“Why?”: An Open Letter that I’ve sent to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department, Los Angeles County District Attorney, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Food & Drug Administration, and United States Department of Agriculture (cc: Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety)

“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of  those who live under tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

Hello there,

My name is Randy Clemens, and I’m perplexed. I try not to ruffle too many feathers in this world. I like having a peaceful existence, and try not to let too many issues upset me. But when I got an email this morning saying that one of my favorite food spots, Rawesome, was being ordered to shut down… well, it upset me.

You see, just as I really do my best not to poke my nose around in other people’s business when it obviously doesn’t concern me or my well-being, I kindly request the same respect from others. And if there’s one thing that I’ve grown to hold in the highest regard – that I would consider sacred – it’s the food that I choose to put in my body. And frankly, because I just have to be frank here, it’s none of anybody else’s business what goes down in my kitchen.

While I can certainly drag on and on with a litany of complaints regarding the offensive number of artificial food ingredients that we’ve allowed in to our food system, that is not the purpose of this inquiry. You have every right to eat that KFC Double Down sandwich. You won’t catch me eating one, but I’ll gladly defend your right to pound one if you so choose. There are people that are OK with eating high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, and artificial ingredients. I’m not, and I don’t. But I wholeheartedly believe that it’s our right to make that choice all on our own.

So, what do I eat? Well, I love fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains – all that good stuff. Fresh, organic, local, sustainable and so on, whenever possible. I know, it sounds pretty exciting, right? I like it. It works for me. But there are some times when I am craving something rich – a little guilty pleasure so to speak. You know what I turn to? Dairy. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Come on, now. What’s toast without a pat of butter? Or pasta without a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano? A peanut butter and jelly sandwich without a tall glass of ice-cold milk? It’s downright heresy.

One “problem” though – I like it raw. You see, I don’t subscribe to the idea of pasteurization. I know, I know, coliform bacteria, yadda yadda. I’ve read it all. I’ve seen your warnings. But you know what? I’m OK with the perceived risk. I’ve been drinking raw milk for seven years now, and I mean, I don’t want to argue with your scientific findings, but I’m still alive. Heck, statistically speaking, my life is in much greater jeopardy every time I hop behind the steering wheel. You’re wasting money chasing us raw milk folks! You should be pulling cars off the roads! I should have copied the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on this letter as well.

Rawesome Foods in Venice

For people like me, Rawesome – a private, members-only food club here in Los Angeles – has been a veritable dietary Mecca. It’s one of the few places I’m able to get raw milk ever since Whole Foods Market tucked its tail between its legs and pulled it off their shelves due to perceived liability. You see, Rawesome is a nonprofit co-op of sorts that “contracts with farmers to lease their animals and/or fields and owns the produce of those animals and fields.” And as a dues paying member, I am paying a small family farmer for his services to cultivate, grow, harvest, board and care for animals, collect, package and ship the produce which is owned by club members.

But in light of the email I received this morning, and of course the unprecedented and completely unnecessary raid that many of your agencies participated in on 30 June 2010, in which officers with guns drawn stormed our peaceful refuge, confiscating the products that we as members had commissioned from said farmer – I can’t help but feel that my right to get my beloved raw milk is being challenged. And, well… it upsets me.

So, let’s talk about this. I’d really hate to see Rawesome be closed down, when there is obviously a large enough community of concerned citizens that are willing to support and frequent it. Surely some sort of compromise can be reached, a motion passed, a letter written, public comments submitted, new regulations evaluated. (How much did that raid cost to coordinate and execute anyway? Given our fragile current economic situation, it seems a tad irresponsible to be spending precious public funds on stealing milk from a harmless little group of quasi-hippies, doesn’t it?)

I pose to you a simple question: “Why?” Why do you feel it is so important to stop people from getting one of nature’s nutritive treats in its pure, unadulterated form? How on earth does what I drink affect you or your well-being? Again, you can tell me it’s going to kill me. Hell, slap a huge sticker on it with scary warnings like a pack of cigarettes. I appreciate that you want to look out for my health, but the fact is, I’m an educated and informed adult.

I can make up my own mind. And Rawesome is quite diligent about presenting both the benefits and the potential risks of drinking raw milk to you – their membership form is quite the iron-clad waiver should some illness befall you, but strangely, I just don’t think anyone is getting sick.

I mean, my god, if I’m entrusted with the ability to cast a vote for the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful person in the world, don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, I should be able to choose whether or not I want to drink raw milk? That’s OK if you’d rather not. It’s none of my business what kind of milk is in your fridge, and again, pardon my being frank, but I really couldn’t care less. So, why have your agencies taken it upon themselves to care so intrusively about what’s in mine?

Again I ask why? Was there a slew of complaints from the public? Perhaps there was some sort of outbreak of disease there that somehow none of us found out about? I doubt it, but I’m just dying to know what is prompting this unrelenting desire to stop me and countless others from knowingly choosing to drink raw milk. The 1,600+ members of Rawesome maintain a certain lifestyle, and we truly and honestly believe that milk is meant to be consumed exactly the way it comes from the animal – pure, raw, and unadulterated.

So, this is me, upset. Yes, I may have gotten a little sarcastic, maybe even a bit snarky, but I think I stayed fairly polite and civil. I’m not screaming or calling anyone names or trying to get you to change your ways. I honestly just want to know why your agencies are all so hell-bent on changing mine, especially when they absolutely, positively, could not and do not affect you (or anybody else for that matter) in any way, shape, or form. I honestly just want to know: “Why?”

Sincerely looking forward to your reply,
Randy Clemens