Hamilton Spectator compares raw milk advocate Michael Schmidt to Gandhi

Here’s a story from November 7th, 2008, titled “Gandhi’s teachings still resonate” from the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. The story is by Lipi Mukherji and is subtitled “principle of personal freedom unites noted humanitarian and adherents“. The author is a freelance journalist who has written for the Indian Express and Maharshta Herald, both of which are English-language newspapers in India. She now lives in the Toronto area.

Raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt -- Hamilton Spectator file photo

Raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt -- Hamilton Spectator file photo

Michael Schmidt, a Canadian dairy farmer from Owen Sound, Ont., was found last month in contempt of court for distributing raw milk. Unfazed, he raised a glass of milk — presumably raw — to toast the occasion with his supporters in front of the Newmarket courthouse.

He said to the media, “We will continue what we are doing.” He had challenged the judge to levy “the highest penalty you can find.”

While the sale of raw milk is illegal across Canada, Schmidt runs a co-operative venture where farmers house their cows, and he provides them with their milk. Claiming he does not sell or distribute raw milk, Schmidt represented himself during the three-day hearing in September.

He said he was willing to bear whatever punishment he gets, including imprisonment.

“I’m prepared to pay any amount,” Schmidt said. “It’s ridiculous people in this country can’t decide what they want to drink and eat.”

Schmidt likened his movement to that of Mahatma Gandhi and civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

“It’s not the milk, it’s the principle of personal freedom,” he said to members of the media.

While his likening of his protest to Gandhi is interesting, how much of a similarity does it actually bear to that of the great Indian statesman and icon of the last century — who was a legendary peace activist.

Gandhi propagated simple living and high thinking and, incidentally, drank raw milk to set an example of the goodness of what is natural. What else would Gandhi and Michael Schmidt have in common? Perhaps Schmidt’s determination to pay any price and even be imprisoned for what he believes.

Few Canadian-born people, or those born in other parts of the world in the past 30 or 40 years, may know a lot about Gandhi; even less may know what relevance his life or teachings hold to Canada and the world today.

What were the ideals and philosophy of this small, brown, old man who changed the world in his own lifetime?

Gandhi almost single-handedly led an entire nation — a subcontinent — into a revolution that was nonviolent and spiritual.

Oct. 2 marked the 129th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), popularly known as Mahatma (“great soul” in Hindi) Gandhi. His birthday is celebrated as the International Day of Non-Violence.

His simple guidelines of how to be independent and self-sufficient struck a chord with the poor Indian masses who identified with him; he enabled them to survive the political and environmental disasters that followed India in the years after Indian independence in 1947.

Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organizing peasants, farmers and urban labourers in protesting excessive land tax and discrimination.

Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, build religious and ethnic amity, increase economic self- reliance and, above all, to achieve “Swaraj” — the independence of India from foreign domination.

Gandhi famously led Indians in protesting the British-imposed salt tax with the 400-kilometre Dandi Salt March in 1930.

In 1942, he led the call for the British to quit India. He was imprisoned for many years, on numerous occasions, in both South Africa and India.

His principles were uncomplicated: Be simple. Be close to nature, grow what you need to eat, be content with what you have and do not depend on any foreign power for any of your needs.

His mantra was nonviolence and truth, and he urged others to embrace the same. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and ate simple vegetarian food.

He undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and social protest.

Gandhi’s greatest trademark was simplicity — spending most of his life living his motto of “simple living, high thinking.” His life and cause became legendary.

Gandhi paid with his life for his beliefs — for teaching that all religions were equal and that all would have equal place in a free India. He was assassinated by those who opposed him.

His movement was multidimensional and embraced several causes, but his principles could be reduced to one: Stand up for the truth.

Michael Schmidt and Mahatma Gandhi: is it milk, or the milk of human kindness, that is their parallel?

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