Farm fresh eggs
While not as controversial as milk, the farm fresh eggs fall under the same state provisions requiring them to be labeled as pet food. Marta Suarez, 29, started buying farm fresh eggs when the local food co-op she is a member of started selling them earlier this year. Now she’s hooked and says she would never consider switching back.
“Even the organic eggs you buy at the store just aren’t as fresh as the ones you can get from a local farm,” she says.
She said the difference is immediately visible when you crack an egg open. The local eggs have darker orange colored yolks and clearer whites that she says “almost look like water.”
While the back and forth between governmental agencies and the small farmers who sell farm fresh eggs to co-ops and green markets isn’t as fevered as that of the raw milk debate, locals selling eggs are reluctant to be identified. The Daily News contacted several residents who sell unclassified eggs to local co-ops. None would do an interview for fear of being identified and fined or shut down by the Department of Agriculture.
But a lack of visibility hasn’t slowed sales. More people are searching them out online and through co-ops. Beth Housewert, who runs the Green Village Organic Co-op in Golden Gate City said she buys out one local provider every week because of demand from her members.
For Suarez, the final selling point in spending a bit more on local eggs ($3.50 a dozen) is that her kids actually enjoy eating them.
“They ask for eggs now,” she says.
— Jonathan Foerster, email@example.com
Camilla at 4947 U.S. 41
NAPLES — It’s a liquid miracle with the potential to drastically change a person’s health. That’s how Aziz Obidov describes raw milk.
Although he stops short of saying it will cure cancer, he does believe it’s just what the American body needs. That’s why the Uzbeki immigrant sells raw milk from a farm in Tallahassee at Camilla, the small Eastern European grocery store off U.S. 41 in Naples that he and his wife have been running for the past year and a half. His operation is small, selling only about 20 gallons of milk and about 10 quarts of cream each week. He also makes and sells, butter, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese and keffir made from the milk.
“Where I am from, there is no raw milk,” he says. “There is only milk. That’s the only way you have it.”
But the U.S.D.A., the F.D.A., the C.D.C. and just about every other acronymed health agency in the United States thinks raw milk, or milk that hasn’t been pasteurized, could make you seriously ill and, in the wrong circumstances, possibly kill you.
Forget Michael Bloomberg versus salt and the City of Chicago versus foie gras; the most heated debate in food these days is whether or not raw milk is a superfood or a cesspool of bacteria. As more people take notice of not only what they are eating but also where it comes from and how it’s handled, the movement for raw milk, cheese, butter and eggs is growing.
So what is raw milk? Is it a miracle elixir or organic poison? The answer you get depends on who you talk to.
“Raw milk is inherently dangerous and should not be consumed by anyone, at any time, for any reason,” John Sheehan, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s division of plant and dairy food safety told the Wall Street Journal in March. This was after 12 incidents of people being reported ill the Midwest after drinking raw milk contaminated with a dangerous bacterium called campylobacter, which can cause dysentery.
On the other side are people like Frank Oakes, who says his grandfather taught him a valuable lesson as a kid about the benefits of raw milk.
“He showed me that a calf will die within 10 days drinking milk from its mother that has been pasteurized,” he said. “Pasteurized milk cannot sustain life.”
Raw milk proponents say that the process of pasteurization, which heats milk to a temperature which kills harmful bacteria, is also killing off many of the nutrients, vitamins and enzymes that make milk healthy.
It’s a battle happening around the country. State legislatures are looking into the issue. Wisconsin state legislature is debating amending state laws to allow the sale of raw milk at the same time that Whole Foods is pulling the product from its stores.
Food safety experts say that pasteurization saves lives. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says food-borne illnesses are on the rise as consumption of raw milk and products made from it grows. Sarah Klein, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based food and nutrition think tank, says that pasteurization has led the percentage of food-borne illnesses from milk products dropping from 25 percent total complaints before the technique was widely adopted in the early 1900s to about 1 percent now.
Although everyone is vulnerable to illness from E. Coli or Salmonella poisoning, children, elderly and people with weekend immune systems are most at risk from drinking raw milk, Klein says.
In March, the FDA confirmed 12 illnesses in Michigan related to raw milk. Between 1998 and 2007, there were about 300 outbreaks with about 5,000 people sickened by dairy products, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest research. Only 34 percent of those were related to raw dairy, but 80 percent of milk-specific outbreaks were related to raw milk. The FDA links two deaths, 187 hospitalizations and 1,614 illnesses to raw milk between 1998 and 2008. Research by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development center found an average of 5 out breaks a year related to raw milk between 1993 and 2006, which was double the number from the previous 20 years.
