Barriers To Market

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By Joel Salatin

Our farm services 6,000 urban families with pastured beef, pork, chicken, eggs, turkey, rabbit, lamb, and duck eggs.  As much as I’d like all these folks to get completely unprocessed food and use their kitchens to prepare it, that is simply not the retail food context of our day.  These folks want convenience . . . with integrity. Artisanal Hot Pockets, anyone?

As a service to our large farm crew, over the last couple of years we’ve built a first class commercial kitchen for our on-farm meals.  With a chef on staff and lots of enthusiasm to make meat pies, heavy stews, pot pies–ready-to-eat pastured meat-based meals–we anticipated creating a brisk value-added enterprise this summer.

Having built the kitchen to commercial, licensable specifications, I called the local inspector for a look-see just to confirm that we were in the ballpark.  We purposely did not install a couple of small items in order to give the bureaucrat easy faults.  He was ecstatic, praising our kitchen as one of the nicest he’d seen, yada yada yada. As he was leaving, almost as an afterthought, he asked:  “Where’s your bathroom?”

Taken aback, I said we had two in our house 100 yards away, two in mom’s house 100 yards away, two in Daniel’s (our son) house 150 yards away, and the two public porta-potties 75 yards away.  “We’ve got plenty of bathrooms,” I laughed.

He didn’t.  “It has to be connected, with porcelain fixtures, no composting toilet, licensed septic, leach field, everything,” he said, not humorously.  In that instant, I realized for the umpteenth time why affordable local integrity food scarcely finds a place at the table.

Unwilling to take his answer sitting down, I asked:  “If we find someone willing to walk 100 yards to the bathroom, why is it any business of the government to tell me I need an attached bathroom?  We have hot and cold running water; hygiene and clean hands are not an issue here.”

“Well, that’s the requirement.”

“Wait a minute.  A food truck can prepare food and sell it.  Last I checked, licensed food trucks don’t have attached bathrooms.”

“No, and that’s a loophole we’re trying to close,” he said, matter-of-factly.  “You’ll see new regulations soon addressing that.”

I pressed on:  “You mean, if I put this kitchen on a chassis, I could do our prepared food without a kitchen?”

“Yes, but you can’t sell the prepared food to be eaten off premises.  It has to be consumed on premises.”

Apparently food trucks can’t do leftovers or doggie bags.  So here we sit, middle of the season, 6,000 families desperate for meat pies, our freezer full of pastured meat and poultry waiting to put in a meat pie, our bank account in dire need of this lucrative enterprise–but the food police decree that we need a bathroom with incumbent piping, excavation, pumps and maintenance before we make and sell one pot pie.

Ain’t happening.  Meanwhile, the local integrity food movement languishes in the 2-3 percent range and flounders along, accused of elitism due to high prices.  Clearly, a bathroom in this situation is not necessary to produce a safe pot pie.  Even the inspector admitted it.  But he had to go by the rules.  If we installed one, recapturing that cost in the pies would price them out of the market.  Of course we could rent kitchen space somewhere, but why?  Staying home seems reasonable.

The rules, of course, were requested by paranoid consumers who wanted government oversight. Disconnected, disempowered, and ignorant, fearing what they did not know, well-meaning consumer advocates asked government agencies to step in and protect them from nefarious, opaque, Wall-Streetified industrial corporate food interests.   Politicians, happy to oblige this constituency request, created enabling legislation and agencies to administer food safety rules.

Large corporate businesses, of course, fraternizing promiscuously with the government watchdogs, shepherded the rules to insure easy compliance for large, orthodox entities, and prejudicial hurdles for small, embryonic, innovative competitors. This is why in 2016, on our farm, a bathroom costing tens of thousands of dollars stands between our pastured chicken and a pot pie for our next door neighbor.

Isn’t it amazing that folks can consume Doritos, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola up the wazoo, and even feed these substances to their children, but these same folks do not have the freedom to choose the food of their choice from the source of their choice?  Judicial rulings recently state plainly that Americans have no inherent freedom to the food of their choice.

Are you kidding?  In a land of choice–sexual choice, marital choice, religious choice, political choice, vocational choice–something as intimate and self-actualizing as our body’s fuel garners no similar protection.  The only reason such a right was not protected by our founding fathers was because they could not have imagined a day in which neighbor-to-neighbor food commerce would be criminalized.

Whether it’s a glass of raw milk, a quiche, or a pot pie, surely voluntary food  commerce among consenting adults is as basic a communal expression of liberty as we could imagine.  Under the sweltering attack of food police, innovators continually find loopholes to preserve choice:  raw milk herd shares,  private food buying clubs, renaming human food as pet food.  These strategies have varying degrees of success, but why subject something as simple as a pot pie sale to a neighbor to these logistical and managerial gymnastics?

Why not realize that somewhere beyond the end of a global, opaque food chain is a transparent, local, accountable loop?  A network?  A local food commerce web that protects itself as well as a centralized antagonistic bureaucracy?  Sure somebody might get sick, but people are already getting sick on government-sanctioned and blessed food.  Isn’t it time to try an alternative?

As Americans arrogate to the federal level a host of community-based conversations and self-governance, we inherently diminish the opportunity for local innovations.  Many of us have answers to food pathogens, nutrient deficiency, and tasteless food.  The future is already here.  The antidote to the fears and ecological devastation of the industrial food system already exists.  But it’s marginalized by the orthodox corporate/government fraternity. Until and unless we allow–yes, encourage–the outliers of the food system to access the market like we’ve allowed communication and electronic lunatics to bring their innovations to market, we’ll forever wallow in a food system that destroys our ecological nest, our local economies, and the very social fabric of our society.

            Unleash me.  Unleash thousands upon thousands of land-caressing, neighbor-loving, ecology-minded entrepreneurs on our foodscape, and we will revolutionize our landscape in a decade.  It’s time to guarantee every citizen the right to the food of their choice from the source of their choice.  We can accomplish far more change, faster, by incentivizing diversity than by criminalizing choice.

As communities begin feeding ourselves, food choice spawns diversified farms.  Diversified farms benefit wildlife and pollinators.  These healthier ecosystems build resilience into the landscape.  Vibrant, self-affirming communal food clusters fundamentally alter the current anti-regenerative trajectory.  Rewriting the future trajectory is a legacy big enough to captivate the imagination of us all.  God help us to do it.

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