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Duly Noted

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012, 1:25 pm

Raw Milk Freedom Riders? Gag Me

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Allen Gourlay, Creative Commons.

Dana Goodyear has an excellent piece in this week's New Yorker about the struggle between raw milk advocates and regulators in California. Therein, she describes the strange alliance between hippies and Tea Partiers over raw milk, or "freedom milk" as some of its devotees call it:

That night Stewart and the sheriffs would attend an "ice-cream speakeasy" hosted by several Raw Milk Freedom Riders--mothers who practice civil disobedience by crossing state lines with raw milk--featuring product that had been criminally transpored from California.

Richard Mack, the man behind the Constitutional Sheriffs Convention, told Goodyear, without apparent irony: "To me, [raw milk] is the new civil rights. It's Rosa Parks."

I have little sympathy for the raw milk partisans at the best of times. Anyone who feeds their children raw milk for the sake of unproven health benefits while ignoring the small but documented risk of life-threatening foodborne bacteria is at best a crank.

And, as Goodyear ably documents in her article, companies that claim to be selling a wholesome organic product aren't necessarily more attuned to customer health and safety. So, the raw milkers' faith that the risks are low turns out to rest on questionable assumptions.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to hear raw milk activists comparing themselves to Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders. They probably don't know any more about history than they do about nutrition. It's still outrageous that anyone would equate a dispute over dairy products with a life and death struggle to end segregation.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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