“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must do it because it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, March 31, 1968, less than a week before he was assassinated.
Dr. King spoke these words in protestation of war, but they are equally applicable to any moral dilemma. Dr. King strove to bring peace to people torn by abuse. Today our family farmers face a similar pattern of arbitrary and unnecessary assault.
It takes courage to proceed into places we find uncomfortable. We manifest courage when we act consistent with our values even when we do not know the results or the consequences (and even more so when we do). For our dear, wonderful farmers, it often takes courage to simply get up another day and keep farming through the abuse they receive; it is the courage to do what they love, in service to the rest of us, not knowing if they will make it through another winter, another season. Many of our food producers work hard to feed us despite these challenges because it is the right thing to do. They choose to not comply with the laws or regulations in order to keep feeding us, knowing that they might suffer irreparable consequences.
Many times I have asked myself if I would have that same courage. How many of us would? In bearing witness to these farmers, they have inspired me to do everything I possibly can to support these whole-heartedly giving souls who live with fear and uncertainty of their own future…so that our families can be fed.
What is normal?
Everyone has a different response to that question for their personal lives, but there are some things that have become so culturally ingrained that most people do not question them. Often to the degree that when someone does question these accepted societal norms, they are ridiculed and chastised, including by loved ones. It can be excruciating to stand up to the bullying that inherently comes when one is pushing the edge of a cultural paradigm shift, but it is as important as it is difficult. There are many people who heroically stood up to the bullying that surrounded them–that was so culturally pervasive at the time that many people just took it for granted—and they created a new normal.
One small example illustrates a broader point. Before the “Jim Crow” laws mandating racial segregation were abolished, it was literally a crime to serve both blacks and whites at the same lunch counter in the southern US. It was a crime to have a single water fountain in public places to serve all people. Not having separate facilities for separate races was against the law and was punishable by force. Like many of those reading this, I too balk at the images from that time period showing the normalcy and acceptance of segregated life.
So what does any of this have to do with food or food freedom? It has to do with food because it illustrates the fact that it is all of us collectively who define what is normal. We have the authority, the freedom, indeed the glorious opportunity to choose what peaceful human interactions we normalize and accept.
It takes courage to resist the norm and challenge unjust laws. From the records of those who helped runaway slaves escape, to the testimonials of those who defied the racial segregation laws, we know that standing up to perceived authority often carries horrendous penalties as well as extreme social ridicule. But this courage, this willingness to not comply, this is also what created our new normal. The “normal” that we live in today knows how absurd it is to criminalize people drinking from the same water fountain. The “normal” that we accept today realizes that it is repugnant to threaten or violently imprison someone for helping another human being escape slavery.
But, sadly, the normal we all accept still allows people to be criminalized for peaceful human behavior. Our “normal” permits government agents to attack farmers peacefully feeding their communities. It is up to us to change that by creating a new normal where there is no place for, and no acceptance of, the initiation of force against human beings for peaceful distribution of food.
In the new normal, we have the power to create a place where there is no self-appointed authority that judges and determines what others may or may not eat. In the new normal, community members are not threatened with violence for peacefully and voluntarily exchanging food with other community members. This is what we can create today. We can begin now with our choices, our beliefs and how we act on those beliefs. Sometimes, we might even need to make choices that put us in the path of aggression. Sometimes we might need to gently release our own dependence on a perceived authority. Or take a courageous and vociferous stand against a law, regulation or cultural norm. Sometimes this might make us uncomfortable.
But taking a position because it is right, even in our discomfort, is our greatest treasure, our most precious gift. This is our power and this is the access to our freedom! It is in the solidarity of knowing that we are free and independent individuals, capable of sustaining authority over our own bodies, that will allow us to cast off the oppression of our old “normal” and gracefully leap into the new normal we are creating.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.