Chew on this: Plant a garden because how much Liberty do we give up to get a fast-food burger in five minutes or less?

Every time the U.S. Farm Bill is being considered, I always think of how much Liberty we lose as we give control of our food supply over to government. 

As much as it pains me to think of the devastation farmers would initially experience without government assistance, I hope the recent failure to pass the bill was a rude awakening for our rural communities that have a dependency on government support. 

No matter how you slice it, our Liberty is at risk when government regulates.

With SNAP food benefits, farm subsidies, and food regulations, we all continue to become less independent.  No matter how you slice it, our Liberty is at risk when government regulates. 

Accepting the responsibility of feeding our families is a layer of protection against tyranny.  If we can learn to feed ourselves, we are one step closer to being free.  How have we come to a place where we must rely on government to feed us?

When I was a little girl I used to go with my grandmother to pick up fresh brown eggs from her neighbor’s house in a little town where my mother grew up just outside of Lubbock.  Then, we would cut some prickly pear from her backyard and remove the spiky needles to make nopalitos with eggs and beans … and fresh tortillas made from scratch.  In my mind, it was a delicious feast!  I will always remember her telling me we would never go hungry as long as we could eat from the backyard.

I always remember her telling me we would never go hungry as long as we could eat from the backyard.

As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was conditioned to enjoy the modern conveniences of grocery stores.  I did not have to worry about going hungry when food was hot and ready for me within minutes on every other street corner, at a disgustingly low price. 

The concept of backyard chickens and gathering whatever edible plants we could find outside fascinated me, but I did not quite understand the true importance of this concept.  Now, I wish I would have paid a little more attention to the evolution of agriculture.

Homegrown food is something our society loves to fantasize about.  Though most of us can get away with eating food from our backyards without FDA approval, not everyone has the time to grow robust gardens to sustain an entire family.  Small farming enterprises cannot feasibly support themselves when they are restricted from competing with big agribusiness that can afford to meet standards for government assistance programs.  Despite the difficulties facing small rural farms, the demand for farm-to-market produce has significantly grown over the past 20 years.  The number of farmers markets increased from 2,746 in 1998 to 8,687 in 2017 and continues to rise.

The number of farmers markets increased from 2,746 in 1998 to 8,687 in 2017.

Food safety advocates are concerned about this increase in unregulated food markets.  Especially in light of studies depicting a relationship between food-borne illnesses and farmers markets.  Predictably, they try to use government to impose further regulations, blaming the problem on a lack of government oversight. 

No doubt, it’s hard work to grow food in our own backyards.  Basic food safety practices must be maintained or you run a higher risk of harming yourself or others.  No one can successfully argue against the necessity of food safety and nutrition.  Most of us desire to stay healthy and safe.  But, who should ultimately make these choices for the well-being of the individual and their family?

“All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.” (Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 1922)

If we demand government be responsible for the health and safety of the individual, just how far are we going to let it violate our Liberty to do so?

You probably remember the soda ban in New York City.

You probably remember the soda ban in New York City passed in 2013 which limited the size of sugary drinks you could legally buy in certain private business establishments.  You may have also noticed an increase in healthier food items available and nutrition labels across fast-food chains.  Again, most people attribute all of this to government, but market trends toward a healthier lifestyle are what inspires changes in the laws.

In 2015, the FDA actually banned trans fat in the U.S. in a rule which is scheduled to go into effect June 2018.  Enforcing policies to regulate the individual’s diet is not a new thing, though.  This has been a common theme among societies with collective governments throughout history.  People have used government regulations to capture the markets and control the people.  Collectively controlling the food supply puts the safety of the individual in the hands of government leaders.

The production of raw milk is a constant struggle between food freedom and public policy advocates.

The production of raw milk is a constant struggle between food freedom and public policy advocates.  There are those who believe the use of raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk products.  Then, there are those who believe raw milk is a serious danger to public health.  There is evidence to support both positions.

Obviously before pasteurization of milk in the 1900s, what we call raw milk today was just regular milk straight from the cow.  How did people go from safely using raw milk to being in danger of it?  The answer is in the transition of dairy farms from rural to urban areas.  These urban dairies were often crowded, leading to health conditions and disease among milk cows.  There was a real problem with the safety of dairy products which led to the adoption of mandated pasteurization.  They figured out a way to continue large scale production by preserving milk for efficient distribution.

