On the face of it, rebel Canadian raw milk farmer Michael Schmidt has a lot in common with football star Colin Kaepernick. Both took unorthodox approaches to assert big-time grievances within powerful industries—Schmidt by selling raw milk in defiance of provincial regulations dictated by Canada’s dairy cartel, Kaepernick by taking a knee during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner prior to NFL games, in defiance of tradition and club policy.
Both continued with their acts of protest in the face of warnings from their industries, and threats to their future earnings.
Both were punished severely as a result of apparent collusion among industry players. Schmidt had to give up producing and selling raw dairy to avoid long-term jail time (after enduring short-term jail time). Kaepernick failed to get any contract offers from NFL teams as a free agent, despite being one of the top performing quarterbacks in the game.
So, how is it that, despite the commonalities, that within the food-rights community, Schmidt is seen as a good guy and Kaepernick is seen as some kind of blot on the republic? I ask that question based on a number of Facebook posts from foodies I know trashing Kaepernick as some kind of bad sport who’s advocating for something subversive, namely, an end to oppression of blacks and other racial minorities by law enforcement.
I’ve watched the whole scenario recur with the nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court. To a number of the same people who trash Kaepernick, the allegations of sexual assault from Christine Blasey Ford, along with two other women, aren’t to be taken seriously. In this view, the accusations are too old, are unsubstantiated, are a political trick, etc., etc. There’s not even a little allowance for the emerging reality that many thousands of women have in effect been victims of oppression—sexual oppression by powerful men, sometimes many years ago.
I find it amazingly ironic that people who view owners of small dairy farms as victims of exploitation by a rigged system can’t or won’t allow outrage when it happens to other groups, including racial minorities, women, and immigrants.
Why does it matter if food rights supporters are blinded to other groups that are abused and exploited? For one very practical reason: owners of small farms get very little meaningful popular support, while other victims of oppression are garnering huge amounts of support.
For Kaepernick, a major sportswear company, Nike, has stood up tall for the former quarterback, heaping on him a lucrative endorsement that launched with a TV ad featuring the former quarterback. This calculated but risky action by a major corporation has had some in the food rights arena, among others, threatening to boycott Nike.
As one financial analyst put it: ”People vote with their wallets, and the one clear winner in athletic apparel remains Nike.”
Similarly, there have been important expressions of support for women who are sexually harassed, in Hollywood and in the media. Corporations have adopted new policies designed to end such harassment, and forced out bullying men. No, it’s not the end of sexual harassment in the workplace, but important messages have been sent.
And what about the support for dairy farmers—whether raw or processed? Regulators still harass producers of raw dairy, in both the U.S. and Canada. And dozens of conventional dairy farms continue to fail each week around the U.S. No corporate support and no political support. You see consumers rushing out to stock up on milk to show support? I think not. All the young people rushing out to buy Nike products and supporting the many female candidates for political office care not a whit about oppressed farmers.
Is there a message here? What would happen if foodies stopped turning other oppressed people into the enemy, and instead looked for common ground? What if they began taking up the causes of oppressed people off the farm as their own? There is a lot of common ground sitting there just waiting to be used.