It's farmers' market season, so it's time for a food-related post. Slate ran an article by a professor of science journalism on the possible ill effects of consuming raw milk. To be more precise, Slate ran an attack on weak man arguments in favor of drinking raw milk, complete with weak man digs against other pro-organic positions. This, I think, is especially egregious, not only of Slate but of the author, who as a professor of journalism really seriously ought to know better than to engage in such behavior. Here's a representative graph:
And it's in this incarnation—the one that draws a cultlike following—that the raw-milk ideal becomes dangerous. They're not alone, of course; pure-food advocates in general tend to cast a romanticized glow over their favored products. We hear that old-fashioned organic produce contains more nutrients than that grown by modern agriculture, despite the fact that most research suggests that, basically, a carrot is a carrot and one spinach leaf is pretty much another (and all lose nutrients as they sit on a shelf). We hear that we should return to old-fashioned farming methods, advice that ignores the key fact that such techniques are so inefficient that they can't sustain the world's current population. There's an element of wishful thinking to many food mythologies, but—unlike the haloed status of raw milk—most don't lead directly to risky behavior or public health concerns or physicians complaining that increased consumption of "nature's perfect food" has led to a recent doubling in the number of milk-borne disease outbreaks.
I'm going to presume that the readers of Slate are not going to be all that familiar with debates about raw milk and biodynamic farming methods. It think it's also safe to assume that the likely reader of this piece doesn't have a stake in the argument–they're not a partisan looking for confirmation of their vision of the dialectical opposition. This fact makes the weak manning here all the more egregious. People know, or ought to know, where a partisan agenda is being advanced. You're a fool (and sadly many are) if you think you're going to get an honest picture of liberals from the Rush Limbaugh show. In this case, however, one might be excused for having one's guard down.
Now of course, it's certainly true that some advocates of raw milk are nuts (the author has picked them)–they make nutty claims without basis in any kind of evidence for the magical properties of raw milk. Some of these nuts even dismiss the very obvious dangers of raw milk consumption with the most ridiculous of sophistries.
Nonetheless, many people drink raw milk (and in general advocate for various organic farming methods). Some of these people have compelling arguments. Many of them have arguments that pass the initial test of plausibility. But you'd never get that idea from this piece.