The Raw Milk Revolution

Maybe you don’t know who David Gumpert is, but I’d be willing to bet money you know who Joel Salatin is. In addition to being a self-described Christian environmentalist libertarian lunatic farmer, my hero, and the author of one of my most controversial guest posts, Joel Salatin also loaned his pen out to David Gumpert by writing the foreword to Mr. Gumpert’s recent book, The Raw Milk Revolution.

That’s quite a shining endorsement. David Gumpert is a journalist focusing in the area of health care, and he’s been blogging at The Complete Patient for nearly 4 years. His book chronicles the growing battle between the industrialized food system (propped up by the government and law enforcement personnel) and the local food movement (represented by devotees to raw milk). It’s an eye opener.

From the book’s description:

Beginning in 2006, the agriculture departments of several large states-with backing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-launched a major crackdown on small dairies producing raw milk. Replete with undercover agents, sting operations, surprise raids, questionable test-lab results, mysterious illnesses, propaganda blitzes, and grand jury investigations, the crackdown was designed to disrupt the supply of unpasteurized milk to growing legions of consumers demanding healthier and more flavorful food.

The Raw Milk Revolution takes readers behind the scenes of the government’s tough and occasionally brutal intimidation tactics, as seen through the eyes of milk producers, government regulators, scientists, prosecutors, and consumers. It is a disturbing story involving marginally legal police tactics and investigation techniques, with young children used as political pawns in a highly charged atmosphere of fear and retribution.

Are regulators’ claims that raw milk poses a public health threat legitimate? That turns out to be a matter of considerable debate. In assessing the threat, The Raw Milk Revolution reveals that the government’s campaign, ostensibly designed to protect consumers from pathogens like salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, and listeria, was based in a number of cases on suspect laboratory findings and illnesses attributed to raw milk that could well have had other causes, including, in some cases, pasteurized milk.

David Gumpert dares to ask whether regulators have the public’s interest in mind or the economic interests of dairy conglomerates. He assesses how the government’s anti-raw-milk campaign fits into a troublesome pattern of expanding government efforts to sanitize the food supply-even in the face of ever-increasing rates of chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, and allergies. The Raw Milk Revolution provides an unsettling view of the future, in which nutritionally dense foods may be available largely through underground channels.

Most of this book was news to me. I’m aware of how difficult it is to get raw milk in some states, and I’m aware of several farmers who’ve been unjustly persecuted by the government simply because they produce raw milk for consumers. But I wasn’t aware of the full details of these stories — the way the police and other government officials handled the investigations, the response of consumers, or the first hand individual tales from those directly involved.

But beyond the in-depth chronicling of events, what I most appreciated about this book was it’s respectful approach to the complex issues of food safety, public health, and consumer freedom. Often in this debate, people come down quite stringently on one side or the other. They either want to dramatically restrict consumer freedom in the name of food safety, or they completely dismiss any issues regarding food safety in favor of unlimited consumer freedom. Gumpert actually respects the food safety concerns of parents and other consumers while simultaneously making a case for consumer freedom. It’s a rare combination, and one worth reading.

The most unsatisfying part of this book is the conclusion — not because of any flaw by the author, but because the story isn’t finished yet. In the U.S., we’re still in the middle of this great battle over raw milk. The outcome is unknown. When you read a story like this, you want it to be wrapped up nice and neat at the end. The good guys win. The bad guys run away with their tails tucked between their legs. That sort of thing. But this book can’t offer you that sort of resolution. For now, nothing’s resolved.

The war is still being fought. And we raw milk drinkers and advocates are still soldiers in the fight.

All said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Raw Milk Revolution, and I think many of you would too!


  1. Annabelle says

    Kristen, Thanks for this review and for all you do. Gumpert’s book sounds like a must-read and I will. Another book you and other readers may be interested in is Linda Faillace’s excellent MAD SHEEP: The True Story Behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm. (Chelsea Green Publishing Company) More testimony that food renegades must be ever vigilant re: the byzantine workings of the UDSA. (I often wonder what USDA employers serve on their dinner tables, or if they even own dinner tables.) Linda Faillace has that rare gift for being able to explain scientific complexities in a simple, compelling style. Her work is warm and authentic. And heartbreaking.

  2. says

    Cool review. Yes, it is frustrating watching the raw milk stuff unfold, when so many people still don’t understand all the issues at stake.

    I wrote a review of _Raw Milk Revolution_ that you might find interesting:

    I also recommend the film, “Michael Schmidt: Organic Hero or Bioterrorist?”. Reviewed here:
    .-= Alex´s last blog post …Save The Dates: Kimchi Workshop, 1/24/2010; Kimchi Festival, 3/21/2010 =-.

  3. says

    Hi, Kristen, and Happy New Year!

    I’ve got the book beside me right now on the bed at the hotel. I’ve got 70 pages to go. It’s such a GREAT book — I’m loving every page.

    We’re at Lost Pines Resort just outside of Austin. Too bad I am not going to get to see you on this trip — we are only here for a couple of days (we leave tomorrow) and we’ve been non-stop busy with family activities.
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post …2009: Real Food Media Turns One & Top Ten CHEESESLAVE Posts =-.

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