Ian Lovett, New York Times, 4 August, 2011
LOS ANGELES – Raw food enthusiasts fit right in here, in the earthy, health-conscious beach communities of Venice and Santa Monica, along with the farmers’ markets, health food stores and vegan restaurants.
But this week, the police cleared the shelves of Rawesome, an establishment in Venice Beach, loading $70,000 of raw, organic produce and dairy products on the back of a flatbed truck.
And then, on Thursday, James Stewart, the proprietor, was arraigned on charges of illegally making, improperly labeling and illegally selling raw milk products, as well as other charges related to Rawesome’s operations. Two farmers who work with Rawesome were also named in the district attorney’s complaint.
Though it is legal to sell unpasteurized milk products in California, Rawesome, which has operated in Venice for more than six years, never obtained a license to do so – or, indeed, any type of business license.
Lela Buttery, a trustee at Rawesome, said it had no license because it was not a store. Instead, she called it a “club.” Club members paid an annual fee, which allowed them to peruse the produce, milk products and honey on Rawesome’s shelves, which they paid for – $7 for a pint of raw goat’s milk – to cover the cost of production. Members also signed waivers to signal they understood the risks of consuming raw food.
Rawesome is staffed by volunteers, who take home food for their efforts, and no one, Ms. Buttery said, is making money from his or her work there.
The raid on Rawesome has riled people here who say that unpasteurized milk is safer and healthier. About 150 raw food advocates gathered at the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Thursday to oppose the crackdown.
“It’s our right to choose what we want to put in our bodies,” Ms. Buttery said. “When members filled out an application, they were saying they wanted natural bacteria in their systems. We don’t want labeling. We don’t want animals full of antibiotics.”
Siobhan DeLancey, a spokeswoman for the federal Food and Drug Administration, which participated in the investigation of Rawesome, said the administration banned the interstate sale of raw milk products because they could be dangerous for those with compromised immune systems.
“Our biggest concern is really with children, because pathogens that can be in raw milk can be extremely dangerous for the classically at-risk,” she said. “We’ve seen people wind up as paraplegics.”
But raw food enthusiasts are convinced of raw milk’s healthfulness – and still have plenty of options around here.
“I drink it all the time,” said Laura Avery, who runs a farmers’ market in Santa Monica where raw milk products are sold. “I believe it’s a safer product.”