North Carolina has a rich heritage when it comes to agriculture. My ancestors settled for a while in Orange County, just a few miles from what is now downtown Chapel Hill. And, like so many of their neighbors, they declared to the census-takers that their main occupation was farming. It didn't take much to be a farmer back then—a little plot of land to grow some vegetables, a few cows to milk, and bingo. You're a farmer.
And most folks back then didn't have a whole lot of money to toss around. Barter was pretty much the rule of thumb, and people would trade back and forth with each other in order to survive. One of the necessities for survival back then was milk fresh from a cow. Without this in your daily diet, folks tended to get sickly. They didn't understand the reasons why, they just knew they needed it.
I don't really understand it that well either, so I decided to ask someone who should know:
"It's all about the enzymes, and my milk is full of them."
"Yeah it is! And it's really, really good, too! You should seriously try some. I'd drink it all day long, but my mom--"
"Hush! I'm...not really sure what enzymes are, or what they do per se. I guess I could Google it but, as you can see, my plate's pretty full here. Why don't you do it?"
So I did:
Enzymes are complex proteins that facilitate, catalyze or speed up chemical reactions. The precise order of amino acids in the proteins from which they're made determines their shape, and their shape determines their function.
Typically, each enzyme does just one thing, so there are just about as many enzymes as there are different things for them to do. Without taking part themselves, they make possible hundreds of thousands of processes in our bodies: they can chop things up (hydrolases), put things together (ligases), split double bonds between atoms (lyases), and move chemical groups from molecule to molecule (transferases). If it's a biochemical reaction, there's an enzyme involved.
Heating food above 118°F./48°C. destroys most of these natural helpers, forcing us to make our own digestive enzymes to get at the nutrients. Having to make our own digestive enzymes puts an extra burden on our pancreas, which is typically busy enough with other metabolic needs.
I consider food enzymes to be right next to proteins, carbohydrates and fats, in importance. A fourth major food group, if you will. The late enzyme expert, Dr. Edward Howell, believed that life-span was related to the rate at which an organism's enzyme potential was exhausted. He felt the increased use of food enzymes (either from raw foods or supplements) reduced the rate of enzyme potential exhaustion.
I was actually already (somewhat) familiar with this, as I've done some research in the past about the negative effects of antibiotics, and the dangers associated with over-prescribing them. A lot of these little guys like lactobacillus are simbiotic and perform critical functions in our synthesization of food, and antibiotics kill them off, leaving us less able to process the nutrients we need to stay healthy.
Okay, back to the raw milk. You can't buy this (unpasteurized) stuff in the store in North Carolina, but up until 2004 you could coop, or buy "cow shares", making you a part owner of the cow which allowed you to drink its raw milk. As often happens, back in 2004 a line was added to some legislation banning this practice, and now if someone wants raw milk, they have to drive to South Carolina (where it's legal) to aquire it.
After getting fed up with this, a lady named Ruth Ann Foster contacted her State Senator for some help:
It is that legal arrangement that raw milk advocates in the state are trying to reinstate. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-Guilford) introduced a bill this session that would repeal the ban.
"I have been amazed at the number of people I have met who want to drink milk that comes from a cow that has been raised not in confinement, grazed on grass, no hormones or antibiotics," Hagan says, adding, "back to what God and nature intended."
She admits that the first time Foster, her constituent, approached her about the issue of raw milk, she thought to herself, "What is she talking about?
"I think we all come to the table with preconceived notions that pasteurized milk is the only way to go," Hagan says. "You really have to understand the history of it to understand where we are today."
I have to give a nod to the author of this piece. Suzanne Nelson is a frequent contributor to Indyweek, and did a heck of a job fleshing this story out.
There is a Latin phrase perennially useful in unraveling great mysteries: Cui bono? Who benefits? The dairy industry in the United States is a $40 billion-a-year business, not including federal subsidies, which themselves run in the billions. Farmers step outside of this rigid system at their peril. In 2003, a maverick dairyman in California tried to sell milk at 20 cents less a gallon than his competition by snubbing the public-private consortium that has controlled milk production for 70 years. His brazen move was squashed by an act of Congress.
Milk is big business. And pasteurization is a necessary element to dairy consolidation, as it permits milk to be stored and transported over long periods and distances.
This subject originally crossed my radar a few months ago when I was reading over Kay Hagan's sponsored bills list. At the time I was more interested in digging for dirt (sorry Kay), so I tried to ignore it and what it implied because it didn't fit my agenda. Which is wrong on several levels, but mainly because it does fit my agenda.
So what do we have here? We have a constituent who approaches her representative about an issue, and that representative looks into it and decides to take action. Against the "establishment" fear-laden viewpoint, and against powerful corporate interests. Think about that for a minute.
This bill passed the Senate 39-9, and Pricey Harrison is now shepherding it through the House. Whether it survives the strong resistance or not, I think it reveals something about Kay Hagan's character and her outlook on public service that we may have (chosen to) overlook.