Instead of correcting the problem of unsafe dairy practices by letting consumers choose which form of production they prefer, which would have likely addressed the problem of overcrowding, producers were forced to use methods of preservation without fully understanding long-term effects on health.  It was a government fix that protected the larger urban diary producers.

Perhaps this is what the majority of the public truly wanted.  But, the people who would rather have fresh raw milk also have a valid argument.  There is a chemical change in the pasteurization of milk which potentially deactivates certain components which can help strengthen the immune system.  Regardless, 20 states are currently banned from consuming raw milk.  Whether you choose pasteurized milk or fresh milk, we should not criminalize people for buying and selling raw milk.

There is a great documentary I saw on PBS POV called Notes on Milk back in 2010 which discussed the history of the industrialization and pasteurization of milk.  If you can find it, it’s worth the view.

Food regulation is not always about enforcing safer and healthier lifestyles.

Food regulation is not always about enforcing safer and healthier lifestyles.  The right to grow our own gardens are also subject to attack by government regulations.

A Florida couple was recently forced to uproot many edible plants from a garden they had tended for 17 years, or be faced with a $50 per day fine because it is against the law to grow vegetables in front yards.

Code enforcers in Oklahoma ripped up a resident’s garden because according to the neighboring property owner, his garden made the home look “like a farm” and a lady from Michigan was faced with jail time if she did not remove her garden.

The city government of Columbiana, Ohio, claimed anything not explicitly permitted by government was to be prohibited when considering residential farms.  Apparently city officials in this town do not understand what constitutional rights are.

In New Hampshire … it is illegal to harvest seaweed after dark.

In New Hampshire, what I would consider a “freer” state than most, it is illegal to harvest seaweed after dark, whether you intend to sell it or not.  This seems like an odd law to keep around, especially when seaweed carries a great source of vitamins, and it’s available for people near the coast any time.  Alas, New Hampshire seaweed harvesters can thank environmentalists for this one.

The World Health Organization (WHO) takes food regulation to another level, based on health, safety, and the “greater good.”  The WHO in concordance with the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations successfully promote government policies on production and consumption across global food markets.  Although their efforts are presented as purely educational and benign in the power of enforcement, they do have significant influence on government entities, like the FDA.  Aside from the endless regulations their plans typically impose on the individual, the most recent is Agenda 2030 which is full of ambitious goals for ending poverty and world hunger.  Sounds great, right?  But take a closer look at the list of recommendations.  None of these measures seem to consider private property rights and individuals’ choice.

This naturally concerns a Liberty advocate like me, along with one particular line found in Agenda 2030 Declaration number 24, stating that All people must enjoy a basic standard of living, including through social protection systems.” If you know anything about the history of “social protection systems,” you can see how the implication of this statement, with the emphasis of “must enjoy,” is far more dangerous to individual freedom than they make it seem. 

I acknowledge the reality that society does not accept true Liberty.  But, why do we find it acceptable for government to regulate what an individual can and cannot legally consume?  Why are people demonized when they oppose food regulations?

Dennis Leary’s character, Edgar Friendly said it well in the 1993 film “Demolition Man.”  His rant is eerily relevant to the struggle of freedom that we face today.

‘I’m the enemy because I like to think.’

“I’m the enemy because I like to think. I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy that could sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecue ribs or the side order of gravy fries? I want high cholesterol. I would eat bacon and butter and buckets of cheese. OK? I want to smoke Cuban cigars the size of Cincinnati in the nonsmoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-O all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I might suddenly feel the need to. OK, pal?”

Even though concern about the safety and quality of our food supply is justified for developing a healthier society, can we really say that banning certain foods is not a violation of personal Liberty?  When I think about how much freedom we sacrifice to enable a food production system that is virtually unsustainable without government subsidies, all the work it would take to grow my own food seems worth it to me.  Maybe that mentality is the driving force behind the rising trend of backyard farms.  If we can learn to feed ourselves, we can embrace independence, but we have to be free to do so.