THE ESCALATING BATTLE OVER WHO DECIDES WHAT WE EAT
Yes, say a growing number of people increasingly afraid that the mass-produced food sold at supermarkets is excessively processed, tainted with antibiotic residues and hormones, and lacking in important nutrients. These people, a million or more, are seeking foods outside the regulatory system, like raw milk, custom-slaughtered beef, and pastured eggs from chickens raised without soy, purchased directly from private membership-only food clubs that contract with Amish and other farmers.
“David Gumpert is an advocate and a journalist who writes almost exclusively about raw milk, private food buying clubs, and the conflict around various government attempts to regulate the two. In his new book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, Gumpert delves deeply into an array of legal cases brought against small producers selling their food outside the commercial realm and raises the question: ‘Is there such a thing as private food?’ Civil Eats spoke to Gumpert recently about the book, the farmers and consumers involved, and the broader landscape in which the ‘battle for food rights’ is taking place.”
Public-health and agriculture regulators, however, say no: Americans have no inherent right to eat what they want. In today’s ever-more-dangerous food-safety environment, they argue, all food, no matter the source, must be closely regulated, and even barred, if it fails to meet certain standards. These regulators, headed up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with help from state agriculture departments, police, and district-attorney detectives, are mounting intense and sophisticated investigative campaigns against farms and food clubs supplying privately exchanged food-even handcuffing and hauling off to jail, under threat of lengthy prison terms, those deemed in violation of food laws.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights takes readers on a disturbing cross-country journey from Maine to California through a netherworld of Amish farmers paying big fees to questionable advisers to avoid the quagmire of America’s legal system, secret food police lurking in vans at farmers markets, cultish activists preaching the benefits of pathogens, U.S. Justice Department lawyers clashing with local sheriffs, small Maine towns passing ordinances to ban regulation, and suburban moms worried enough about the dangers of supermarket food that they’ll risk fines and jail to feed their children unprocessed, and unregulated, foods of their choosing.
Out of the intensity of this unprecedented crackdown, and the creative and spirited opposition that is rising to meet it, a new rallying cry for food rights is emerging.
Here is what farmer and food rights advocate Joel Salatin says in the foreword: “David Gumpert is a quintessential journalist. Impeccable to a fault, he plucks out some of the most salient battles in this current food war and brings them to our awareness with the storytelling genius of a spy novel. The intrigue, the angst, the heartache, and the heroism are all displayed …”
“Gumpert masterfully fills the roles of both journalist and advocate. His support for the food rights movement is clear and explicit. Yet he provides extensive quotes from government agencies and food safety advocates, critiquing their views but delivering them with fairness and clarity. And while the food rights movement has its share of valiant heroes, as in any true story, or really any story worth its salt, there is no shortage of personal conflict, quirky characters, and disappointing behaviors. Gumpert never shies away from any of it. Rather, he beautifully seams together all these loose fabrics to form a three-dimensional story where the characters truly come alive.”
Even though he takes issue with my outlook about food rights–questioning, for example, how realistic it is to expect to roll back regulations–his assessment of the book is well reasoned and constructive.
“Although Michelle Obama may be justifiably proud of the organic food garden she planted her first summer at the White House, her husband’s administration continues to wage a war on the small farmer direct-sales-of-healthy-food-to-consumers food movement.”–from Karlin’s intro to the interview.
I discuss how food rights relates to “50 Shades of Grey”, why big companies should worry about food rights, and the most important issues in the Hershberger WI raw milk trial.