I have a food secret. I’m a kombucha addict. I drink probably half a 16-ounce bottle of the fermented tea every day. I love the energy I feel from it.
Why have I kept it secret? Because I’ve been afraid that if I say anything publicly, I might lose my kombucha. Call it post-traumatic raw milk disorder.
I drink GT Kombucha, the multi-green variety. I know you can make kombucha yourself, but spoiled foodie that I sometimes am, I prefer the convenience of buying it at Whole Foods, so I confess, I pay more than I should, sometimes as much as $3.49 a bottle. I’ve seen it at small health food stores for $4 a bottle.
I’ve been watching the kombucha, especially my favorite multi-green variety, fly off the shelves at Whole Foods for about three years now. It’s so popular, I try to keep at least three or four bottles in my fridge, to allow for the fact that I could go a week without finding any at Whole Foods, it’s that popular.
Of course, the journalist in me has wanted to write about kombucha’s exploding popularity (and sometimes exploding out of bottles—it’s a bear to open, and a mini-bomb if you drop it), but I’ve restrained myself. As much as I love my kombucha, I know that aside from the explosion problem, it’s a dangerous drink in other ways—dangerous as in a potential target of the food-safety police at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has three important attributes they detest:
–Its makers say it’s healthy.
Think about that combination of attributes. Even states that allow raw milk to be sold won’t, with the exception of California and a couple other places, allow unpasteurized yogurt and kefir. (Question: has raw yogurt or kefir ever been implicated in an illness? I’ve never seen it noted in data from the Centers for Disease Control; yet raw dairies in nearly every state are prohibited from selling it. But I digress.) And for a manufacturer to say its food is healthy is to risk the FDA charging you with selling an untested drug because, in their scheme of things, only “tested” drugs can make health claims. (It does require you to adjust your sense of logic.)
So why am I divulging my secret now? Because Alternet published an article seemingly exposing the health claims some kombucha makers are making, along with “the documented risks” potentially posed by the fermented tea—namely, two cases of illness among kombucha drinkers in 1995, in which one person died. I won’t bore you with the details, but you get the idea of what a crazy reach we’re talking about.
The Alternet piece is a sad attempt at a provocative article designed only to create controversy where none exists, and to bait the FDA food police who probably never heard of kombucha or, if they tried it, figured that because it was fizzy, it was probably made from Coca Cola and thus not a health problem.
I even wrote an angry comment on the Alternet article, joining more than 70 already there, many of which expressed similar feelings, namely, find something more important to spend your time on.
But I decided to write something here, not just to vent about the article, but because I realize I should be able to talk openly about my kombucha habit. I shouldn’t be afraid that the food police are going to deprive me of important food.
All of which brings me back to the world of raw milk (isn’t that where I always wind up?). The backing off by Wisconsin authorities on raw milk has come about because people are objecting to the actions of the food police. Same in South Dakota, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts.
We can argue about whether the government should or shouldn’t be licensing, or whether the Wisconsin working group on raw milk is serious or just a delaying action, but when you come down to it, all this protest is as much or more about education as it is about specific legal tactics. When 50 people show up at a Milk Board hearing in Missouri, or 150 people pack a court house in Viroqua, WI on a freezing weekday morning, or more than 100 people crowd into a hearing room in Framingham, MA, it sends a message not only that people demand their rights, but that nutritionally-dense food is important to our health. To the extent more people are educated, more people will understand that because the FDA’s hysteria about raw milk is baseless, other of their enforcement activities must be baseless, and they’ll seek out good food. The more people demand good food, the better it is for small farms, and the better it is for people’s health.
So I’m going to speak up about kombucha and raw milk, and any other serious food that may come into jeopardy from the food police (though I promise, there’s no “Kombucha Revolution” in my writing future).
And my suggestion is this: use all these regulatory and legal events—the new Wisconsin raw milk working group meetings, or Max Kane’s upcoming court hearings—as opportunities to spread the word, to educate. The battle for food rights is as much as a fight for legal rights as it is a propaganda war, and now the authorities are being forced to open up the airwaves to the other side.