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?