By Michael Feldman
THE buses rolling into the parking lot of Eau Claire’s Chippewa Valley Technical College came from every corner of Wisconsin, and at least from one corner of Ontario, each packed with farm families wearing paper milking caps with “Freedom” written on them and brandishing signs that said, “I H Raw Milk.” March 10 was smack in the middle of calving time, but the heifers would have to wait — raw milk was that important.
The occasion was a hearing-turned-rally on a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature that would allow dairy farmers to sell milk straight from the spigot to anyone who felt it did a body good, save the very young, the very old and the very pregnant. Some 500 farmers crammed into the small college auditorium to cheer on one of the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Chris Danou, the Thoreau of raw, who declared that, should the legislative process fail, civil disobedience would surely follow.
Zealots like those at the rally extol the virtues of raw, including its unadulterated animal fat bio-activators, which may lower the risk of asthma and allergies. Standard pasteurization, they claim, kills a dubious-sounding 99.999 percent of milk’s good, bad and indifferent microorganisms, resulting in what raw milk people call “a whitish liquid.” What they fail to mention is that you can’t get $6 a gallon for pasteurized milk.
June is National Dairy Month, but milk has been the coin of this realm ever since there was a Dairyland. Wisconsin’s state quarter has two heads: George Washington’s on one side and a Holstein’s on the other. Badgers have skimmed the cream but also paid the price for living in a milkocracy; for years non-dairy creamers were banned from restaurants. And if it was yellow margarine you wanted, you had to either slip over the Illinois border to a sympathetic South Beloit gas station, or draw what satisfaction you could from kneading an orange dye tablet into a pound of milk-white oleo.
Things loosened considerably over the years, but raw milk, the bane of an industry built around dairy processing, remained taboo. Then, in April, during the waning hours of the legislative session, the Raw Milk Act finally passed, sending Representative Danou to his feet again to tip back a glass of what must have been pretty warm raw milk. Victory seemed assured; Wisconsin’s governor, James Doyle, had earlier indicated he would sign the bill.
Mr. Danou had no way of knowing that in the meantime the Cheese Makers Association, the Farm Bureau Federation and the Dairy Business Association, a sort of “Axis of Ag,” had sold their anti-raw case to Governor Doyle, blending their self-interest with warnings over diphtheria, salmonellosis and strep-bearing unpasteurized milk. Governor Doyle has had his moments, but Solomon he wasn’t on May 19, when he vetoed the Raw Milk Act despite his February approval of a tangentially related bill that made the dills and salsas of home-picklers street-legal.
Still, it wasn’t a total loss for the dairymen. The veto may prove a tipping point for public awareness and farm acceptance of raw milk. The movement gets its energy from the raw-food crusade swirling nationwide, but it’s now also drawing strength from Wisconsin’s farmer-activists, who’ve been pouring milk down the Capitol steps to protest prices for so long that many believe that’s why the marble is so white.
In fact, while this round of the raw milk fight may be over, it has left behind a nascent political movement — call it the Teat Party. In April, Madison played host to the second annual International Raw Milk Symposium, a quasi-academic affair that felt more like a convention, with grassroots food activists moving around the floor building coalitions. The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund was there to offer its services. And a movement firebrand, Sally Fallon Morell, author of the game-changing “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats,” was PowerPointing the way to the ramparts.
No one there seemed ready to call off the fight. It’s a fair guess that the anti-raw dictocrats, hunkered down somewhere across town, weren’t either.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized