Two readers takes John Doyle to task

Last Tuesday, Oct 23,  John Doyle, television columnist for the Globe and Mail, wrote a derogatory column about raw milk on the occasion of CBC Newsworld’s broadcast of Norman Lofts’ prize-winning documentary on Michael Schmidt and the raw milk story. Here are two more reader reactions to that bit of creative writing:

First, from Malene Brynildsen:

You know, John, I grew up in Denmark, probably the greatest of all great nanny states (rivaled only by Switzerland and Sweden, perhaps). I am a woman in my mid-thirties. My grandparents were dairy farmers, as were my great grandparents and . well you, get the picture. I drank plenty of raw milk as a child and young person as did ALL my relatives and their families and friends. I can honestly say that I know of no one who got sick from, much less suffered a serious long term or life threatening condition caused them by this practice.

Naturally, you are entitled to your opinion about raw milk, as I am to mine. That being said, I and my fellow raw-milk enthusiasts take some umbrage at your depiction of us as “posers”. We are people who have given much thought to what we consume and why and have made a rather serious commitment to our diets by pursuing the production and consumption of raw milk, having all properly educated ourselves on the matter (and, for most, this commitment extends beyond milk to the consumption of organic, preferably local, product when possible) – that is as much as to say that the vast majority of us have done MUCH research on the pros and cons, both ways, of imbibing either raw
or pasteurized milk.

It is true that, to our palates, raw milk tastes significantly better than the white store bought stuff. In fact, I can tell you that North American, commercially produced milk is, and was from the moment I alit on this great country at the age of 19, outright offensive to my taste buds. However, foul flavour is the least of the reasons why I would not touch commercially produced pasteurized dairy. The reasons are many and range from the dubitable nutritional value of this product, the questionable additives (yes, additives, read the label!) found in what is supposed to be a pure dairy product (such as cream), the probable ill effects it would have on my health, the various hormones, drugs and penicillin I would be ingesting second hand, as the cow from which conventional dairy product comes is almost certain to have been treated with some rather disagreeable cocktail of those items at one or several points in it life, largely because the circumstances under which it is being reared are likely to be despicable, inhumane and hostile to the production of good and healthy product.

As if these reasons were not enough, it does, in the end, come down to a simple matter of choice, John. I am not a dolt nor do I labour under any false illusions that my choice to imbibe raw milk comes completely without risk. But, you know what? So does eating any kind of food that has uncooked egg, raw fish or rare meat in it; crossing the street; smoking; eating McDonalds; drinking; swimming; diving off a board; driving on the 401 and on and on and on and on. All sorts of activities and behaviours in which we all regularly partake. My point is that, having considered the issue carefully, drinking raw milk is a risk that I want to assume and that I believe to present much less clear and present danger to me than the ingesting conventional diary on a regular basis would. I have made this decision carefully, I am an adult and I believe that I should be allowed to decide this matter without interference from anyone, this in particular should be so when evidence to show that I am incorrect in my conclusion is exceedingly weak in empirical evidentiary support.

As an aside, I could go on at great length about how, as a city dweller, not allowed to house a dairy cow in my own backyard, I am essentially being discriminated against when the government tells me that I cannot pay one Mr. Schmidt for the upkeep of my cow and the cost of delivering the milk from my cow to me . but, I won’t.

Warm Regards,

Malene Brynildsen

And now a few words from John Hickman:

A classic indication of a weak argument is when it is directed at the person rather than the position. Thus one calls anyone with a different opinion a “nitwit” and accuses them of “selfishness”. Presumably it panders to some group that thinks that insults are a substitute for reason and rationality.

In Mr. Doyle’s world of the 18th century French court one could still wrap oneself in religion to justify a position; now it is science. We are all supposed to surrender in absolute obedience once scientists and bureaucrats tell us what to do. Science has given us a world of unparalleled progress and some horrible mistakes. Science does not have the “right” answer to every question. And the fact is that there are scientists on both sides of this issue. There are some substantial arguments in favour of pasteurization and there are substantial arguments against it; both are missing from this article. In that sense, it is a balanced piece of journalism.

I do not recall the utopian time when we were “free of the diseases and infections that shortened the lives of our ancestors”. And pasteurization did not make us free. A study of the history of public health will show that the advances in human longevity and the suppression of disease have been caused by greater requirements of cleanliness in our society. These requirements are the result of public health laws and people’s expectations. Food produced in clean circumstances tends to be healthy. Pasteurization was a quick fix for unclean circumstances. Even Pasteur recognized the overriding importance of cleanliness. We continue to seek quick fixes with irradiation, antibiotics, genetic manipulation, chemical preservatives, and so on. Perhaps if we concentrated on simple, thorough cleanliness we would not have all the consequences of our quick fixes.

Finally, may I say that I have made a thousand choices regarding the safety and well being of my children as they have grown up. The advice of science was sometimes helpful in those decisions; the dictates of bureaucracy never were. Mr. Doyle seems to think that the “nanny state” is needed to protect the young. As a parent in his nanny state I am free to feed my children junk food of no nutritional value while they grow morbidly obese. I can give them any of the chemical concoctions that pose as food and as much sugar as they can ingest. But I am not allowed to decide whether the benefits of raw milk outweigh any risks that there might be.

John Hickman

For more of this sort of thing, see this earlier post.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Two readers takes John Doyle to task

  1. thebovine

    Sounds like John Doyle will get a second chance to show how much he’s learned from commenters like these, when the raw milk movie has its “second coming” on CBC Newsworld in January 2009, around the time of the main raw milk trial.

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