Monday, December 17, 2012

Uzi vs. Oozy . . . Automatic Weapons and French Cheese

There's an interesting article in Huffington Post this morning:  "Automatic Weapons vs. French Cheese:  Which Is Easier To Buy In The U.S.?"

This is a particularly sore topic in the wake of a horrifying school shooting in Connecticut.  Guns and gun control is the topic du jour.

I'm not going to air my feelings on gun control.  But I am going to air my feelings on cheese control and the prohibition of the sale of raw milk.  Basically, my opinion can be summed up in two words:  It sucks.

Yes, you can conceivably get various diseases from raw milk.  You can also get salmonella from raw eggs or raw chicken (commercial or otherwise), but there's no prohibition against any backyard poultry producer selling you raw eggs or chicken.  There's certainly nothing stopping large-scale commercial poultry and egg companies from selling you the least hygienically-raised eggs and chicken money can buy, and we blithely take those home every day.  Groceries sell us spinach and green onions and strawberries that may or may not be infected with e. coli.  Convenience stores sell us cigarettes that are extensively proven very, very definitely harmful.  But I can't buy a gallon of raw milk or a flavorful raw-milk cheese aged less than 60 days because there's a remote possibility that if the producer isn't observing good standards of cleanliness at his facility, it might contain harmful bacteria.

The typical response to this is:  Well, hey, pasteurized milk cheeses are delicious.  So are cheeses aged over 60 days.  What's the big deal?

As somebody who has actually eaten artisanal, unpasteurized Brie de Meaux, I can tell you that, yes, it is a big deal.  It's the difference between a Monet and a Xerox copy of a print of a Monet.  It's the difference between a really great bottle of wine and Mogen David.  It's the difference between a juicy, seared, well-seasoned burger fresh off the grill and a mystery meat patty from McDonald's that's sat under heat lamps for an hour.

The artisanal foods movement is a big and growing concern.  Small wineries, microbreweries, artisanal breads, and green markets selling organically grown produce, free-range chicken, pastured meats, all face their own challenges in competing against the big commercial concerns.  Their goods cost more than commercial, mass-produced equivalents.  There's no way around that.  Therefore, they have to offer something the commercial producers can't -- better flavor, better nutrition, a clean conscience about the living conditions of your meat or the environmental impact, whatever.

The artisanal cheese industry, however, is also disadvantaged by the War On Raw Milk.  This seriously limits the cheeses that can be produced and "dumbs down" the flavor of these artisanal cheeses.  Imagine artisanal vintners being told, "You can make all the wine you want, but you can only use white grapes.  Hey, why are you complaining?  What's wrong with white wine?"

If the government is really that worried about the dangers of raw milk and raw milk cheeses, why not just require a warning label sticker?  "Warning:  This product contains unpasteurized milk.  Unpasteurized milk can contain dangerous bacteria and can cause diseases such as listeria."  (Never mind that eggs and raw chicken and other foods aren't required to carry such labels.)  Heck, I'd be more than willing to sign a liability waiver for my cheesemonger.

Just one last point.  I've never heard of anyone killing anyone else using gooey, rich, unpasteurized cheese as a murder weapon.  It may well have happened in the history of the world, but frankly, I find those odds more than acceptable.

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