Amish breaking law to preserve lifestyle

Murdoch’s new paper The Daily has an article on Amish breaking the law by transporting unpasteurized milk across state lines. GetRelgion takes the story apart but the interesting punchline is that the farmer is breaking the US law in order to preserve his religious life. Hmm… Why the parallel form of thinking between sectarian Jews and sectarian Christians? It seems to be a common effect of locating all value within one’s own community.

Samuel is part of a shadowy community of outlaw Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers who risk fines, loss of equipment and product, and even imprisonment to transport raw milk across state lines and satisfy a burgeoning appetite for illegal raw milk in places like New York. In January, The Daily rode along on one of these smuggling runs.

Unpasteurized milk is increasingly popular among foodies and health nuts for both its taste and its supposed nutritional benefits. But government authorities take a hard line, warning that unpasteurized milk may contain salmonella, E. coli and bacteria that can lead to typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

“Raw milk is inherently dangerous and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any purpose,” says the Food and Drug Administration.

When he brings a shipment of illegal milk to New York, Samuel has more than 140 customers waiting for him, ready to pay $6 a gallon.
Samuel’s smuggling run started in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, where his family farm is located. As Amish doctrine prohibits him from operating an automobile, he paid a non-Amish person to drive.

Samuel is well-aware that he’s breaking the law.
OK … he won’t drive a car, but he’ll break federal law? Why? How does smuggling raw milk fit with his personal values? The story doesn’t say.

Isaac, another Amish farmer who agreed to be interviewed if the publication kept his identity confidential, offers this perspective:
For Isaac, the issues are cultural. When it comes to dairy farming, becoming a smuggler was the only way to maintain a pure, Amish way of life. “I want my family on the farm,” he said. “I don’t want them out in the world.”

He wouldn’t be able to make ends meet in his traditional dairy operation if he was operating above board, he said. “We have church restrictions, and our people are losing that because of the way modern dairy farming is being done.”

He wondered aloud why the state won’t let him pursue his preferred way of life.
But what does his religion say about breaking the law? Would God approve of what he’s doing? The story fails to tackle such basic questions.

4 responses to “Amish breaking law to preserve lifestyle

  1. This underlines the fact that minorities have to balance their utopian values with self preservation. I think R’ Menachem Leibtag captures it best, when he says that sometimes Jews (have to) operate in survival mode, and sometimes in revival mode. The ideal is revival, but history doesn’t always allow that. For him (as for any good preacher, mind you, as that is where choices can be made), we are living in borderline times, where we should progressively switch from survival to revival mode, which, implicitly, recognizes that others may not share his conviction.

    This kind of analysis permits us to respond to your question. When in survival mode, the hierarchy of values presumably change, and this Amish farmer (along with many others, I presume, as well as many Orthodox Jews, particularly Chareidim) feels that survival mode is presently called for.

  2. I see this as a libertarian issue.

    Why does the government have any good reason to protect me from people who want to drink raw milk?

  3. because raw milk is – at least in their opinion – a public health hazard. (The drinking of milk was, until pasteurization, limited to people with cows).

  4. If the Amish farmers saw it as a libertarian issue that discussion would be on point. The article gives very few, if any, hints that they see it that way, however (as part of a generally cursory treatment of the whole issue of motive). If anything, there may be a suggestion that it is an unjust law not per se but because its premise is “falsehood.” (i.e., without theoretically questioning the power of the feds to regulate dangerous foods, they question whether the food is really dangerous.) I guess my point is that it is probably not a libertarian rebellion, but it is not a purely pragmatic one either.

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