava where the Slovak state runs up against the Polish border and an interesting culture of people, the Goral exist. The Goral people are a topic for discussion another time. While Namestovo is the county seat of Upper Orava, with a bustling regional bus station, to a traveler from a place like Chicago, it really seems like a very middle of nowhere kind of place. It’s a nice place with a beautiful rolling countryside. It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to find America put to shame.
I wonder if anyone reading this, like me, has spent time at the Namestovo bus station and has stared in amazement at an unpasteurized milk dispensing vending machine while saying to yourself ”Seriously? ‘Backwards Slovakia’ has raw milk right there out in the open for anyone to buy while in the US selling raw milk is enough to get beaten by thugs and arrested? What gives?” During the course of that sentence you’ll have seen one or two people come up to buy milk. It astounds me how many people, in what seems to be a constant flow, get milk from that spigot. It’s popular. This isn’t some weird cult of people, this is a lot of people and normal people.
I don’t know if I would drink this unpasteurized milk from this vending machine. I have too many unanswered questions. Where did the milk come from? What do the cows eat? Organic corn locally grown, GMO corn, a soy feed from China, a beef-based feed from England, grass in good weather and hay in bad weather? How are they cared for? What kind of hygiene practices are followed? I like to know as much as possible about the foods I buy, especially the animal products. Toxins bio-accumulate so much more effectively through animal products than through vegetables. There’s simply a greater risk involved in not paying attention to the source of your animal products.
Pasteurization is great if you won’t take the time to know where your milk comes from, as is the case with most people, which is why pasteurized milk is the norm. If consumers don’t know the farmer then it makes sense to pasteurize to be safe.
This vending machine isn’t my ideal. However, that should not stop others from using it. That’s the point here. In a free country, the tyranny of the majority (people who don’t want raw milk) is not used to oppress a minority (people who want raw milk).
In fact, I want to further underscore that I have little interest in buying raw milk at all, ever. My complaint is that I don’t consider it my place in the world to have the government push others around and tell them what is and is not good for them. It’s not anyone else’s place either. I know I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. Furthermore, to take this down a slippery slope, of self interest, I want America to be more free because I want to be more free. Niemoller wrote it about Central Europe during World War II and repeated these words regularly during the following half century.
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
“Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
“Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
If one were to drink cow’s milk, researchers believes that the best cow milk for the human body, all other things being equal, is raw, full fat, fermented dairy from Jersey cows, Gurnsey cows, or others that produce a2 beta-cassein instead of a1 (such as Holsteins or Friesians). The entire article is interesting for anyone with trouble with milk or anyone who drinks milk. Marek Bennett’s babka at Coffee Dumplings and Komiks points out that a good way to deal with raw milk to make it safe for consumption is to ferment it. The fermentation process creates an environment that tends to be beneficial for bacteria that is helpful to your body and harmful to bacteria that is harmful to your body. Please do not try to ferment pasteurized milk. Because the much of the flora of the milk has been destroyed, the milk will not ferment.I tend to be particular about these issues and will need to be further convinced before I will drink the milk from that Namestovo vending machine, even in a fermented state.
I’m not sure if I believe in drinking raw milk out of this vending machine without knowing more about that milk, but I sure as heck believe you should be able to drink it if you want. Specifically, I believe there must be no laws preventing a person from consuming raw milk. The US isn’t being much of a leader on this issue of letting people eat whole, healthful, natural foods, so I am appreciative that Slovakia is being a leader on this issue. Thank you Slovakia and thank you to whoever it is that put a raw milk vending machine in the Namestovo bus station. You are setting an example for my country and I’m sure many Americans will read this article and aspire to see their homeland be a little bit more advanced like Slovakia.