I did a lot of traveling this past weekend–driving around Virginia on Friday and Saturday, and around northern New England on Sunday.
By Monday and Tuesday, my stomach was feeling kind of queasy. Uh-oh, I thought. I had had raw milk at three different places I visited over those three days. One of them had gotten me, I immediately theorized. John Sheehan of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was right–I had been playing Russian roulette, and finally pulled the trigger on a chamber with a bullet.
So I spilled my guts (so to speak) to a friend in the public health arena with expertise in epidemiology, who immediately pointed out that the culprit wasn’t necessarily raw milk–that I had eaten lots of different food at lots of different places. There were crab cakes and french fries at a greasy and not especially clean looking road-side fish restaurant in Virginia, on the way to Staunton, VA, for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund fundraiser. There was a soggy cheesy burrito at Dulles airport on the way home. There was a hard-boiled egg I ate on Sunday while driving that had probably been sitting in my refrigerator for at least several weeks. Hmmm, a public health person not immediately blaming raw milk–that was comforting.
By late Tuesday, the queasiness was gone. Whew! But I thought about something Miguel raised in a comment following my Sept. 10 post on the Michael Hartmann case, in which I said I personally wouldn’t drink the farm’s milk because I believed it had been contaminated…but that I respected the right of individuals who did want to consume it. Miguel inquired, after quoting The Plain Truth’s skepticism about genetic linkages to convict criminals, “So ,David,what evidence besides DNA evidence was used to ‘link’ those illnesses to the milk?”
I guess I’d say, first, that I don’t consider The Plain Truth to be the repository of all truth. Second, I think an epidemiological, or circumstantial, case can be made for linkages between the Hartmann dairy and most of those who became ill, apart from any genetic linkages.
But having said that, I will also say I came to realize after this past weekend that, like many people, I tend to be quick to be suspicious of raw milk as the culprit if I know it’s a food that’s been consumed by someone who has become sick. The propaganda machine that is our media, medical community, and government agencies influences all of us, whether we think so or not.
An update on the food safety legislation in Washington: Some supporters are expressing nervousness about whether Senate Bill 510 will come up for a vote. It seems one or more senators are wondering how adding so many new agents to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some $1.8 billion worth, by some estimates, is going to be paid for, and are threatening a filibuster. Good question, among many questions associated with this ill-conceived legislation designed mainly to give the FDA more power over business and farmer lives.
Skeptic that I am, I wonder if one or a few senators are seeking to make deals on other legislation, in return for supporting S510. You never know in Washington.
I arranged my visit to Virginia last weekend so I’d have time to visit Monticello, the long-time home of Thomas Jefferson–author of the Declaration of Independence, a key framer of the U.S. Constitution, second President of the U.S., and outspoken skeptic of excessive governmental power.
Aside from being set in breathtaking countryside, it is an inspiring place on a number of counts–to see one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, as well as to see Jefferson’s vast collection of books and various inventions he prized, like on his desk that era’s version of a copier (a contraption rigged with a second pen that wrote along with the first pen’s writer).
Yes, he also apparently had a taste not only for French food, but for fermented apple cider from a particular kind of apple, and there’s a special fermentation room downstairs, next to the kitchen. As for his book collection, which included classics from Europe, the tour guide described how he donated many hundreds of books to replace the many destroyed when Washington was burned to the ground during the War of 1812. Can you imagine one individual being able to have such a major impact on the nation as to provide its reference book collection, or perhaps more relevant, to care about his country so much he’d give up one of his major pastimes accumulated over many years?
NPR broadcast an intriguing segment yesterday on the trillions of microbes that keep us alive and well. It’s certainly interesting that scientists are coming to appreciate the importance of the microbes in our gut, or the microbiome, as it’s known, but the strong suggestion from the program was that scientists are focused on coming up with new technologies and targeting mechanisms for using the microbiome to cure specific diseases. In other words, they’re thinking patents, and drugs. I realized afterwards that what was missing was a public health message about the growing evidence that a well maintained gut can help counter disease.
Then there is this article from the Washington Post about the joys and benefits of fermentation in food.
And finally, one of the major weekly news magazines has just come out with a major article on raw milk that goes a step further than most that have come out thus far, and examines some of the statistics underlying the claims against raw milk, as well as questioning the raids on dairies and food clubs. It quotes Wisconsin dairy farmer Scott Trautman as well as yours truly, among others. ?