The Raw Truth About Raw Cheese
By Christie Keith
Two years ago, I used to buy a wonderful goat cheese at my local cheese market called La Garotin. It was a soft, oozy, flavorful but mild cheese, and it was just about perfect in an omelette. One day, the nice cheese lady explained to me that the United States government, in its endless quest to make me safer, had determined that this cheese was not safe for me to eat and it was no longer available. An "improved" pasteurized version hit the market a few months later, but like most cheeses made with pasteurized milk, it tasted lousy.
On the scale of things that really matter, this one doesn't. Whether one latte-sipping liberal in Northern California can still get raw oozy goat cheese for her morning omelette doesn't stack up in importance compared with governmental attacks on social security and education funding, or our increasingly aggressive foreign policy of "democracy at gunpoint."
But I do have to ask why, in this era of "small government," with the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives all safely in the hands of those "conservative" Republicans, I am being protected against a non-threat that I do not care to be protected against in the first place?
Then again, I live in California, where we can buy raw milk from certified dairies in our grocery stores, and raw cream and butter, too. Most of the people reading this aren't so lucky, as raw dairy products either cannot be sold at all in most states and all of Canada, or can only be sold or shared under the most Byzantine of legal arrangements. In some states it's actually illegal to drink milk from your own cow on your own farm. The mind boggles.
Some of you might wonder about this. Isn't raw milk dangerous? The truth is, given the state of modern food processing, you should be asking that question about all the food you consume. Contamination with pathogens is a growing problem in pasteurized and cooked foods, especially with institutional food supplies (school food services, convalescent hospitals, food concessions, etc.).
Do you know how many people have been killed by eating raw aged cheese? None. Zero. Zip. No one knows why
the FDA has decided to crack down on the importing of aged cheeses made
from raw cream, unless it has something to do with the fact that
they are coming from France, home of those Kerry-loving terrorist
Food safety has been framed in this country as a home kitchen issue - all the risk and all the responsibility have been passed to the individual end-consumer, totally absolving regulatory agencies, government, and industry from any need to produce safe foods. Why worry about bacterial contamination of meat, milk, and eggs if it's all going to be pasteurized, irradiated, drenched in bleach water baths, and, ultimately, cooked to death at home?
This means that we don't get to eat real Ceasar salad dressing anymore, we don't get to eat steak tartare, we can't drink fresh milk straight from the cow, and our dogs can't eat a nice hunk of meat on the bone, not because those foods are intrinsically dirty or full of pathogenic bacteria, but because given the state of modern food production practices and standards, they have been contaminated with pathogenic bacteria.
My answer has been to find clean, wholesome, properly raised and slaughtered and processed meats, as well as the eggs and milk of animals raised on grass and treated humanely. Such foods, grown in traditional methods and processed with the good parts of modern food science, such as closed milking systems, result in the best of both worlds, and a cleaner, healthier food supply. And a much more expensive one, even here in California.
But the raw dairy products I buy are not a hazard to my health. Not only do they meet or exceed the standards set by the state of California for raw milk, they exceed the standards set for pasteurized milk. That's right; my raw milk is cleaner than pasteurized milk.
I'm not against testing of foods for safety. I'm not even against the government doing that testing, because I sure don't trust industry to do it. But it's a complete joke to protect me against the non-threat of French goat cheese, and then turn around and actually prohibit American ranchers from testing their meat cattle for mad cow disease, because it might hurt the cattle industry. To cut budgets for inspecting meat processing plants, but make laws against drinking raw milk from certified dairies.
In The Untold Story of Milk: Green Pastures, Contented Cows, and Raw Dairy Foods, Ron Schmid, ND, writes:
If the forces pushing compulsory pasteurization, food irradiation and other treatments of farm products - milk, meats, fruits, vegetables and grains - have their way, the end result will be a kind of food fascism that insists on the sterilization of the entire food supply - all in the name of consumer protection, of course - and every farmer in the thrall of the corporate buyer, offering him a price that cannot even cover his costs.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Janet Fletcher quoted Cathy Goldsmith of the Cheese Board Collective as saying, "We used to get these little French goat cheeses that tasted just like
the field the goats were grazing on, and
we'll never see those again. I do support food safety, but is there an issue
of food safety? That's my question."
Of course this isn't about food safety, and it's no
mystery why the "small government" Republicans are tightening up on the
selling of cheese made from raw cream. We aren't actually being
protected from ourselves, or even from unsafe
food. American corporations are being protected from having to compete
with small dairies, niche food producers, and French cheese importers.
Because if there's one thing the "small government" folks like, it's big business.