“Before Michael Schmidt and his raw milk crusade, there was Adelaide Hunter Hoodless.
She isn’t mentioned in this week’s court ruling that convicted Schmidt of violating Ontario public health laws by selling unpasteurized milk. And her name leaves some of Schmidt’s followers looking perplexed.
But more than a century ago, after her youngest son, John, died from drinking contaminated milk as an infant, Hoodless embarked on a campaign to have all milk heat-treated — pasteurized — to kill potentially harmful bacteria, making her one of Canada’s earliest food safety proponents.
“She was way ahead of her time,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food safety and distribution at the University of Guelph and a member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s expert advisory panel.
Hoodless grew up on a farm in St. George, near Brantford, and is sometimes described as one of the country’s most effective but least-known social reformers.
After her son’s death in 1889, she devoted herself to educating women in the “domestic sciences” and giving them the institutional backing they needed to protect their families.
Her work led to the formation of Women’s Institutes, home economics programs in schools and the creation of the Macdonald Institute at the University of Guelph.
And while Schmidt has waged a high-profile battle against public health authorities and milk marketing boards in his quest to get raw milk into customers’ hands, his most formidable adversary might be Hoodless and her legacy.
Oddly, each of their campaigns has been described as attempts to empower people and encourage them to take more responsibility for the food they produce and consume.
But while Hoodless saw government regulation as part of the solution, Schmidt’s ethos is decidedly libertarian: keep government out and let consumers decide what to eat.
Those competing philosophies are also at the heart of a growing international discussion about the role the state should play in monitoring and managing risks to food supplies.
“I really think we need to have a debate in this country about how we commercially market milk, what does food safety mean and how do we regulate food safety,” Charlebois said.
There’s definitely an appetite, he said, for more government food regulation, particularly since 1996, when Britain announced Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a human variant of Mad Cow disease, had found its way into the country’s beef.
But at the same time, said Charlebois, consumers are more sophisticated, health conscious and, particularly if they live in cities, want to reconnect with the land and know more about where their food comes from. And this, he believes, is where Schmidt fits in.
The 57-year-old Grey County dairy farmer has been waging his straight-from-the-cow crusade for nearly two decades and while his primary motivation was not the death of a child, it involved another form of deeply personal loss….”