Why Conflict Over RAWMI Need Not Hurt Food Rights Movement; One Organization's Mission Statement
The unsettling news about questionable factory foods just keeps coming.
A few days ago, it was Coca Cola saying it found a fungicide in orange juice it produces in Brazil for sale in the U.S.
A few days before that, the USDA was proposing to approve GMO corn that will be based in part on the herbicide of Vietnam War fame, Agent Orange.
Last year, it was 36 million pounds of Cargill turkey contaminated with antibiotic-resistant salmonella.
Before that, it was news that more than two-thirds of our chicken is contaminated with campylobacter and/or salmonella, while the public health community looks the other way, and focuses on shutting down dairy farms.
Each time we are reminded of the truly scary dangers in our food system, the marketplace for nutrient-dense foods expands. Each time we learn that we face an increasingly serious risk of being poisoned by legal and illegal adulterants in our food--GMOs, mercury, fungicides, antibiotic-resistant pathogens, and so forth--more people become wary of buying their milk, meat, eggs, cheeses, and vegetables out of the factory system. Each time a new study shows a growing incidence of asthma and allergies, or the dangers of nitrites, artificial sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup, the unease about shopping at Kroger's and WalMart increases.
Before you know it, you have a growing army of disillusioned consumers ever more open to joining a food club, or buying into a herdshare arrangement, or venturing out to farmers markets. (The photo above is of some of the crowd that turned out yesterday in sub-freezing temperatures for an indoor farmers market in Norwich, VT.)
Equally significant, these individuals become receptive to the arguments of the budding food rights movement.
One of the facts that stuck out to me in Blair McMorran's incisive examination of the benefits of raw milk testing protocols was this little aside: in Colorado, "at least 20 (raw dairies)...have just started up."
Yes, conventional dairies continue to fold. But raw milk dairies have launched, or converted from conventional production, in significant measure because there is a lucrative growing market for raw dairy and other unprocessed natural foods. The same thing has occurred in California with herdshares, not to mention many other states.
This growing market demand may well turn out to be the saving grace in the growing controversy over RAWMI, and the standard-setting/oversight issues that many here worry about.
Toni Baer lamented in a comment following my previous post, "From my European and scientific perspective nothing is worse within a small movement, if people start attacking each other openly on websites. It only helps those who are against you, which are those who want to get rid of the raw milk."
I don't doubt the enemies of food choice and freedom take pleasure in the disagreements here. But they may be taking false comfort. The marketplace is smarter than many of us. As people become ever more worried about their health and the health of their families, they will seek out information about making changes.
Part of what we're talking about is the difference between a trend and a movement.
A market trend is simply that, a move by increasing numbers of people toward particular kinds of products and services. Sometimes it's a matter of popularity (music) and fashion (clothes, accessories) and sometimes a trend grows out of fear.
In the case of health, a seemingly healthy market trend (toward nutrient-dense foods) can be subverted by a combination of corporate marketing (providing its version of "safe" and "natural" food) and government propaganda (those people organizing the movement are a bunch of kooks and weirdos and disdain "science").
The key question for those of us worried about the trampling of food rights, is whether the trend--fear of tainted food that is driving ever larger numbers of people to seek out good food--can be transformed into a movement. I don't pretend to be an expert in the development of movements, but I do know they unfold in significantly different ways.
We tend to think of the Civil Rights movement as having burst onto the scene in the 1960s under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., but the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was actually founded in 1909.
The Occupy Wall Street movement and all its spinoffs seemingly materialized over a few weeks last year...and then just as quickly dissipated...or did it?
Look at the women's rights, gay rights, and home schooling movements, and you will see different dynamics in each.
We don't yet fully appreciate the dynamics of the food rights movement. My sense is that it will take a heavy focus on local organization, rather than some top-down approach. The local organizations need to take responsibility for publicizing particular local events, like last week's arraignment of Wisconsin raw dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger.
Gayle Loiselle was rightfully upset that Hershberger's private contract distribution approach didn't get a clearer presentation in the media. It "was a missed opportunity because the media was there and ripe for the picking but the most credible well-spoken media savvy heavy hitters in the raw milk movement were not. With at least 2 networks there the message of choice…individual rights … and the abuse of power by the government… could have all been spun into powerful sound bites by those who know how to use the media to the best advantage."
I agree, but those "media savvy heavy hitters" aren't necessarily the ones the media even want to hear from--very often, they prefer articulate local people, who are most familiar with the circumstances at hand. I know some local leaders were on hand for the demonstration outside the courthouse on behalf of Hershberger. Perhaps they need training, as Loiselle suggests, to make sure Hershberger's message comes through. Maybe that becomes part of the education focus of the Raw Milk Institute.
All by way of saying, we shouldn't necessarily fear a variety of organizations (like the Raw Milk Institute, the Raw Milk Freedom Riders, the Farm Food Freedom Coalition, Food Sovereignty, Alliance for Raw Milk, Weston A. Price Foundation, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, etc., etc. ) Nor should we fear serious debate as a means to inform and help people crystalize their views.
So the big unanswered question right now is whether the trend toward serious worry about the quality of our factory food will translate into a sustainable growing movement for the right to access the foods of our choosing. Since the trend isn't likely to abate any time soon, we have expanding opportunities to get the movement into shape.
Deborah Peterson expressed frustration, following my previous post, about developing mission statements. Since she mentioned it, here's one just completed by the Raw Milk Freedom Riders. I think it's pretty decent.
"The Raw Milk Freedom Riders are dedicated to overturning the FDA's criminalization of interstate raw milk shipments as a way to end the agency's ongoing assault on dairy farmers and the consumers they serve. The assaults include raids on small dairies that distribute raw milk, undercover investigations of ordinary citizens who consume raw milk, and assorted efforts to destabilize private food clubs, among other actions.
"We are committed to intentionally defying the interstate ban as a way to publicize the reality that raw milk isn't a public health hazard and to publicly expose the FDA’s violent acts listed above.
"We demand that the FDA leave raw milk decisions entirely to individual states, and respect the rights of individuals to enter into private contracts with farmers to obtain the foods of their choice."
The Raw Milk Freedom Riders have already held two demonstrations involving civil disobedience. And the organization will have a booth at the upcoming Constitutional Sheriffs Convention Jan. 29-31.
Here's an in-depth look at one slice of the food rights struggle...and a pretty fair one, at that, from The New American magazine. Includes some worthwhile history, as well. Also, it provides the views of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, without bowing to them.
And an interview with me on Agricultural Insights web site, about the government crackdown on raw milk, by Chris Stelzer.