Tuesday, March 2, 2010

For the record

I was interviewed recently for the Brooklyn Paper about raw milk and the club we belong to, and was quite upset to see the online version of the article (click here) and the copy-cat version on Gothamist.

Perhaps it was all written as a joke, but if so I am not accustomed to journalism of this nature, so all I can do is assume it was meant seriously. The main problem with the article is that it is just brimming with words from the drug-dealers' lexicon, words like traffic, smuggle, contraband, runner, clandestine, etc. I am described as "climbing the ranks," and "controlling" drop-off sites, as well as being referred to as Public Enemy Number 1. Now I am the first person to jump at the chance to actually be a Public Enemy Number 1 for the cause of real food, but for God's sake please let it be because I've actually done something illegal!

I am also described as "weeding out applications who want to 'tear the group apart from the inside,'" a blatant misquote. I said that we screen applicants before giving out sensitive information about the farmers and delivery locations. After all, it is imperative that we protect these farmers who are some of the best, most honest and hardworking people anyone could ever hope to meet. They are the ones taking a brave personal risk, not me as the consumer! It doesn't matter that they are doing nothing illegal by allowing us to purchase delicious raw milk products on their farms. Farms have been investigated and shut down all too often because big companies have made false claims about customers getting sick from using the small farms' raw milk products. It's terrible that this happens, but unfortunately it happens every day somewhere in this country. Even small-scale family farmers who are barely keeping body and soul together are somehow seen as a threat to the grip that the food industry has on the American market. I cannot fathom this level of greed.

To set the record straight, I did not learn about raw milk from the Omnivore's Dilemma; Michael Pollan really dropped the ball by not discussing it. I first became interested in ORGANIC foods from reading OD, but that was many years ago. It was after I had Oliver, and had been taking thyroid medication for a year (which interfered with my labor and delivery), that I picked up The Garden of Fertility and learned about the Weston A. Price Foundation and the traditional, nutrient-dense way of eating that includes raw dairy and other whole, unprocessed foods. This started me on my quest to find a good source of local raw dairy and other foods. The mention of my thyroid condition developing as a result of pregnancy was also incorrect; I developed hypothyroidism as a result of eating a soy-heavy mostly vegetarian diet and taking birth control pills for several years. Fortunately the article did mention that I no longer have to take thyroid medications due to dietary changes, but soy- and hormone-avoidance are also quite important and should be mentioned as well.

I must be allowed to restore the full meaning to the quote at the top about "This goes beyond organic." I was talking about the milk being beyond organic because it is from cows eating grass. Grass-based farming is incredibly important for the environment, the health of the animals, and the health of the people eating the products. This cannot be overemphasized. Everyone is stuck on the word "organic" which is almost devoid of meaning in today's industrial food system and means only that animals are fed grains grown without certain pesticides (137 different types of chemicals are still allowed on industrial organic plantations). We need to get back to small, local family farms that are biodiverse (i.e. growing many kinds of plant foods and animals) in order to have any hope of restoring environmental balance, soil health, the economies of local communities, food security, and health of the people, children especially. Kids are really getting a bad deal in this system -- they are living shorter, sicker lives than their parents, which is incredibly sad. I see kids everywhere with so many health and daily functioning problems it just takes my breath away. There is hope for these children, but it lies in real food, something incredibly hard to come by.

I never had any problem digesting milk as this article claims (I don't know where Stephen came up with this), but when I learned about how milk is produced, the conditions the animals are in, the hormones they receive, etc. and also about how milk is a delicate living food (just like human breastmilk) and highly damaged nutritionally by pasteurization and homogenization I simply couldn't continue using regular supermarket dairy. Even organic dairy is mainly from cows that are in confinement and aren't permitted to graze on pasture, so their milk is of dubious nutritional quality. It's the cow eating grass that makes milk high in vitamin A, and being outdoors in sunshine that makes it rich in vitamin D. "Fortification" is unnecessary when the cows are allowed to live like cows should live! And yes, these wonderful fat-soluble vitamins are found -- you guessed it -- in the FAT.

This story generates a dangerous misconception that it is illegal to consume raw milk. Have I mentioned yet that it is NOT ILLEGAL TO CONSUME RAW MILK, even in New York State? This is the only thing we have to be thankful for in this whole situation: that as hard as the government and the corporations controlling the government have made it, many of us can actually still obtain good foods that are brimming with nutrients and flavor and are still in their natural state of unprocessed perfection. If we were to live a few miles to the northeast in the state of Connecticut, we could purchase raw milk in stores -- but alas, we live here. The arbitrary rules around raw milk that vary according to slight differences in geographic location are rather ridiculous, which is why this entire story feels to me like a made-up issue on a slow news week.

