Weekend Edition food commentator Bonny Wolf is trying to understand if the glass is half-full or half-empty when it comes to arguments for and against raw, unpasteurized milk.
A dairy cow from Eastleigh Farm in Framingham, Mass., grazes near the Statehouse on Boston Common on May 10, 2010. The cow's visit was part of a rally by raw-milk proponents.
A dairy cow from Eastleigh Farm in Framingham, Mass., grazes near the Statehouse on Boston Common on May 10, 2010. The cow's visit was part of a rally by raw-milk proponents. Steven Senne/AP
I first drank raw milk two years ago, at a dinner given by a college anthropology class in Maryland. The professor, whose three small children drink only raw milk, had to go to Pennsylvania to get it since it's illegal to sell it in Maryland.
I felt a slight thrill of danger before my first sip because, according to the federal government, drinking raw milk is a very bad idea.
It didn't taste like a bad idea. It tasted like — milk. Fresh, rich milk.
I was intrigued enough to buy it myself. Once, I skimmed off the cream and tried to make butter. It didn't work, but I blame operator error. Another time I was going to make mozzarella and ordered the necessary citric acid and liquid rennet through the mail. By the time they arrived in the mail, I ran out of raw milk.
So now, I just drink it.
I started following the raw milk news after my first sip. A simmering battle between lovers of raw milk and the government has been heating up.
There are now a group of moms calling themselves "raw milk freedom riders," who cross state lines with contraband milk in protest of government restrictions. Many states prohibit the sale of raw milk.
These moms want the right to make unregulated choices for their families about the food they eat. They also want to support small sustainable farms and build community.
These young parents fervently believe raw milk is better for their children than the pasteurized variety. They say heating milk to temperatures high enough to kill bacteria also kills valuable enzymes and vitamins.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration beg to differ. They say that benefits are outweighed by risks.
A recent CDC study claims most dairy-related disease outbreaks are caused by raw milk. The FDA warns that raw milk carries dangerous bacteria, and says any nutrients lost through pasteurization are readily available in other foods.
True believers remain skeptical. One study found that only 7 percent of raw milk consumers say they trust health officials' recommendations; they trust their local farmer more.
Who's right? In a world where spinach, peanuts and cantaloupes are suspect and have been linked to food poisoning, there's bound to be more cries over spilled milk.
Bonny Wolf is the author of Talking with My Mouth Full and contributing editor of NPR's Kitchen Window.