Another Glass of Milk
Wednesday, December 20, 2006, dawned cold but bright, a winter sun in a clear blue sky. I walked up to Queen’s Park around 10:15 and stood about in front of the Provincial Legislature, watching dutiful schoolchildren line up around statues and a group of men in overcoats stamp and nod and blow into their hands. I guessed they might be there for the same reason I was—in support of Michael Schmidt and his freedom-of-choice position on the sale of raw milk—but I was too shy to approach them. They were well-dressed and might have been a counter-demonstration, suits hired by the Milk Marketing Board to disrupt the Gathering of the Righteous by standing around and looking supercilious…
I have never been an active activist. Not since I was a young actor and marched down Park Lane in London dressed as a priest and carrying a coffin to protest Mrs. Thatcher’s decision to apply VAT to theatre tickets. That was circa 1980 and there were hundreds of us on that march but we did not sway her. This is Toronto, allegedly more liberal, more politically correct, but there are tens, not hundreds, fighting for freedom today. And not everyone has heard of Michael Schmidt. Here is a father and son, smiling and polite, humbly but determinedly riding the coattails of public interest with their own protest on behalf of Essene Jews. Apparently, Essene Jews are compelled to drink raw milk if they wish to follow certain raw-food dietary laws set out in the Dead Sea Scrolls. “Raw milk ban violates religious freedoms,” reads the photocopied signs the pair holds proudly aloft. They are glad to have found a forum and the well-mannered faction among the assembled media gives them five sympathetic minutes and all are satisfied. By comparison, the pushy complaint of an unrelated dairy farmer whose milk is pasteurized but whose farm has been shut down for sanitary reasons, lacks charm and is ignored.
Then the chefs show up. Jamie Kennedy is first, his son with him. Chris McDonald (Cava), Scot Woods (still at Habitat for another week or two), Paul Boehmer (no longer of the Spoke Culb), Hiro Yoshida (Hiro Sushi) and Masayuki Tamaru (JOV Bistro) follow in their footsteps. Big hello to Marc Thuet, who comes in his whites with his sleeves rolled up, despite the cold, and David Lee from Splendido. Hey there, Mchael Stadtländer, long-time Michael Schmidt fan and supporter. Good to see you, Paul DeCampo and Pamela Cuthbert, spokespeople of the Slow Food movement, and Oyster Boy Adam Colqhoun. Come on down Fatos and Afrim Pristine of Cheese Boutique, bearing a raw milk cheese with the same daddy-hold-his-baby care that the three wise men afforded to frankincense, gold and myrrh.
Anyway, there are all these chefs looking pale and blinky in the rude morning sun, while the TV media asks which one is which, when at last the famous Blue Farm Bus from Glencolton Farms draws up, slowly executing a 24-point turn over the paved forecourt of the Legislature before coming to a final halt. Out steps Michael Schmidt himself, in khaki shirt and German farmer’s waistcoat and hat. Schmidt’s hunger strike has lasted 28 days and the farmer has dropped 53 pounds (now weighing in at circa 199).
A table is set up and speeches are made by some of the chefs and by Kate Sorbara, wife of Greg Sorbara, who is a keen supporter of raw milk and the right to drink it. Randy Hillier, president of the Ontario Landowners Association calls upon Schmidt to end his hunger strike as it is only an effective tactic when used against people of conscience. A basket of food is presented to Bill Murdoch, MPP for Grey-Bruce-Owen Sound who promises to get it to Dalton McGuinty. Michael Schmidt ends his fast.
The star of the morning is undoubtedly Amelie, a beautiful little brown Canadienne cow who is somewhat anxious at all the attention, Schmidt holds a glass to her udder and milks her a little and all the cameramen squat down for a better look. The scene threatens to become a tad surreal.
Clayton Ruby is now representing Michael Schmidt and over $40,000 has been raised for the Raw Milk Legal Defense Fund. Meanwhile Schmidt has lost his livelihood. The story continues.