Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food Sovereignty Part 1: Freedom and Responsibility

Sovereignty of Food Choice

What is food sovereignty? It is the idea that each individual has the right to choose what food they put in to their body.

If you know me or read this blog, you probably can guess my views on local food sovereignty and regulation of local food trading, farmer's markets, CSA's, etc.

Laws limiting the ability to buy food from your neighboring farms or that regulate farmer's markets or anything even close to that are misguided and dangerous.

Our local farmer's market
Why Centralized Control of Food is Dangerous

1. The idea that any state, federal, or other institution should be able to choose the food you eat or limit what is available to you is very dangerous. Putting aside the philosophical question of whether food choice is a fundamental right, we have a perfect example of why institutional control of food is a bad idea:
Our federal government claims that saturated fats ruin our health, when in reality, they are one of the safest and healthiest sources of calories. 
That's it right there. Sometimes the "experts" are wrong. If they really did control what was available to eat, we would all be obese, diabetic, and malnourished. As long as you are educated in what is good to eat and have a choice, you can stay healthy, regardless of institutional guidelines.

Perhaps the underlying motives are good, but it doesn't really matter. The results are bad.

More of Arcata Farmer's Market
2. I want to emphasize the trade off between freedom and responsibility. Credit to fully understanding the implications of this idea go to Dan Faulk, one of my top two professors of all time. This applies to everything in life, and food is no exception.
When you have the freedom to choose your food, you also assume responsibility for making sure that the food is of good quality. 
Go get to know the farmer. Check out their animals and their crops. Ask them about their operations. If you want to buy unpasteurized raw milk, then it is your responsibility to make sure the cows are healthy, it is bottled cleanly, and stored well. If you want to be able to choose your food, take responsibility for making sure your food is healthy and safe.

Likewise, if you do not take responsibility for making sure your food is of good quality and get sick, who's fault is that?

Local Grass-fed beef
3. Keep in mind that there is a spectrum of food freedom, it's not totally black and white. When you have huge multi-national corporations, industrial CAFO's with thousands of animals, mass meat processing and distributing plants, etc, it makes sense to have institutional oversight and regulations.

The risk of contamination of foods is drastically higher in these situations and requires good oversight. It's impossible to check these out for ourselves: You no longer have the responsibility to inspect the animals yourself and you trade some of your food freedom for that. And that's ok - I know not everyone has the same interest in food quality or has the financial capabilities to even worry about things like that. They should just understand that there is a trade-off; you can't have freedom without responsibility.

By no means do I think that these are a good things, but I know that at this time and in this cultural climate, they are the only way that we can feed many people cheaply. Not to diverge too far here, but remember that the price you pay in the store may be cheap, but the long-term costs on us and our land are immeasurable. 

This is why it is so insane to have legislation that forces small local farmers to comply to the same standards set for industrial food production: The circumstances are totally different for these two models; they do not require the same treatment.

The trend in food control and regulation is worrying for many people, myself included. The inept, ineffective, and corrupt FDA is in control of industrial food and it is a disaster. Extending their power over local and small farms would be a serious setback.

In my next post I will look at some encouraging developments that are a great template of what you can do in your area.


  1. This is good stuff Tyler, I always thought it was absurd that some counties have laws against buying/selling raw milk.

    There's a good blog I read frequently called garagestrength.com that I think you might like, the dude is a former thrower from penn state and he started training himself and others in a barn which turned into a farm. They call it the worlds first "strength farm." Pretty interesting stuff on there.

    -dan hand

  2. This is wonderful article. It is essential to build global food systems based on different solutions, localized agriculture. People should be able to choose and control their own food systems. This message should be spread globally.

  3. Very good post, I kind of wonder what motives are behind trying to hinder people from purchasing off of local farms, maybe big Agra might be pushing their influence there.

    One thing I'd like to see regarding food laws, is to not allow unhealthy food to be marketed towards children.

  4. @Kris
    That's a great point. While I believe parents need to educate and control food choices, psychology literature shows that kids just do not have the ability to evaluate food marketing accurately and are drawn in to wanting these foods.

    And I think you are right that big Agra is pushing their influence there. It's so hard to tell if what is happening is a result of poorly implemented good intentions or is in the interest of corporate/agro business. Knowing our history, I suspect the latter.

  5. Tyler, great post and I full-heartedly agree. Hopefully you don't mind my random, but pertinent tangent? (follows)

    Somehow I don't think the government 'elite' would approve of this post. You are talking about people ... taking charge of their own lives ... and drastically changing the food industry ... Umm, these people like power, they like it as much as I like lamb chops (and I love lamb chops).

    Everyone needs to eat (I know ... shocker). If you control the food, well, you control a whole heck of a lot. The food industry isn't as simple as going to the grocery store anymore, from my understanding. There are gigantic corporations that 'own' the system (e. g. Monsanto) and pretty much have a direct impact on whatever we put in our mouth (quite unnerving, imo). I think this is why there are absurd regulations, or at least part of the reason, on getting locally grown and raised food (e. g. buy it locally means less regulation meaning the 'big dogs' don't have a say, nor a profit, in what we eat).

    Yes, make a choice when you go to the grocery store (supply and demand) but also, more needs to be done in 'fighting the system' and the lobbyist that are rockstars for the large corporations that like their lamb chops, I mean power.

    Okay ... I'll shut up now ...

  6. Allie,

    Your random but pertinent tangents are always welcome here. I get a kick out of it when people post interesting stuff on my blog!

    And yes, I totally agree with you when talking about the government elite... Hadn't planned to get this much in to my personal suspicions but here goes:

    I believe what we are in is part of a larger pattern that has been going on for a long time. The predominant but often unseen conflict in society is not between the rich and the poor, but between those who benefit from maintaining the status quo and those who benefit from change. Many examples of this probably come to mind. Along the same line of thought, governments (and their elites) almost always desire to maintain the status quo, because the status quo has put them in a position of power.

    So where does a government ultimately derive it's power from? The people that depend upon it. We took a circuitous route to get here but you can probably see what I'm getting at... when people take charge of their own lives and responsibility for their own wellbeing, that directly erodes the power of a centralized government. People or towns that can feed themselves locally no longer need the help of a federal institution, and I think this is threatening to certain people in high positions.

    I can convey the idea much more eloquently when I'm speaking but thats the best I can do with a keyboard right now.

  7. Yep, I believe that is exactly what is happening, regrettably. The idea of wanting to lord over someone with 'power' in such away is so aversive to me, I don't understand why some people do this to others, but they do. You relayed your thoughts just fine, I understood your meaning.

  8. Not sure what the problem is, but I wasn't able to post a comment here (other than this one!). I replied to your comment on my blog (2 separate posts).

  9. What a post information is this ! This one is really unique. It is important to build up global food systems based on different solutions to local agriculture. Thanks for sharing some exceptional and authentic information.