well, not me this time 😉
i’m talking about a book by that title from farmer extraordinaire joel salatin. it is so full of wisdom on so many topics, it’s hard to choose just one thing to talk about at a time! but in his chapter on insurance, he lays out such an interesting plan that is so paradigm-shifting that i thought i would share it here for your perusal.
first he acknowledges that most food-policing officials (those in the FDA, department of agriculture, etc.) are genuinely concerned for safety. most of them honestly believe they are protecting people from potential sources of unsafe food or contamination when they make decisions regarding where and how people can get their food, even when those decisions result in severely limiting consumers’ food choices. often the only choices that are left are the ones from the major companies who, in truth, are not any safer; they are just more able to hire people to jump through the bureaucratic loopholes necessary to comply with mounds of paperwork and layers of functionaries. they really believe themselves to be Noble Public Servants, protecting you either from your own ignorance or from the filth and cunning of your local farm/farmer.
okay, so it against that backdrop that he proposes an alternative, and i urge you to give it some real thought before you allow yourself a knee-jerk reaction…
he suggests a waiver for people who would like to opt out of the government “protections” governing food safety. this would allow them to source their food where they decide it is safe and not where the government does. if they get sick, the government is not at fault and it would serve as a cautionary tale for others. if they are fine and in vibrant health, it would be a poignant illustration that perhaps the government is misdirecting some resources.
next, there would be a waiver of liability for all parties in the food transaction. the consumer would agree not to sue the maker of the jam, the cake, the cheese, the raw milk, or whatever. that way the onus of checking on the safety and cleanliness of the food source is on the consumer of that product, where it more rightly belongs. really, if you can’t trust the person feeding you, that’s kind f a big problem… of course, that isn’t possible in every case, and that’s where big industry and government-regulated companies would still have their niche. for those who argue that the consumer-regulated system can’t have a place alongside, the obvious question is: why not? anyone who doesn’t want to trust this system or is afraid of it doesn’t need to take part in it, but it gives those who are looking for this option (both the farmer and the buyer) a legal way to do it. and for those who would (knee-jerk) argue about a possible public cost or outbreaks of some disease or other, guess what? all of the contamination scares and foodborne illnesses in recent memory have been from government-inspected and government-sanctioned food. comforting, isn’t it?
he has example after example in his book of small farmers being required to jump through hoops in order to conform to bizarre and intricate (often to the point of being absurd) rules and regulations- all in the name of “food safety”. but, as he so rightly points out, you can’t regulate integrity. so no matter how many forms a company has to fill out to be in compliance with something, if a person is unscrupulous, she will just fudge the forms. no matter how many seals have to be on a box or a packet, if a person is out to do harm in a processing plant, he will still slip something in the food. a small farmer may not be able to process his own animals on his own farm, but we routinely allow our meat to travel thousands of miles by truck or by tanker where it is handled by scores of people with unknown motives. so how safe is that? and we put our faith in that giant system every time we take a bite of food, without even really thinking about it, yet the government would have us think we are taking our life in our hands to have a freshly pressed glass of apple cider or an unpasteurized egg from our local farmer… kind of absurd when you think about it that way, huh?
joel salatin, who has spent countless hours talking to people and thinking about this issue, sees no reason why we can’t have both food systems co-existing side-by-side, and i am quite inclined to agree with him.
just looking at all the things the government is capable of mismanaging (without going off on an anti-government rant, which this is not intended to be), makes me wonder if i can’t do just a bit better on my own. after all, if i can find a farmer to raise and then humanely slaughter me a few chickens, and i can trust his methods and watch him to my satisfaction, does the government really need to be involved?
when the government certifies my eggs as “grade A”, they are only saying that they are a certain size, not that they don’t have salmonella. so do i really need them to tell me whether or not i should pasteurize mine? if i get my milk from one farmer who has a few cows on his pasture and i know what they eat and he knows them by name, that’s very different than buying milk from a mega dairy with a gazillion cows who are so routinely diseased that they have to be given antibiotics as a matter of course. if my farmer can tell if bessy is under the weather by looking at her eyes, so he doesn’t mix her milk into that day’s bucket, and he adjusts her diet and nurses her back to health before he includes her milk again with the rest, and i know this farmer and i trust him, is it really necessary for the government to step in and “protect” me from drinking this milk?
and if it so dangerous for me, why isn’t it dangerous for the farmer and his family?
like, the farmer can’t sell me crystal meth, and he also can’t give it to his family, right? why not? because it’s objectively dangerous. so if the government really believed something was objectively dangerous, wouldn’t it make sense that nobody could have it? (not that they should make a law against a farmer drinking his own milk, cuz that might be next…)
in any case, before i range too far afield, i want to return to joel salatin and his point: it is worth some consideration that it may be high time to consider a dual-track food system. there is a demand. there is a willingness. there is a need.
are people brave enough to ask for it?