Here’s the slightly edited text of a comment I made on David E. Gumpert’s The Complete Patient blog, in response to his story about the showing of the raw milk movie in California (excerpted in the Bovine post below this one):
What’s our metaphor; what’s our narrative?
From folks like George Lakoff – author of “Don’t Think of an Elephant” — we learn how people think in metaphors, how “framing” developed in right-wing think tanks slants public policy debates almost imperceptibly — as in the phrase “tax relief”; we learn how communications work best when we can fit our message into one of the archetypal “narratives” of our culture, narratives that have already worn tracks, as it were, in the public mind. That’s why we have cultural theorists like Camille Paglia talking about how, in the public mind, Sarah Palin was playing the role of “frontier girl”.
So what’s all this have to do with raw milk?
What I thought was most interesting about David Gumpert’s review of the Michael Schmidt raw milk movie was his view of the raw milk farmer as a solitary figure, fighting a lone and lonely battle. I’ve heard that before, but I’ve heard it as a criticism of this otherwise great movie – that it places undue emphasis on the heroism of Michael and fails to adequetely include the supporting community of cow share holders and others who’ve been instrumental and important in getting the story as far as it’s so far gone.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love this move. And not just because I’m into raw milk. Although generally I don’t get that much satisfaction from documentaries, this one seems to have sufficient authentic drama, and enough of a story arc to make it work as an artistic as well as an educational experience.
But back to our metaphor, our narrative. The story of raw milk farmer as maverick, as organic hero, while it does bear an element of truth, doesn’t tell enough of the story we need to tell. I think it’s really the community element that’s most amazing, that’s most influential, and that’s the most scary to those on the regulatory, government end of things.
The article by David E. Gumpert from Business Week in which the farmer collapsed from the trauma of dealing with police and cowshare holders took over running the farm and distributing the milk, is the best example I’ve seen to show the role of supporting community in the raw milk struggle. Here’s the link to our post on that story.
And in the Michael Schmidt case, in the recent contempt of court trial, we heard the local public health official tell the court that the reason they didn’t go on the bus to seize the milk was that the people in the bus wouldn’t let them on. He didn’t mention that the people wouldn’t let them on because they didn’t have a search warrant. But still, we’re as far ahead as we are today because cowshare holders stood their ground. And for pretty much a whole year, cow share member escorted Michael’s blue bus to and from Richmond Hill every week – a two-hour drive each way. I think that made an impression on the regulatory and law enforcement folks.
And just a couple weeks ago, twenty-some supporters showed up downtown at five o’clock on a weekday to parade around Toronto wearing cardboard cow heads to help promote the local premiere of the raw milk film at the Planet in Focus festival. That’s commitment.
Crowds ranging from 30 to 80 have sat through court proceedings, gone to demonstrations and press conferences and just generally made their presence felt. While we recognize the heroism of farmers like Michael Schmidt, who are putting their livelihoods and their liberty on the line for raw milk, I think we need to find a way to include the community support factor in our narrative, because ultimately, that’s the kind of “social proof” that’s going to sway the public mind to come ’round to supporting the raw milk freedom we’re all working towards.