Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Systems

First Advisor

Sarah N. Heiss

Second Advisor

Amy B. Trubek


Milk is something many Americans consume every day, whether over cereal, in coffee or in a cup; as yogurt, cream, cheese or butter. The vast majority of that milk is pasteurized, or heated to the point where much of the bacteria in the milk dies. Pasteurization both slows spoilage of the milk and eliminates potentially harmful bacteria. The fact that we call heat-treated dairy simply "milk" is a testament to pasteurization's widespread proliferation over the past century. Prior to the 1900s, "milk" was raw and unheated, and pasteurized milk was a radically new technology. My research delved into understandings of dairy in both the present and the past, looking in the first chapter at Vermont farmer resistance at the advent of pasteurization, and in the second at consumer resistance to pasteurization in the present time.

A century ago, the dairy industry was in flux, facing pressure to change due to population shifts and rising demands. In lieu of food that could be traced to a neighbor or to a farm on the other side of town, urbanization meant that food could travel hundreds of miles before it reached its destination -- Vermont farmers could now send their fluid milk to the Boston and New York markets. Once milk got to the city, however, it was often riddled with bacteria and untraceable to its source. Cities and states struggled to regulate the safety of milk coming into their area. In 1908 the Vermont legislature passed a pasteurization law in an attempt to curb the spread of bovine tuberculosis, but farmers and creameries simply refused to follow it and the state legislature was forced to repeal the law two years later. Despite pushback to pasteurization, however, pressure from the cities forced its adoption, pushing the expense onto the middleman processors and distributors. This, in turn, helped to drive consolidation and bring about the dairy industry as we know it today -- an industry that many interviewees in my present-day research felt was deeply flawed.

My second chapter focuses on raw milk consumers in Vermont. Those on each side of the raw milk discussion make broad -- and sometimes dire -- knowledge claims regarding the values and risks associated with consumption of the substance. Advocacy groups, agricultural associations, and various governmental authorities all voice divergent opinions regarding the safety and health benefits of raw milk consumption. As such, consumers navigate these contests of voices when deciding whether or not to drink raw milk. Yet raw milk consumers are not simply passive recipients of governmental, advocacy and media messaging, but rather consumers making rational decisions based on research, experience and values. In examining how raw milk consumers understand their actions and decisions, I bring this perspective to bear on the larger discussion of the risks and benefits of raw milk consumption.

My investigation of the historical and present context of raw milk shed light not just on the subculture of those who choose to drink raw milk, or on the small group of farmers who fought back against pasteurization in 1909. It revealed common refrains over the course of more than a century, repeating patterns and, I hope, a lens through which to view the nuance and shifting possibilities in other issues in the food system, both past and current.



Number of Pages

111 p.