July 4 is a good time to declare 'Food Independence Day'
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
It's amazing to me that in Michigan I am allowed to legally go to the grocery store carrying a concealed weapon under my jacket (with the proper authorization), and now ride without a helmet if I take my motorcycle to pick up a loaf of bread. But I am not allowed to purchase a tall cold glass of unpasteurized milk, or even to buy a license or sign a waiver to have the privilege of doing so.
The special interests involved and the complex reasons for a state of affairs that allows the individual freedom to carry guns or risk closed head injury but drink not milk the way it has been drunk for thousands of years puzzles me. As Independence Day approaches this year, I would like to join the towns of Sedgwick and Blue Hill, Maine in declaring my own food sovereignty.
First described by the Via Campesina International Peasant Movement at the World Food Summit in 1996, Food Sovereignty is "the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It develops a model of small scale sustainable production benefiting communities and their environment. It puts the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations."
The lack of access we have to raw milk versus even guns, the lack of ability to know where our food is from, the lack of labeling saying if food has been genetically modified — all are emblematic of how currently powerless we are as individuals in a corporatized food system.
These are among the reasons why 120 residents of Sedgwick, Maine voted unanimously to pass a Food Sovereignty ordinance in early 2011 "Citing America’s Declaration of Independence and the Maine Constitution," the ordinance proposed that “Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” These would include raw milk and other dairy products and locally slaughtered meats, among other items.
Now seven other towns in Maine have joined Sedgwick in declaring the food sovereignty of their residents to produce, purchase and consume the local food of their choice.
The notion of food sovereignty is relevant in Michigan too — the raw milk issue is just one example of a choice individuals here are not allowed to make for themselves. Another example is how farmers raising heritage breed pigs believe they are under attack from the Michigan DNR because of a recent order against "invasive swine" criminalizing many breeds of pigs that are traditionally raised outdoors on pasture rather than in confinement operations.
This order was put in place and is being enforced, even though no law-makers voted on it. As I understand it, Gov. Snyder is the only representative of the people with the power to revoke it.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense fund explains, "The Michigan DNR has defined "invasive species swine" (in a December 2011 declaratory ruling), as any pig that exhibits certain characteristics. Many of the characteristics listed describe just about any heritage breed of swine. Even more troubling, the DNR characteristics are often displayed in swine that are raised outside, not in confinement. The DNR order not only threatens the livelihoods of heritage breed hog farmers across the State of Michigan but it also sets a very dangerous precedent across the United States for those choosing not to raise animals in confinement .The ISO prohibits the possession of certain swine and a violation of the ISO is a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a $20,000 fine for harboring an "invasive species."
Mark and Jill Baker of Baker's Green Acres in Marion, Mich. raise heritage breed, pastured Mangalitsa pigs on a farm which they say "is based on the premise that healthy animals, raised on pasture in the sunshine and fresh air produce high quality, flavorful nourishment. The process is based on natural systems, making it more ecologically sustainable."
They have been fighting for their right to continue to do so, citing the Declaration of Independence in their rationale that our government, and the DNR specifically, is trammeling their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness although what they are doing has infringed on the rights of no one.
Jill Baker writes that the DNR's order "initially focuses on Boar strains of pigs," but that it is so broadly written "they describe a hybrid or genetic variant of every pig known to civilization. The enforcement has been extremely subjective and individualized rather than objective. Therefore, if we don't stand up against this ruling there will be a law on the books that they can use on anyone at any time in the future."
"If we don't stand up, there will be a law that can be used on anyone at any time in the future." With the Supreme Court ruling on Citizen's United, corporate power to spend on the political process is essentially now unlimited. And that is why I pay attention to small towns in Maine declaring their food sovereignty. Because even if their actions draw a backlash, if they can organize to do it there, other towns can do it too. And that power to come together, organize, and demand change is where power lies for individuals.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (a membership organization that offers support to farmers and individuals) also offers a slender thread of hope for individuals who believe they should have the right to decide what foods to produce and to purchase. For people who believe their only choice of pork should not have to be from pigs raised in industrial confinement operations, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund has created a petition asking Governor Snyder to rescind the DNR's order. I'm signing it for Food Independence Day.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.