California cracks down on an underground gourmet club.
ABSTRACT: DEPT. OF GASTRONOMY about raw milk. Even before James Stewart, the leader of the milk-trafficking gang known as the Rawesome Three, hired an attorney from one of the top marijuana-defense firms in Los Angeles, the analogy was plain: raw milk has become the new pot, only harder to get. For more than a year, Rawesome, a members-only food club that Stewart ran from a lot in Venice, California, was the subject of a nine-agency investigation, in which undercover agents infiltrated the network of dairy dealers supplying the club. Rawesome, an expensive, all-cash specialty store devoted to radically unprocessed food, attracted a clientele of health-seekers, yoginis, celebrities, and the seriously ill. At Rawesome they could buy provisions that were otherwise inaccessible:
unheated honey from the Bolivian highlands; sun-dried cashews from Bali; raw cow colostrum, goat whey, and camel milk, from a dairy selling it for “craft use.” On the morning of August 3rd, more than a dozen agents from the F.D.A., the county health department, and the Franchise Tax Board assembled at Rawesome’s gate, in raid jackets and tactical vests; armed L.A.P.D. officers provided security. Stewart was arrested and put in handcuffs. Over the next several hours, a crowd of about a hundred Rawesome members gathered to watch as agents loaded produce onto a flatbed truck. When the agents dumped some eight hundred gallons of raw dairy down the kitchen drain, members wept. Raw milk stirs the hedonism of food lovers in a special way. Because it is not heated or homogenized and often comes from animals raised on pasture, it tends to be richer and sweeter, and, sometimes, to retain a whiff of the farm. Advocates of raw milk hold that pasteurization kills enzymes that make food digestible and bacteria that contribute to a healthy immune system. Drinking raw milk, they say, confers numerous health benefits—vitality, digestive vigor, strong teeth, clear skin—and even has the power to treat serious ailments, such as diabetes, cancer, and autism. There has been little science to support these claims. Rich in protein, low in acid, milk is one of the best growth mediums on the planet. Bacteria love it. Unpasteurized milk can carry salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli O157: H7, the strain that came to public attention in the nineties when four children died after eating contaminated meat at Jack in the Box. Tells about the history of pasteurization in the United States. Writer talks to Mark McAfee of the raw-milk dairy, Organic Pastures. Tells about support for raw milk among Tea Partiers and libertarians. To many in the national food-freedom movement, raw milk is the test case.