It is time for the U.S. to wake up to the fact that in most of the world people are eating real foods, produced on their own land or relatively close by on small farms (or of course harvested from the ocean), mostly unprocessed, and not sterilized out of all useful nutritional value. We need to get over this fear of dirt and germs and bacteria and all that other real stuff that makes us squirm and reach for the hand sanitizer. Did you know that kids who are around dirt (i.e. living on farms or allowed to play in the dirt) have stronger immune systems? We need dirt! We need microorganisms! Our sanitation obsession is killing us, from our insides out. People rely on raw dairy and raw cultured dairy in many countries as an important source of nourishment, beneficial bacteria, live enzymes, rich fat-soluble vitamins, digestible proteins, and so much more -- and they are all the healthier for it. A lot of immigrants come to Brooklyn from countries where it is totally the norm to get local raw dairy and other great farm products (like lard for example, and eggs from chickens who are actually running around in clover and eating worms), and are extremely disconcerted at the complete lack of good food in our neighborhood grocery stores. It is no wonder Americans are sick, sick, sick, and getting sicker every day. We simply cannot be well on the food that is readily available in most stores, and that's even leaving fast-food and restaurants out of the equation. I don't care how good your health plan is or how "good" your genes are, the most important factor comes down to what you are putting in your body every day. And yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to seek out good real foods and prepare them for our families -- but we can be grateful we aren't required to do the hardest part which is growing the plants and raising the animals, because then it would be difficult indeed.

This article presents me as someone with questionable (even bad) motives who is trying to get people hooked on an illicit substance. In fact, I very rarely even discuss raw dairy with people I meet, and I certainly get no benefit out of others switching to raw other than the satisfaction of seeing their family's health improve and knowing both they and some sustainable small farms are benefiting a little rather than the medical industry and the giant food corporations. Does this whole situation seem surreal to anyone else? All joking and sarcasm aside (if that's what this article is) it actually truly is the state of affairs in this country. The drugs are right out on the counter and on the shelves at every store in town (and I'm talking about legal stimulants like sugar, white flour, alcohol, and caffeine, not pharmaceuticals), while the wholesome foods have to be smuggled in. It would make an entertaining graphic novel or B movie if it weren't so damn depressing. Again, maybe this whole article is supposed to be a spoof...I can only hope so, or that at least readers will overlook the sensationalistic language and focus instead on the important points: eat better, go to the doctor less. End of story.


  1. Good, solid response. Hopefully newbies to the field of traditional, nutrient-dense foods won't be frightened away. Anyone who has some background will know enough to see through this kind of sensationalism.

    Best of luck!

  2. Yeah its a very sensationalized, non-informative story. The writer clearly had a snarky "angle" figured out and only half-listened to what you said during the interview... he may be using your name, but he is talking about a fictitious version of you that he created! Whether or not anyone agrees with consuming raw milk (as you know, I am not really a milk person at all), this article is obviously silly. I know you must be disappointed to have something you care deeply about be misrepresented in this way :( I don't think it will really influence people either way though, since it is such a superficial piece.

  3. Wowee, Hannah! I just read it and can see why you're upset. Have you sent a letter to the editor? Maybe you should just send a brief note directing people to your blog and this post, so they can read your rebuttal. Yikes. Well-stated (your rebuttal, that is).

  4. hannah--i agree with sending a letter to the editor, and also agree that it is pretty offensive to have something you care so much about be trivialized. shame on them! though, you do seem like kind of a badass, which is slightly cool...

  5. hannah

    right on! You should consult an attorney. The Brooklyn Paper is a disgrace to journalism. As a regular reader, I am constantly sickened by the shabby and slanted journalism. It's as if they are trying to write novels, not report news stories. What is even more sickening, is their constant approval and back patting they give themselves for the insignificant (in my opinion) awards they get for their shallow reporting. A quick read through several months will illustrate my point perfectly.

    Letter to the editor may or may not work. But you are definitely due an apology. I personally know they benefits of raw milk and believe in living organically and from nature. Good luck and God Bless

  6. I'm so sorry that you've been treated and slandered in this way, Hannah. You've handled yourself beautifully and have offered an excellent response.