Dear Umbra,

Your investigation for the raw milk advice apparently didn’t trip over the Real Milk Campaign of the Weston A. Price Foundation. I hope you can remedy the oversight in a future column.

Stephen Guesman
Alabama

Dearest Stephen,

Thank you for your kindly upbraiding and the opportunity to further discuss the problem of incendiary topics. I did indeed trip over the Real Milk Campaign of the Weston A. Price Foundation, as one cannot help but do when one puts “raw milk” into a search engine. It is these folks, among others, whom I unkindly refer to as sounding “like zealots.” I should have been more specific and given the URL of Real Milk; I apologize.

Express yourself.

In the service of humor and of Grist, I would like to go over a few issues brought to the fore, most recently, by the raw milk piece. Mainly this: I am an advice columnist. It is feasible that someone may follow my advice, and the absolute worst thing to happen would be if a person read my column, did not check any other sources, did what I said, and was hurt. That is why I have been clear, again and again, that my mandate is the environment, and this is not a health or nutrition advice column. E.g., poorly handled milk can make you sick. It is your decision whether or not to take that risk; it is my job to link that decision process to environmentalism.

As to zealotry: I love a nice non-violent zealot, in part because zealotry is the leading force for change, but also because it offers rich opportunities for humor. I am a language lover, and a hardened Yankee skeptic. I can’t in good conscience tell a reader that a site like Real Milk is a reliable source of safety information. It does have helpful resources such as a compendium of raw milk laws in each state. These are interspersed with anecdotal claims for raw milk curing everything from Lyme disease to asthma and tidbits like “ultra-pasteurization is a violent process.” A violent process? Akin to drilling holes in wood, plunging broccoli into boiling water, and cutting hair? Here’s where humor frolics and I get to use the word “zealot” — none can deny that it is a fun word to use.

As you can see from the comments below my raw milk article (also see cats, fur, and anything related to meat or fish) emotions run high in the worlds of animals and food. The anecdote is a powerful tool, but they are called “personal” anecdotes for a reason. OK, your cat doesn’t kill birds. But guess what? My brother was raised on raw milk and still has asthma.

I harp on the raw milk issue because it is a recent example, but there are plenty of other times when passion has resulted in, shall we say, differences of opinion. Regular readers should know that my own zealotry is focused on small farms and local food, and rest assured that I am not the enemy.

I ask you all to keep my mandate for humorous, responsible advice in mind. In my oft charming but sometimes annoying way, I can bumble around with less clarity than one might desire — so I in turn will continue to strive for clarity, amusing vocabulary words, and decent, safe advice.

Wear a bike helmet.

Udderly,
Umbra