Klein says the numbers are somewhat misleading because of the relatively small number of people drinking raw milk. When you compare the number of illnesses to eating ground beef (100 million pounds of ground beef was recalled just in 2009) or even salad greens (which caused more than 7,000 illnesses between ’97 and ’08), it doesn’t add up because raw milk doesn’t do that much volume.
“But that number is growing as raw milk gains in popularity,” Klein says. “People are taking a really big risk.”
Don Splain, a local private chef and raw milk advocate, says the reason for the high percentage of milk-related illnesses was the rise in industrial dairy production.
“Most of the laws about pasteurization came about when milk production started moving into unsanitary condition,” he says.
Splain started a Web site, keepmilkraw.com, touting the safety of raw milk, when purchased from responsible farmers. He says the ideal milk cows eat a diet almost entirely of grass and aren’t milked in highly industrialized settings.
Splain and other raw milk advocates say finding a responsible farm owner or a merchant who regularly visits the farms is crucial to raw milk consumption. Obidov says it’s in the farm’s best interest to supply safe milk because one outbreak will ruin the business.
“If someone gets sick, then no one will buy from that farm,” he says. “It’s in their best interest to make sure everything is safe.”
Klein says it doesn’t matter what the setting is or how clean the operation is; the biology of a cow makes it nearly impossible to keep fecal matter out of milk.
“Geographically speaking, the area where the manure is isn’t that far from the utters where the milk comes from,” she says.
At his organic grocery store, Food and Thought in the Gateway Plaza off U.S. 41, Oakes has a whole cooler dedicated to raw milk, which he said is a “really important part of our business” both monetarily and philosophically.
The milk, of which Oakes estimates he sells between 200 and 300 gallons a week, rests in glistening glass half-gallon jugs with a big label right in the middle of them declaring them for pet consumption only. The bottles are labeled at the dairies in Pennsylvania from which Oakes buys the milk. Otherwise he couldn’t bring it across state lines.
Since 1987, federal laws have prohibited the interstate sale of raw milk for human consumption. And Florida laws require the label on any raw milk sold in the state and on farm fresh eggs sold to consumers by farms that don’t have a license to process them.
In some ways Florida’s law is more permissive than other states. Some states require raw milk to be dyed red or to have small amounts of other substances added to make it unappealing to humans. The labels are built to protect farmers and to provide a disincentive for consumers, but Oakes and Obidov say it’s nothing that a little education can’t fix.
Price might actually be a bigger roadblock for those thinking of buying raw milk. Because the market is relatively small, the costs for raw milk are high. Camilla sells gallons of whole milk for $10 and skim for $7. Cream is $10 a quart, butter $10 a pound. Oakes sells half gallons of cows milk for $5.99.
Marta Suarez a 29-year-old Naples mother, says she switched from organic pasteurized milk to raw milk because she was worried about what she losing.
“Is it killing what is valuable?” she asks. “I can taste a big difference.”
That taste, Obidov says is the bacteria your body needs.
Obidov might as well be the spokesmodel for the raw milk movement. The 30-year-old is a picture of health. His biceps bulge from his tight T-shirt. His smile is pearly white. Only a bit of premature balding, which he hides by shaving his head, keeps him from looking like a cover model for a fitness magazine.
He credits this all to raw milk. He consumes gallons of it a week, just like he did as a kid growing up in Uzbekistan.
When he moved to the United States in 1999, Obidov continued drinking milk just as he’d done before. The only difference, he started feeling ill. He was eventually diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. He didn’t understand why this happened.
“My mother couldn’t breast feed me when I was a baby, so I was literally raised on raw cow’s milk,” he says. “But after five years here, I had health problems.”
By 2004 he stopped drinking milk altogether. And he didn’t have any again until a few years later when he saw raw milk at Whole Foods.
“I tried it and I was fine,” he says.
Now he spends a good part of his week making products from the raw milk he brings in from a farm in near Tallahassee. From week to week he says you can see the difference. Depending on what the cows are eating that week, the butter he makes from the milk could be a golden yellow or nearly white.
He offers anyone who comes in his store a sample of the products in hopes of making another convert. If people claim lactose intolerance, he tells them to try anyway. If they feel bad, he’ll take them to the doctor and pay the bill.
“Milk is the most complex food on earth,” he says. “It has minerals, vitamins, acids, 250-plus components. They are natural. Why would we want to kill them off?”
Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster