It’s been a good week for the emerging Food Rights movement.

Today, day 37 of dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s hunger strike, he met with Ontario’s premier, Dalton McGuinty. It seems Schmidt was meeting with the premier’s chief of staff this morning, when McGuinty decided to join in. According to one report, McGuinty reiterated Ontario’s opposition to raw milk. No matter. Schmidt can now toast his achievement with a tall cool one. (Actually, word is he had a few sips of soup at lunch to begin breaking his fast.)

The break in the Schmidt deadlock follows the achievement of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders on Tuesday, gaining a minimal amount of engagement when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration backed off of enforcement of its ban on interstate shipment of raw milk, and announced it won’t interfere with individuals bringing milk across state lines for their own personal consumption.

President Franklin Roosevelt delivers his first inaugural address in 1933. The accomplishments in both situations are small, but the symbolism can’t be ignored–we are witnessing before our eyes the birth of a movement.

The accomplishments suggest both that achievement is possible, and that the path toward the ultimate accomplishment of serious restoration of food rights will be a long and arduous one. The biggest barrier to success? Our own anxiety.

Franklin Roosevelt said it most profoundly in his first inaugural address in March 1933: “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself…nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror…”

I sometimes wonder if Roosevelt knew just how profound his words truly were. By so accurately identifying both the power and the place of fear in our psyches, Roosevelt helped provide a context for the challenges posed by  fear throughout life, including at this current turning point in the Food Rights movement.

The growing numbers of individuals being swept up in the current Food Rights protests are inevitably confronting serious feelings of fear. Michael Schmidt’s seemingly endless hunger strike was terribly strenuous not only for him, but for the thousands supporting and admiring him.

Mark McAfee expressed much of that fear in his comment following my previous post, pleading with Schmidt to give up his hunger strike. McAfee expressed the fear many of us felt, that Schmidt might actually die of starvation. It was fear for not just for him, but for ourselves.

Those of us who value food rights were afraid we would lose a selfless and unifying leader, not to mention a wonderful friend. The question lurked: who among us would be brave enough the emulate Schmidt’s courage?

Then there was the fear many of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders experienced violating federal law on Tuesday by transporting raw milk from Pennsylvania to Maryland.  Indeed, that fear kept some individuals away from the Tuesday event…fear of being challenged by authorities, of being arrested, of having their lawbreaking publicized for friends and neighbors to observe.

The accomplishments of the last week have taught us two things: that the fear levels of recent weeks are almost certain to mount, as this movement seeks to wrestle real rights from the power structure, with new, more provocative, challenges of the federal prohibition on raw milk shipments.

The events have also taught us that ordinary individuals can come together and overcome the inevitable fears.  
It will be incumbent on everyone who contemplates serious involvement in the flowering Food Rights movement to learn to take Franklin Roosevelt’s words to heart. What he was really saying is that fear isn’t nearly as solid and permanent as it seems when it crowds our minds. That fear is simply a feeling–one that arises and passes away.

What he was also suggesting was that, when we are willing to pause, and simply observe the fear as it invades our minds and makes our palms sweat and hearts race, we will inevitably discover that it is the exact opposite of what it seems, that it is ephemeral and impermanent. I’m not saying that confronting our fears head on is an easy thing. Or that they will instantaneously deflate. But over time, confronting and acknowledging the fear rather than trying to push it away, will reduce its impact.

There is no “right” way of dealing with fear. But dealing with it will be a prerequisite as the Food Rights movement expands. Michael Schmidt and the Raw Milk Freedom Riders have taught us important lessons about moving past the constrictions of fear. Our enforcers at the FDA and elsewhere count on using fear to intimidate and keep us in our place. Once we demonstrate an ability to overcome our fears, they will lose all their power.


The Raw MIlk Freedom Riders’ success on Tuesday is already reverberating in the courts.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund immediately asked a federal to include as part of its case against the FDA the agency’s announcement that it won’t enforce the ban on interstate raw milk shipments against individuals. Absolutely, said U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett.

In an order issued today, he stated: “I conclude that the press release and arguments about its impact are clearly relevant to this litigation and that any potential prejudice to the defendants from allowing the late amendment can be effectively mitigated by granting the defendants the opportunity to respond to the new arguments.” The FDA has two weeks to explain itself.

Once again, a small advance, but an advance nonetheless.