The Psychological Warfare Behind Food Rights Struggle; Milk Redemption in PA
At the end of the Q&A following my presentation at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, last Thursday evening, one woman among the 25 or so people in attendance raised her hand. “I was expecting an uplifting presentation, and what I got was just the opposite,” she said.
What she was saying was that she wanted to hear that we, the people are winning. That we have pushed back the regulatory onslaught against small farms that is nearly unprecedented anywhere in the world, with the possible exceptions of Cuba and North Korea. And even in Cuba, I read recently in The Economist, permissiveness for private food sales is expanding. So pretty soon, the world competition for most authoritarian anti-small-farm country could come down to the U.S. versus North Korea.
Actually, I had said in my presentation that there have been some notable victories over the last year or so. But those victories are occurring only in the face of huge enforcement onslaughts, of the sort being endured by Alvin Schlangen in Minnesota. “It’s discouraging,” the woman added.
That’s exactly what the authorities want people to think, that it’s discouraging, even hopeless. A big part of the campaign against America’s small producers of nutrient-dense food is psychological in nature. Wear people down so they become discouraged enough that they can’t summon the energy to organize and fight back.
I mentioned to a friend who is a savvy observer of the government’s anti-small-farm campaign that I thought the prosecutor in the upcoming Schlangen criminal trial was showing signs of desperation by seeking to play the illness card, to make a connection between Schlangen and a single case of campylobacter by someone who said they drank his raw milk. “It’s not desperation,” she suggested. “They’ll do anything to defeat us. If this (illness thing) doesn’t work, they will try something else. They will become ever more repressive. They don’t care. They have all the time and money in the world.”
Well, the optimist in me has to disagree. Not that certain prosecutors and public health people won’t stop at anything, but I have to think that if farmers, with support by ordinary people, keep winning the criminal cases, more prosecutors will get the message that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s scorched-earth campaign on behalf of Big Ag against farmers producing and selling good food isn’t a winning idea.
A little history here: Back in 2007, a Michigan prosecutor by the name of Victor Fitz decided after six months of investigating Michigan farmer Richard Hebron, against filing criminal charges, as the Michigan Department of Agriculture had wanted. Hebron had come under investigation via an MDA “sting” operation for selling raw milk to members of an Ann Arbor food club. When prosecutor Fitz turned away from the case, the Michigan authorities quickly settled with Hebron, with the state’s attorney general sanctioning herdshare arrangements, at least on a temporary basis.
A study group that included proponents and opponents of raw milk was formed in the aftermath of the embarrassing case, and its members met and negotiated endless disagreements about raw milk over six long years, eventually agreeing to endorse a permanent policy allowing herdshares in the state that was the first to ban the sale of raw milk, back in the late 1940s. I just wrote an article about the Michigan raw milk report for Modern Farmer, and it is pretty amazing that the group came to agreement , since many of its conclusions fly in the face of FDA dogma about raw milk.
The article is worth reading as a small ray of hope about what can happen if people committed to food freedom and food safety can come together in common cause.
Sure, Michigan is only one state. And while its agriculture authorities have moved toward reconciliation with raw dairy producers, the state’s Department of Natural Resources is battling pork producers like Mark Baker for raising so-called feral pigs as natural premium meat for private sale.
You put out one fire, and another springs up. For believers in food rights, it’s important to understand that the enemy in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even Michigan, is tough. But the enemy will eventually bend in the face of persistent and committed ordinary people standing behind their farmers. That’s why people in Minnesota need to demonstrate forcefully that they are backing Schlangen. As Schlangen puts it on the Facebook page for his trial (beginning August 12): “You can beat up on one organic farmer, unless he is part of a tag team of educated and purposeful members of this great food rights movement. Now you don’t stand a chance!”
There was a different kind of redemption for Amish farmer Leroy Miller recently, when he hosted a group of 22 master chefs from around the world, including a chef who serves President Obama (along with chefs serving heads of state and royalty). Leroy Miller got into trouble some years back with Pennsylvania agriculture officials for selling raw milk privately, without a permit.
The video accompanying an article about the event has Leroy Miller explaining that the menu includes, early on, a “palate cleanser” choice--raw milk or pasteurized-milk yogurt. You can see the little glasses of raw milk and yogurt being passed out, but we don’t know who took what. Maybe Obama's chef wants to introduce the prez to some new foods.