Raw Milk: The Irony

I don't have a dog in the fight on raw milk vs. pasteurized milk.

But from a food debate standpoint, raw milk is an utterly fascinating topic. Why? Because it shows how certain food industry issues simply do not line up into a clean political matrix, with a clear "left side" and a clear "right side" telling us what positions we should hold.

In fact, holding a generalized position on the overall food industry can put you on the wrong side of an issue when it comes to a specific food product.

Raw milk is one such product.

To illustrate what I mean, imagine a Brooklyn-based foodie who dislikes and distrusts Big Food, Big Ag, Big Corn and Big Soda and anything else with a capital B, including Wal-Mart and Monsanto. In her view, the food industry clearly puts profits before people, and it should therefore be more heavily regulated by the government. Probably much more.

Further, this idealistic foodie thinks we need to change the default food environment, which she believes contributes heavily to society's obesity problem. This is why she strongly supported New York City's large soda ban, and it's why she also believes we'd be far better off if the government went ahead and just banned HFCS too. In her view, strict policies and regulations like these are good things: they are for our benefit and for our protection.

Now, we may not agree with all of her views, but I think we can at least agree that, in general, her positions are internally consistent. And please note: we at Casual Kitchen are not passing judgment on the merits of these various positions in any way! Reasonable minds can disagree reasonably.

One day, however, this Brooklyn foodie learns about all the incredible merits of raw milk. She discovers, from scanning some websites, that raw milk is delicious, healthful, and far superior to pasteurized milk. She can't wait to become a regular raw milk drinker.

But to her horror, she discovers that her government is as strict with raw milk as it she wishes it would be with HFCS! In fact, the federal government mandates the pasteurization of milk and milk products--for our benefit and for our protection.

Worse, eighteen states strictly prohibit the sale of raw milk under any conditions--including her neighboring state of New Jersey. And even in her home state of New York, raw milk is strictly regulated. In New York it is entirely illegal to sell raw milk at retail stores--again, for our benefit and our protection. Raw milk can only be purchased at specifically licensed and regulated farms, and there are strict rules that these farms must follow, including prominently posting signs warning consumers that this milk does not have the “protection” of pasteurization.

"Wait a minute," she thinks. "Why does the government force pasteurization on us? And how can the government possibly decide it's illegal to buy raw milk? This makes no sense at all!"

Our Brooklyn foodie's confidently-held, generalized position on the overall food industry ended up depositing her on the exact wrong side of the debate over raw milk. She's discovered, to her intense confusion, that she wants a more heavily-regulated food industry--except when she doesn't. Hopefully she'll see the irony.

Readers, what do you think?

Read Next: Oppositional Literature: The Key Tool For Achieving True Intellectual Honesty

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chacha1 said...

I think this apparent inconsistency is actually *exactly how most people think.* Most people have a certain story they have written for themselves about how the world works and how they operate within it. This story generally involves big swatches of other people's old ideas, stitched together with personal experiences, and with rationalizations patching over the bits of dogma that interfere with personal convenience aka "what I want to do."

This story is of course the product of the combined influences of their parents, their homes, their immediate neighborhoods, their schools, and the washover of opinions from extended family and friends. There's evidence that independent, rational thought doesn't begin until a child is several years old, and even then there is some evidence that genetic predispositions are in play as to HOW a child will think. Nobody, in other words, begins their thinking life with an absolutely clear slate.

Given that framework, most people then pick and choose from what they have read or seen or been told, and select facts, beliefs, and opinions that suit their constructed storyline and their biases. This is how you get - for example - Catholics who don't "believe" in contraception but are perfectly okay with premarital sex or divorce.

The abundance of fiction that is accepted by most people when it comes to food, food science, nutrition, etc constantly amazes me, but it's actually completely predictable when you consider that we are the species that is perpetually attempting to explain our place in the universe to ourselves, preferably in a way that makes us look really special. :-)

And taking it a little further toward the political, the real reason that libertarians have never achieved any significant political influence in this country is because "less government regulation" sounds absolutely great in the abstract, but nobody really wants for-profit police forces, lowest-bid bridges constructed without structural engineering review, or unregulated home building.

The person who wants more government regulation of Food Products A-W but not Food Products X-Z is just a food libertarian who wants freedom to indulge their particular hobby-horse because "they know better."

Daniel said...

This is a great comment.

I think there may be an element of solipsism here too. I've found this while exploring examples of unintended consequences: it's notoriously difficult to perceive a new policy's unintended consequences when those consequences are unlikely for you. Thus, many (most?) people utterly fail to imagine any unintended consequences of their favorite pet policies... unless the consequences are ones *they* actually experience.

Interesting also that this "failure" also makes the policy seem much smarter than it is, and it also helps the person believe "they know better," thereby completing the little circle of solipsism.


chacha1 said...

Heck, most people don't even think through the INTENDED consequences of what they propose! Policymaking is one of the most difficult and most thankless jobs in the world. It's no wonder that political life is populated by egotists ... you have to really believe that you're the Best Person for the Job in order to contemplate the job at all.