I received a question the other night at a talk I was doing: “What can local planners do to move along the local food option?”
Most of my best ideas come in spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous answers to questions. This is why my favorite part of a presentation is the Q&A following–it’s where you find out what people are thinking and they get to hone in on things they misunderstand.
My quick answer was: “Every locality should follow the leadership of Sedgewick, Maine and pass a Food Sovereignty Act.”
Those of us who believe that common peasants, as consenting adults, taking personal autonomy for their health and their food to acquire the food of their choice from the source of their choice have a great deal of faith in informed and voluntary consent.
But a large portion of our population has no faith in individual decision-making. Our side can argue all day that food choice freedom would help things, but a large contingent–and politically, the majority, think such freedom would unleash food piranas on the populace and we wouldn’t be able to build enough hospitals to handle all the cases of food poisoning.
Is there a way to have our cake and eat it too? I think so.
Perhaps one answer is in local food sovereignty, food choice statutes. Doing something on the local level minimizes the risk of bad legislation. How do you know if freedom rather than regulation will work if you don’t give freedom a try once in awhile? The problem is that our side, when we promote freedom, does not have a track record to point to and say: “See, when we allowed food freedom, here are the positive things we saw.”
Our culture has abrogated to the federal level the entire food safety regulatory agenda. As a result, it’s a winner-take-all deal, extremely high stakes, with no room to experiment on a non-threatening level. The current climate grew out of a time prior to stainless steel, indoor plumbing, electric fence, refrigeration, and bacterial monitoring. It grew out of an industrial opaqueness when people felt shut out of the informational process.
Today, not only do we have increased understanding and infrastructure, we also have the ultimate democratized information highway–the internet. Feedback loops are everywhere and social media is pervasive.
The transparency and real-time assessment and information offered by this new gateway essentially makes an industrial-style regulatory climate obsolete. But for those who don’t agree, we need a way to dip our collective toes in the water, to check it. I think if we quit asking for federal changes and focus on the state and local level to create templates of food choice, we can chip away at the federal stranglehold on innovation.
If any farmer-entrepreneur could produce and process anything for the end user without a bureaucrat stepping in between the consenting commerce it would unleash the full power of local-centric innovation on the marketplace. It’s hard to imagine what freedom that would spawn.
But that scares the dickens out of many well-meaning paranoid fearful consumer advocates and food regulators whose lives are immersed in industrial food intrigue and opaqueness. By trying our freedom idea on the local level–goodness, put in a mandatory sunset clause at 2 years–we can grab some toeholds of data.
Such an approach also takes a lot of wind out of the opposition’s sails. It reduces the risk and allows a glimpse at freedom. It does nothing to jeopardize the current federal regulatory protections for the masses who are either afraid of making food decisions or simply don’t want to. They can buy government-sanctioned food. No problem. This is non-threatening.
What do you think? Is this a way to ease in, to create some wiggle room, so that our lunatic fringe can establish some credibility in a massively dubious and incredulous world?
You might also like: