Right after my trip through the Myanmar health system last week, I made a stop at a Buddhist center on the outskirts of Yangon, the country’s largest city. I had been referred to the center by some American friends, and indeed, the nun who showed me around was an American-born woman who has been there on-and-off for the last five years. As we stood on an outdoor second-floor landing, she pointed out several neighboring structures in this semi-rural area. A small square building housed a neighborhood health-care center. A warehouse-like structure was a tobacco-processing plant. And a barn-like structure…well, once she pointed it out to me, I could see a number of cows inside.
“That dairy probably provides half the milk for Yangon,” she said. “We use it at our center.”
I asked her if she and her colleagues drink it pasteurized or raw. “We boil it. We don’t want to get tuberculosis.”
I told her that the reason I asked was that raw milk was “a big deal” in the U.S.
“Everything like that seems to become a big deal in the U.S.,” she said.
I had to laugh. The nun was correct.
Of course, Myanmar has its share of issues much more important than raw milk…for example, political repression and violent suppression of political dissidents. The nun’s point was that, beyond such basics, people there tend not to get all that riled up about lifestyle issues. If they want raw milk, they can get raw milk and choose to boil it, or risk getting TB.
I’ve had this point made to me in a few other ways as I’ve traveled around Asia because, as we know, the subject of raw milk has a way of coming up in strange ways. Touring the small city of Cochin in southern India, I asked a tour guide about milk when we saw the inevitable sacred cows wandering about city streets. “Sure we can buy it straight from the cow. I boil it.”
Then there was the Brazilian dairy owner, Raphael, I met who was also touring around Asia. He owns a conventional dairy farm with 700 cows, of which 300 are being milked. When I showed him my business card, with a picture of my book’s cover, The Raw Milk Revolution, he began laughing hysterically. Why was he laughing? Because in Brazil, some dairies bottle their milk unpasteurized, and sell it that way, while others send their milk off to be pasteurized. No big deal either way.
I told him the public health people in the U.S. were adamant in believing raw milk is a huge danger. “They have to justify their service,” he said with a smile. Remember, this is coming from a conventional dairy owner.
Of course, traveling around Asia, it’s pretty clear that many kinds of lifestyle risks are treated differently than in the U.S. People drive around in cars where the seat belts don’t work properly. Entire families drive around on motorcycles, where maybe the dad is wearing a helmet, at most.
But the kind of battle that has developed around raw dairy in the U.S. and Canada seems anathema to much of the rest of the world. It’s actually kind of amazing the way it churns away, the animosity it sparks. I don’t think it’s entirely financial, either. We know it isn’t about crazy convincing data showing raw dairy creates a huge public health problem. It has to be about larger belief systems, and imposing those beliefs on others.