Food Resistance

The images will remain in my memory forever…
The pick-up truck lumbers along the dirt road, deep in the interior of Mexico. Dust rising from behind like a rooster tail, on the outside a half-dozen sides of beef hang from hooks thrown over the board railings in the back of the truck, rails that rise a few feet above the battered cab roof. The meat is brown from the dust that has collected on its surface. Refrigeration? What’s that?
The woman is bored, her hand waving a stick about as long as her arm slowly back and forth. A small, torn, plastic bag has been attached to the end of the stick with thread torn from the raveled bottom edge of her blouse. What passes for a scarecrow in these parts of Thailand manages to scare away most, but not all, of the flies the fill the air in this outdoor market. They flit around looking for that unattended piece of pork or chicken that smells so good to them. A banquet fit for a fly king, if one can but find some morsel upon which to land for a few moments…
What is the point? Is it that perhaps, by legislating to the lowest common denominator, we have so encumbered our way of thinking that we no longer believe that safe and fresh food is possible in America? Are we scared of produce grown in our neighbor’s yard, simply because it doesn’t pass through cursory or even *pretend* inspection by some corporate quality assurance department? It is illegal to sell eggs, even a few dozen, without a license and equipment that run over $100,000. Still that does little to protect us, however: over 40% of the eggs in your local grocery store carry salmonella (which can be rendered harmless if the eggs are properly cooked).
We have not had a free market in food for 150 years, since the creation of the USDA by President Lincoln. A case could be made that it was useful at first, as part of the educational process bringing citizens up to speed about recent discoveries concerning sanitation and bacteria and their relationship to food. And of course, looking to the government to keep our food safe was useful as food become an industrial product manufactured far away, rather than a fresh, nearby food source grown and distributed by people you know in a neighborhood market or store. But just as we now have labels on coffee cups warning us that *these contents are hot*, a few people getting sick raises a hue and cry for more government regulation. In these times of troubled budgetary policies, where agencies we trust to care for us have their budgets slashed, we find that the inspections are the first services that get slashed; the remaining staff focus instead on protecting the rights of big corporations to continue to corner the market at the expense of local entrepreneurs that might well bring product to market in small quantities rather than trans-national shipments that fill cargo containers. A woman who is unemployed and with children to feed, might want to raise a few chickens in and around her garden, and to sell the juice she cans from her fresh tomatoes or a few dozen eggs left over after Sunday omelets… and yet she would most likely be fined or even jailed, not for poisoning her customers, but for failing to comply with regulations about properly starting and carrying on her *business*. Big industrial food manufacturers, and make no mistake: we are talking here about food products, not real food itself; the companies involved do not want competition from fresh, tasty, nutritious, but small producers and they use *testing* and *certification* and *licensing*and *compliance* as weapons to destroy our chance to enjoy healthy, real food. These restrictions on what can be traded or so onerous that hundreds of thousands of would-be food producers simply cannot afford to garden. A judge in Wisconsin has ruled recently that it is illegal for you to drink the milk from your own cow! How is that possible in a free society, or in a free market?
It happens because we have lost faith in our own ability to self-regulate. We have come to depend upon government to take care of us; from needing Social Security in order to retire, Medicare in order to be healthy, the USDA in order to buy food grown by people far away that we can’t meet and learn to trust (or not), or even corporations to give us jobs. We could instead begin building community self-governance systems and caregiving relationships and free clinics and bartering systems and time banks and garden swaps. We could visit the grower of our food and learn about the processes involved, ensuring both safety and nutrition. We could learn to cook real food properly, rather than relying upon preservatives, radiation, or intense processing to enable food to be stored for years before consumption. We could begin by networking and sharing our gifts and talents with our neighbors. We can stop seeing ourselves as victims, and start seeing the good in the people around us. We can stop looking to the government to keep us safe, and instead eliminate the tyranny of industrial agriculture from our food. We can get to know the person(s) who grow the food we intend to eat; to learn their philosophy about organic vs. chemical fertilizer, or cages vs. free-range for instance. And the best part? Real food tastes great!

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