When the Food Police Threaten Your Private Event--Give Them a Dose of Their Own Meds; Lemonade and Raw Milk
This post has been revised and updated since it was first posted.
Blogger Kimberly Hartke's presentation about raw milk in the Minneapolis area Thursday evening came off without a hitch. So did her ice-cream-making demonstration, using fresh milk, cream, and eggs. Dozens of attendees lapped up the ice cream, couldn't get enough of it.
The fact that such an ordinary happening is news is a commentary on the growing intensity of the struggle over food rights. But for two weeks before that event took place, Minnesota health authorities took a number of steps to intimidate the organizers of the event, trying to discourage them from holding it.
Apparently the Minnesota Department of Public Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the Minneapolis Department of Health all made their displeasure known, mainly to a local restaurant owner who had the gall to post information about the planned private event on her restaurant's Facebook page. It seems these regulators monitor the Facebook pages of various food businesses they do ordinarily regulate, and try to strong-arm them when they don't like a private activity a food business like a restaurant may be promoting, like a gathering at a local farm...or an event that features raw milk. Even after the restauranteur removed the Facebook post, she still received a filed complaint from the city of Minneapolis. (See a copy of the complaint against the restaurant, Birchwood Cafe, below.)
The event's organizers determined that a private potluck event was totally legal--could be advertised all they wanted. Here is an account by Susie Zahratka, one of the event's organizers, about how she and other organizers negotiated the treacherous Minnesota terrain, and won over local officials in the process:
A member from our group contacted the local health authorities as well as the city in which the event was to be held to discuss what, if any, violations were happening. The discussions with Ramsey County, although not hostile, kept coming back to what was to be served; raw milk ice cream. Considered a Dangerous Substance by the state, there was talk of safety and potential lawsuits should someone become ill. Through it all the representative from our group maintained the mantra, "Please point me to the statue that we are in violation of." The only real issue ( which we rectified immediately) is that we hadn't advertised the event as a 'potluck'. Originally just the members of our group were going to bring ice cream and/or ingredients, but after looking at the Mn Potluck Law we made a group decision to rename the event an ice cream social/potluck and encourage others to bring their favorite ice cream add-in or topping to share. We sent the new and improved invite to the county and all of the nearly 60 attendees and continued to prepare for the event.
As I pointed out in my previous post, Minnesota has had enough real-life enforcement efforts for everyone to be on edge. Certainly enough for consumers to develop their own counter-insurgency tactics. Here are a few suggestions for the next event:
*Reject the food police argument that posting an event on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet makes it a public event. All kinds of private event information is exchanged on the Internet. Posting there doesn't make your private event public, as the food police in Minnesota argued to organizers of the Hartke talk. Public is public and private is private. The food police continually blur the lines because they want everything to be considered public, and under their control. They need to be challenged, over and over and over.
*The more local you get, generally speaking, the more understanding you will gain for food rights. The food police generally come from the county and state levels. Even when they are from a particular town or city, they don't necessarily represent how other local enforcers, like the police or sheriff, actually feel.
*Notify the local police and/or sheriff if there have been even the slightest rumblings of harassment. Often the law enforcement authorities are as repulsed by the strong-arm tactics of the food police as the rest of us, and will cooperate with local residents by insisting that any food police have a search warrant or arrest warrant before they are allowed into a private event.
*If regulators do show up and challenge the event, insist on presentation of a valid search or arrest warrant before allowing them entrance. If no such document is forthcoming, call the local police or sheriff and have the food enforcers removed.
The public health regulators are spending huge amounts of manpower monitoring private food-oriented activities. We've had ample evidence from major cases like those involving Pennsylvania farmer Dan Allgyer and Rawesome Food Club all the way down to farm-to-fork dinners and, now, talks about raw milk.
Fight back. There's no need to beg for permission to privately gather to discuss food, and exchange samples.
Thanks to mounting attacks on private food consumption, the food rights movement is spreading and expanding. In the latest example, the Raw Milk Freedom Riders have joined up with the organizers of the second annual Lemonade Freedom Day to promote private food exchange. Lemonade Freedom Day will be held August 18, 2012, in Washington. It will be preceded by a half-day Food Rights Workshop on August 17.
Lemonade Freedom Day grew out of harassment by public health regulators of young people setting up lemonade stands in their driveways and on neighborhood street corners. Lemonade stands are the first introduction of many children to business ways. Too often, they are an introduction to the expanding infringements on our basic rights to privately exchange food. One recent notable example occurred at the start of the Boston Marathon in April.