A Raw Deal
The dealer called me at 6:30 P.M. "I've got extra stash," she said. "If you can be here in fifteen minutes, I'll wait for you." I threw on my rain jacket, grabbed my purse and ran out the door, forgetting an umbrella in my rush. In fifteen minutes, I was at a dimly lit East Village dive bar. I tried to look casual and unhurried as I wandered past the bar to a back room (where these transactions occur once a month). There I found my dealer in the back room, hunkered over the product I was craving. It wasn't hidden, but sat out in the open on a bar stool. "Here you go!" she said, handing me my gallon of raw milk. As I walked back towards the L train, I thought, "Boy, the lengths I will go for raw dairy." You see, beekeeping is not the only traditional agricultural practice that's banned in this fine city of New York. Wholesome, fresh, raw milk (and raw milk butter, yogurt, and cheese that's not been aged for over 60 days) is contraband. It's preposterous: I can drink all the alcohol I want, smoke my way to kingdom come, and yet this nutritious beverage is being treated like crack or marijuana? It was weirdly appropriate, then, that I was sneaking into what seemed like a speakeasy on a rainy evening to get my hit. Yet how annoying—not to mention inconvenient—that I can't, like my best friend in Oakland, buy my preferred form of milk at Whole Foods. Anytime of the day! When I reported this article on raw milk for Salon a few years ago, there were roughly 30 states that banned the sale of raw milk. State health officials are concerned, of course, that people who drink it will be infected with pathogens such as e. coli or worse. (And this is a legit fear, especially when your dairy reference point is a big industrial one where cows are squeezed together, eat nothing but corn, and regularly get sick.) But as I discovered during my research, most raw milk aficionados drink the beverage to improve their health: their asthma gets better when they drink it, their skin clears up, their kids' ADD disappears, and their symptoms of IBS and other gut-wrenching maladies improve. I began drinking it in the name of research, but soon was hooked. Not only did raw taste infinitely better than the overly pasteurized organic milk I'd been buying at our local bodega, it made me feel better. My digestion, a little wonky ever since a trip to Guatemala a few years ago, speeds up and feels healthier. My mind is more alert. And as I began to consume it regularly, I realized what I'd been missing. Drinking a tall glass of fresh, raw milk is one of life's simple pleasures—it's like diving into a lake on a hot day, or climbing to the top of a mountain that has views for miles around. And interestingly, though it may not keep as long as organic milks like Horizon or Organic Valley, both of which use UP (Ultra-Pasteurization, which cooks the milk at 280 degrees), raw milk doesn't spoil as fast as Ronnybrook Farm or Sky Top Farms. (Two milks I love but that often go bad before I even open them.) Because they're pasteurized the minimum amount (the old-fashioned method of pasteurization: 145 degrees for 30 min.), they don't have the probiotics that occur naturally in milk, yet they also don't have the sterility (and shelf life) of ultra-pasteurized products. If we don't drink our raw milk within 3 days, it starts to sour but not spoil. Whereas I pour spoiled pasteurized milk down the drain, soured raw milk is excellent for baking and you can also use it to make yogurt, sour cream, and kefir. (Projects I have yet to try.) I don't want to get anyone in trouble, so I'm not divulging my source. But if you're in a state that forbids the sale of raw dairy, do some research. There are ways for you to get it legally—some states allow on-farm sales of raw milk, others allow cow shares. I doubt we'll ever have a national law legalizing the sale of raw milk in this country, but hopefully, state by state, as our food system starts to evolve and consumers start demanding real, traditional foods again, we'll start to see more small dairies switching to raw. In May, for example, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill to increase the amount of raw milk a farmer can sell directly to consumers from 12 to 40 gallons. New Jersey is on the verge of legalizing the beverage. (However, other states have been talking about restricting its sale, to great public outcry.)

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