6 February 2012

The righteousness of the food movement is well established enough to be considered a part of the liberal orthodoxy. Too often it seems that anyone that questions the established food system is viewed unquestioningly by the media. Raw milk is popular amongst foodies who feel that pasteurizing milk depletes it of beneficial bacteria.

I’ve become so cynical about the food debate that I’m shocked to see an even handed and reasonable approach to the topic. Emily Sohn’s piece on raw milk in Thirty Two magazine is reassuring. I came to the piece expecting the worst. Thirty Two is a new magazine based in Minneapolis that caters to the hip educated class that so often is guilty of uncritical thinking about food issues. I was expecting another one of the breathless pieces that sets the virtuous small farmer against big government/ big business.

What I got from Sohn, however, was a solid piece of investigative journalism. Sohn is a freelance science journalist, and her “bias” shows in the piece. She gets to the heart of the issue here, “As it [the raw milk movement] grows and unites disparate groups of people on both political extremes in the Midwest and beyond, the fight for food rights is gaining steam from roots in a deep mistrust of big government, big money, and big science.” Far too many people on the left have come to equate big with bad. The fact that small is better is taken for granted.

Sohn’s journalistic integrity shines when she visits one of the Amish farms that a source for raw milk in the Twin Cities. While many urbanites might take the opportunity to romanticize the Amish way of life, Sohn is worried about “shit bacteria”. One of her sources, a public health microbiologist at George Washington University, clued her into the dangers of “shit bacteria” and raw milk.

Though not immediately apparent, Sohn’s piece is deeply moral. The American individualist spirit runs deep on both the right and the left, and the left is guilty of overindulging individualism. The counterculture, for all its emphasis on love and communalism, is deeply individualistic in its rejection of mainstream values. While this rejection was an important impetus for progress at one time, it has since devolved into a reactionary rejection of modern life. The worst manifestation of this leftist individualism is the anti-vaccine movement, and raw milk advocates are guilty of the same flaws.

By demanding a rigid reckoning with mainstream science, Sohn makes the argument for accepting the trappings of modernity. Most people want to be able to choose their careers and pursue interests outside of feeding and sheltering themselves. A society that allows for these things requires large and complex institutions. The raw milk and organic advocates seem to want to keep the best of modernity while casting aside the things they don’t like. Sohn’s critical and science based approach should be a model for food writers.



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