Why Buy the Cow?

Legal weed, jokes about communists, and the perils of purchasing your own milk maker.


“I still can’t believe they took our yogurt. There’s a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they’re raiding us because we’re selling raw dairy products?” When the Rawesome organic food coop in Venice, California, was raided by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, the Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, plus the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in late June, one of the store’s volunteers was widely quoted expressing incredulity that dairy products would attract more attention from law enforcement than weed.

And it’s a funny line; we’re used to thinking of pot as something that must be purchased in secret and under elaborate ruses, while milk can be bought in the open. (Substitute fried chicken for marijuana, and you can find the same joke driving a recent episode of South Park inspired by a Reason cover.) But for the people who produce, sell, or drink unpasteurized milk, the comparison between medical marijuana and raw dairy is all too apt. Both are governed by a patchwork of state laws, some of which can be surprisingly liberal, but nearly all of which are vague enough to leave entrepreneurs with a massive amount of uncertainty about the viability of their business. Sale or distribution of both substances across state lines is essentially forbidden and operations attempting to go legit are restricted by the boundaries of the state where their cows or cannabis grow. Federal agents have a habit of involving themselves in actions within states as well, often in an unpredictable way.

Raw milk devotees—like medical marijuana fans—make claims for their consumable of choice ranging from the relatively uncontroversial (unpasteurized milk tastes richer and fresher) to the unlikely (raw milk cures autism).  When people buy and drink raw milk, they tend to do so advisedly, understanding that they are trading safety for taste or other desired attributes, just as marijuana patients tend to notice that smoking dope involves, well, smoking and a certain amount of dopeyness.

No one is proposing that raw milk become the national standard—pasteurization was a great boon for food safety and isn’t going anywhere. But as more people become interested in raw milk, raids on dairies are becoming increasingly common, according to Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. And attempts to accommodate an increasing byzantine and inconsistent body of law become more difficult and expensive.

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Reposted from Reason