Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society

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From the Stable to the Table—What Do We Eat When We Eat Raw-Milk Cheese?

By Lena Thurn and Maria Fixemer

The question of which cheese to buy is not simply a question about what to eat for lunch—at least not for the US cultural anthropologist Heather Paxson and other so-called post-Pasteurians who set a specific value on their food. Post-Pasteurians don’t believe that pasteurization—which means to heat treat raw milk in order to kill all the microorganisms, the good and the bad, that naturally live inside milk—necessarily enhances the quality of food. For them, the Pasteurian age—and Paxson claims that US citizens in general still live in a Pasteurian world—is the industrial age of sterilizing everything in order to avoid potential “biohazards” and legal vulnerability, while accepting the loss of all the healthy, naturally occurring microbes and germs. Pasteurization is the simple option for ministries and health departments, which is why specific rules on milk products exist. In the USA, these rules are slightly stricter[1] than in the EU—which proves that raw-milk cheese plays a specific role in the cultural traditions surrounding food in countries like France, Switzerland, or Germany, where raw-milk products only have to be labeled. Still, the question of whether to buy raw-milk cheese or not also exists in Europe. It is a question that ranges between two contrasting poles: safety and freedom. And this, in turn, makes the question about the cheese a genuine political question. Drawing on Foucault’s “biopolitics”[2], Paxson refers in her articles on raw-milk cheese to “microbiopolitics.” Continue reading