On August 2nd, Rawsome Foods of Los Angeles, CA was raided for a second time. SWAT teams were deployed, guns were drawn, people arrested, and food samples taken for testing. And the reason for this expenditure of money and force? Raw milk. Not drugs, not illegal weapons, or the Russian mafia. Raw milk.
Rawsome Foods is a co-op for raw food enthusiasts. These folk don’t just eat raw veggies either. They eat raw meat and dairy, and that means they want the cleanest most healthy products they can get. Eating raw meat from a factory farm is – at best -a recipe for getting very sick. At worst, it’s a recipe for getting dead. As Cargill just proved with their massive ground turkey recall, factory-farmed meats contain some really scary bacteria. On the other hand, raw products – including milk – produced in a sustainable fashion are better for humans and better for the planet. Raw foodies have high standards about food production, and so should we as Pagans.
I know plenty of Pagans who rejoice in their CSAs and farmer’s markets, and grow their own foods, both vegetable and animal. Choosing sustainable food is life-affirming and ethically satisfying for members of a religion that values connection with the land and ancestral traditions. Nothing makes one feel in alignment with one’s spiritual values like the food we put in out mouths every day. It creates a bone-deep stability and satisfaction that rivals the joy of Unity experiences in a ritual.
But the food sustainability movement is under fire. The FDA has said in open court that we as Americans do not have the right to eat what we want. The new Food Safety law allows them to be preemptive and break down our doors if they think there might be a problem rather than waiting for one to actually materialize. It is worth noting that they are not going after the factory farms, which are abhorrent to many Pagans both because of their inhumane practices and their chronic pollution.
The FDA is not just going after meat and dairy. E coli has been showing up elsewhere in the food chain since the 1980s, and although the mechanisms for this are not well–understood, tactics that are highly destructive to the environment are being employed in the name of public safety. Vegetable farmers are being required to kill frogs, drain ponds, suck dry aquifers, and create scorched-earth barriers around their fields. Fear that rodents will carry the bacteria into the fields has lead to them being poisoned and the resultant deaths of the birds of prey that consume them.
While there are many types of e coli, and many of them are harmless, e coli O157:H7 – along with similar varieties – is dangerous for healthy adults and lethal to children, elders and those with compromised immune systems. This form of e coli is a product of our industrial food system. Eating their natural food of grass, cows do have e coli O157:H7 but do not have acid stomachs, and as such, this form of e coli cannot survive human stomach acid. But cows digest starches poorly and vast numbers of cattle now have acid stomachs from being fed grain. That means there are plenty of opportunities for e coli O157:H7 to mutate into a form that can survive the human digestion. And kill us. Fecal matter from these cows is then used to fertilize fields of vegetables, passing on the lethal bacteria.
The FDA does not regulate meat, but they do regulate the antibiotics that are feed to animals in confined animal feeding operations. There is now no longer any doubt in the scientific community that this it the cause of the antibiotic resistant bacteria that are now common. The recent recall of ground turkey from Cargill was contaminated with resistant salmonella, and MRSA is a resistant staph infection that is now common in hospitals.
As Pagans, we hold our bodies sacred. We hold the Earth sacred. We fight against fracking and oil from tar sands, and mourn the environmental disaster of the gulf oil spill. And we work at doing better for the planet. How we produce food has a profound impact on both human and planetary health.
The record of the FDA is not only one of allowing unhealthy practices to continue, they also seek to squash what has the potential to be good for the Earth. Properly grazed animals build top soil and sequester carbon. Properly composted manures create healthy, nutritious plants that nourish those that eat them. Animals raised on grass are living naturally and expressing their essential being. And the FDA says all of that will make us sick. I – and many others – say they are wrong. For me, this is Pagan kosher, and I want them off my plate.