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The Raw Deal: Feds Smash Down Doors on the Raw Food Culture

The Raw Deal: Feds Smash Down Doors on the Raw Food Culture

The shifting legality of marijuana dispensaries in California has created a cottage industry of sorts in the sunshine state, but has also occupied the headlines with reports of busts and shut downs by the Federal Government. So when late last month there was news about the Fed blowing into a Venice Beach shop, arresting three employees, confiscating contraband, and shutting the place down, well, I just assumed the store must have been dealing in marijuana-based products. It would only make sense. Actually they were selling zucchini, gluten-free bread, and various dairy products. To be sure, it was the dairy products that piqued the interest of the Fed, and got Rawsome Foods of Venice closed down for the foreseeable future.

Now beyond the possible assumption that Rawsome Foods were selling hemp cheese or marijuana milk (two items I don’t think really exist) you need to go no further than their name to get a read on what sort of contraband they were selling – raw food. More specifically raw dairy products, which have long been declared illegal in this country for reasons concerning food safety. According to reports, Federal officers stormed the natural foods market with guns drawn and warrant in hand until they found the walk-in-refrigerator teeming with raw milk, raw cheeses and the like, confiscating everything raw, and arrested three employees including the owner (who was held on $123,000 bail). Regulators alleged that Rawesome broke the law by failing to have the proper permits to sell food to the public, whereas raw foods activists see this as unfair targeting of people who believe in the inherent nutrition and safety of responsibly cultivated and manufactured raw foods (including honey and nuts). This is the latest culinary skirmish in the increasingly emotional battle over what people can put in their mouths.

Federal officials contend that this seeming targeting is not about victimization, but an effort to limit food borne disease. Scientists and regulators point to epidemiological evidence linking disease outbreaks to raw milk: The milk can transmit bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria, which can result in diarrhea, kidney failure or death, and regulators behind the raid regulators allege that Rawsome Foods broke the law by failing to have the proper permits to sell food to the public (as it is now legal for licensed dairies to sell raw milk at retail outlets in California and 10 other states). Still with lack of acceptance on the federal level, and growing concern about food safety and food borne pathogens, the fight by raw foods advocates is going to be assuredly an uphill one.

What is your feeling on the buying and selling of raw, or unpasteurized, foods – particularly dairy? Should everyone have the right to purchase safely handled, clearly labeled, raw dairy products? Or should we be kept safe from our own folly? Is the Federal Government overstepping their bounds in this move, or are they just protecting unwitting consumers?

Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Raw, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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10:36PM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

What? They can't do anything about labeling GMO, pesticides, chemicals in foods, regulating the horrors in the stockyards and hen houses, and they pick on this? Taking a federal case to the doors of small businesses is called bullying! Justifying their existence and keeping our tax dollars working. BAH!

7:13PM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

Treating Raw milk worse than heroin?? This is such BS.

7:54AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

How dare they! If the food is posted as being raw and it is stated that it might possibly carry bacteria or disease, it should be the choice of the consumer whether or not to purchase it. How many times has pasteurized milk been recalled because of salmonella? And salmonella on cantaloupes and e.coli on the spinach. It's disgusting that anyone can sell the dead flesh of an animal as food legally and yet get in trouble for selling milk. These people need to get a real job that actually helps people.

6:45AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

Ridiculous! Responsible adults should be allowed to buy raw milk if the like. We know the risks. Besides, raw milk, I have heard, is more healthful than what you get at Kroger's, Publix, etc. Since when is raw milk the moral equivalent of meth?

5:38AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

It does not matter how clean the dairy is and how well the cows are taken care of the milk can still be full of bacteria and viruses and you won't be able to see it and it can make you very very sick.

7:31PM PST on Feb 22, 2012

If milk comes from a healthy cow, in a healthy environment, and is kept clean during the entire process (packaging, etc), then it should not contain any disease. I feel that instead of cracking down on the sale of this food (which I really believe has huge benefits behind it), they should worry about the conditions in which this product is produced. If the conditions are clean and sanitary, and the cows are healthy, there should not be a problem.

11:27PM PDT on Sep 21, 2011

Just another example of the federal government overstepping the right of people to consume what they choose to. America needs to legalize marijuana and maintain a equal opportunity for people to consume boiled (pasteurized) dairy products and chemical-laden junk food as much as raw (natural) dairy products and chemical-free (again, raw) snacks such as almonds and honey! Raw food and Marijuana-legalization activists aren't telling other people they MUST eat raw foods and consume cannabis so why must the Federal government? oh yeah, that's right because they aren't making money off of it...yet. Legalize it and tax it-so we all win!

8:23PM PDT on Sep 18, 2011

I agree with Magda below. I think the shutdown was big business bullying.

2:25PM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Just put up a sign to warn to people about the supposed risks of these raw foods and let them make their own choices. I think that everyone who walks into a raw food co-op knows perfectly well what they're doing. Maybe the government should focus on all the factory-farmed foods that end up in every single other grocery store that consumers expect to be safe to eat and often aren't.

11:38PM PDT on Aug 19, 2011

food needs to belong to the people, after all raw food has sustained human beings for the majority of their history and brought us to this point. Sounds a bit like the heavy tactics seen in Food Inc

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