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Organic crime in Bay Ridge

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The first rule of Milk Club is you don’t talk about Milk Club.

The second rule of Milk Club is you do not talk about Milk Club.

That’s what I learned this week while investigating what my wife described as Brooklyn’s Underground Raw Milk Movement.

“I know something you might have some interest in that one of my friends is into, but I doubt you will be able to find anyone who will talk about it,” she told me. “She’s smuggling milk that isn’t pasteurized from a farm in Pennsylvania to her Bay Ridge apartment.”

Milk smugglers?

She continued:

“If the government finds out they could shut her down, shut the farmer down, shut everyone down.”

For drinking raw milk?

I immediately flashed back to a children’s book I once owned about how Louis Pasteur saved all of humanity by discovering that spoilage could be thwarted in wine by heating it below its boiling point. He then applied the same process to milk to destroy unwanted enzymes that looked a lot like unshaven Mr. Yuck stickers.

“Your friend is a paranoid — and an idiot,” I told her. “Why would she want all those enzymes in her milk? And I have serious doubts that anyone is going to jail for drinking milk.”

“You’re the idiot,” she replied. “If you ever read a book you would know that a lot of people believe it is much healthier, and that the government will go after you if they find out you are distributi­ng.”

I was intrigued, especially after I learned she was correct.

It turns out that while possession of raw milk is legal, selling it is a crime. It’s also a violation of federal law to transport raw milk across state lines with the intent to sell it for human consumption.

So, I asked my wife if she would e-mail her friend (we’ll call her Deep Milk) and get more details about this alleged milk underground.

But this raw milkmaid wanted some assurances of her own.

“I am going to need to read the article before I can give you permission to print anything,” she said in an e-mail. “The others will also have to review it, just to make sure we are all on the same page.”

She wanted approval rights over my story for her and “others?” This went deeper than I thought.

I called upon my wife to try to make sense out of it all and told her that the demands were unreasonable, but she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say a thing about the Milk Underground, although she could arrange a meeting (that had to be kept confidential, too.)

Turns out the rabbit hole does go deeper.

Deep Milk began to tell me her story, which began as an unenlightened drinker of pasteurized milk, who on the advice of a friend began to research the benefits of raw milk.

“I discovered that in almost every other culture raw milk was cherished for its remarkable health benefits, so long as the cows were not from a factory farm, hormone free, and allowed to eat grass,” she said.

Deep Milk believes that the heating process involved in pasteurizing the milk does kill some bad stuff, but also kills healthy stuff too, not to mention the fact that at 40 years old she could easily pass for 32. She isn’t alone. Web sites and groups across the country have sprouted up quicker than bacteria on moldy bread singing the praises of the utter.

They believe that science supports them, and that mainstream medicine is historically two steps behind the truth (leeches anyone?).

Turns out the process of smuggling contraband milk into Brooklyn is more complicated than the spider-web of tax-dollar subsidies channeled to Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project.

To get around the law, no money changes hands in New York. It must all be done online — and only after you sign a form releasing the seller of all liability. After paying online, the milk is made available for pick-up at five different strategically located drop-off points throughout the city.

I was allowed to write that she once made her husband wait four hours for a late truck in Manhattan, which begs the question, why would someone wait four hours for something the FDA considers poison?

An FDA report on illnesses caused by raw milk over the last five years says there have been 18 “outbreaks” of bacterial illness involving raw milk or raw milk cheeses in 15 states. Those outbreaks have sickened 451 people, a few of those seriously enough to be hospitalized. The report lists types of bacteria that might be found in raw milk, including campylobacter, escherichia, listeria, salmonella, yersina and brucella. It also lists diseases raw milk products can cause, such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio, strep throat, scarlet fever and typhoid fever. How could the FDA have been so wrong?

I made a call to our family pediatrician, and asked for her position on the underground milk smugglers, and she said she isn’t getting anywhere near the stuff.

“Although I am a huge believer in organic foods, I think we need to be careful where we draw a line,” said Maimonides pediatrician Dr. Joanna Tsopelas. “I would drink raw milk [only] if I could boil it under high pressure for an hour at high temperatures. So I guess the answer is no.”

The raw milk underground will not be dissuaded, and according to Deep Milk, they are spreading out in clubs across Brooklyn looking to turn the clock back to the days when food was simpler and cows weren’t sharing IVs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they want their plan written about in a major Brooklyn weekly.

Thus, I got another message from Deep Milk.

“I am really sorry for wasting your time,” she said, claiming she got orders from the top. “But we can’t help you anymore at the risk of the government finding out, so the story can’t run at all.”

Is there a witness protection program for raw milk advocates?

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