Is the Local Food Movement Elitist?

Local food is elitist! This trumpets from one paper or another, revealing that despite the growing preoccupation with good food, ultimately, it is just another white soccer Mom phenomenon. Working class people (who strangely, the paper and the author rarely seem to care about otherwise) can't afford an organic chicken or a gallon of organic milk! Ordinary people don't have time to make soup. Regular folk don't care about that stuff - that's for brie-sniffing folks, just the next rich people's food fad.

I can think of a few hundred refutations of this claim, of course. There are all of my readers who are low income and struggling and still eat real food. There are the people who buy from me, mostly neighbors, mostly not affluent *at all* - they just want good food. There's us - we qualify for food stamps in our state most years. We don't need them - we are awash in good food, but we sure as heck aren't affluent. There's the composition of the farmer's market in my town and in the nearby cities - and of the coop and other local food resources. There's Red Hook Farm in Brooklyn and the local food movement in urban Detroit, and every other inner city food movement. There's the way local food infrastructure has burgeoned in a thousand low income rural areas, where the exchange of food is part of what keeps people alive. There are the immigrant community gardens and the fact that plenty of poor parents cook every night. There's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

All of that is true, but it isn't the argument I want to make. What I want to argue, in fact is that the accusation that local food is elitist is actually a product of the industrial food infrastructure - that is, the requirements of an industrial food system, the presumption that the basic structure of food production should be industrialized is what makes the price of good food higher. The accusation that local food isn't "serious" because it costs more is an accusation in bad faith - the reason it costs more is because the same system makes it cost more.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing in favor of farmers' not getting a fair price for their food, but consider the cost of a gallon of milk. I can produce a gallon of milk from my barn for about $2.40 in hay, grain, amortized goat costs, and a tiny chunk of my mortgage payment. Since my milk is mostly grass during the summer, that means with a reasonable markup, I could produce a gallon of milk for 3.50, and make a fair profit. That's not too bad - my local Stewarts is advertising milk for 3.80 per gallon, so I could sell a few gallons to my neighbors and offset some feed costs, without costing them more, maybe even save them some pennies. It goes without saying, also that my goat's milk tastes better (sorry, but it does, and everyone thinks so), is organic, probably came from animals with better lives, and would be fresher than the milk in the store.

My friend Judy, who runs a dairy, observes that it costs $9 for her to produce a gallon of goat's milk. Now why the difference? Why does it cost her $9, which isn't even remotely competetive and me $2.40? Well the main difference is that she had to get set up to sell her goat's milk. She had to put in a bulk tank, build a barn to specifications, put in the second septic system between the milk room and the barn septic, add restroom facilities (even though her house bathroom is three steps away), and pay 16,000 dollars for pasteurizer.

As I'm adding up my costs, I don't have to count any of those things. I can amortize my steel milking pail and the quart mason jars I use, but that won't add but pennies. I can pasteurize my milk - after all, raising milk to a particular temperature and holding it there for a couple of minutes isn't rocket science, and a $4 dairy thermometer works fine, along with a stainless steel pot (let's not even ask whether I can sell it raw).

Of course, the big difference is that Judy *can* legally sell her milk, and I can't. In order to sell milk, I'd have to build the milking parlor, get the bulk tank, run power to the barn, and buy the 16K pasteurizer. Nevermind that for someone milking 6 does, this is ridiculous overkill - them's the rules. And look, my organic milk now costs $9 gallon - and gee, isn't that elitist, to think that ordinary people can afford organic *milk!?!*

Now I can hear the protests - after all, all this stuff exists in the name of progress and food safety, right? Well, the problem with that is that if you need all this stuff for milk to be produced safely, you have to first explain away the fact that the French are all still alive ;-). Because it is perfectly evident that it is possible for someone to hand milk six cows in a milking parlor without electricity or running water, in a building built 400 years ago and to the standards of that day, to take it from the cow and cool it in a bucket of water from a spring, and sell some of it directly to consumers who do not die, and indeed, go on to have lifespans longer than our own and who spend less per year on illness and health costs, and make some into cheese that you then age in an actual cave on the back of your property and sell as raw-milk camembert, again, without anyone dying or even getting sick. Indeed, bacterial levels won't be any higher than is safe. Most European dairies have a system of rigorous inspection that permits the selling of raw dairy to clean dairies - and we know that system works. It is a system that priveleges and supports small producers, who can make a living.

It is perhaps no accident, then, that good food in much of Europe is not considered to be elitist. Poor people expect to eat well too. They expect their produce to be fresh, their cheese to be tasty, their food to be well cooked. The idea that the poor have no choice but to eat at McDonalds is not an idea with a great deal of currency in countries that support and encourage small scale food production. This is not to claim that in all ways Europe is a paradise, but it does undermine the idea that what we do to reduce access to the food system is inherently necessary.

Consider this - I have an elderly neighbor whose wife died a couple of years ago. This gentleman never learned to cook, and has declined to do so - he says it is because it wouldn't make sense for just him, but I suspect it has to do with his loyalty to his wife and her cooking.

Since his wife's death, my neighbor eats mostly frozen foods, and several times a week, eats out at one of two local diners, or the local pizza place. Both are perfectly nice places, but he did mention to me at one point that he was gaining weight and that he didn't feel as good after eating at these places as he used to, and suggested it might be because the vegetable choices are quite limited. I invited him to dinner and served a typically vegetable lavish dinner, and have many times invited him to return. He accepts maybe one invitation of five, because he doesn't like to be beholden - but one day he joked "you should open a restaurant, I'd feel less guilty if I could pay you."

Now I was quick to reassure him that when you are cooking for six, you might as well cook for seven, but I was struck by this. I could offer to let him pay me - in a perfect world, this might be a good solution. And he's not the only person I could feed - probably comparably in price to the local restaurants, but with better food - organic bread and rice, homegrown vegetables and lots of fresh stuff.

The problem, of course, is that I can feed my neighbor every day of the year in my kitchen. I can give him soup, sushi, stew, salad for ten years. But the moment he pays me, I become a restaurant, and i'm supposed to have a stainless steel counters and a triple sink. Well, I've never yet seen a home kitchen that came with a triple sink. It doesn't matter that I have cooked literally thousands of meals for hundreds of people without a single instance of food borne illness occurring in my kitchen - that has nothing to do with it. But if I need stainless steel, well, it just isn't worth it. My food becomes elitist - and my relationship with a man who has never done anything more elite in his whole life than milk cows is tainted.

The kind of restaurant I've considered running is common in immigrant communities - there's no official restaurant, perhaps, or perhaps people simply can't afford to get started. I lived over a Colombian bar and grill - quite literally - when in grad school. Two days a week the apartment below me opened up and 50 or 60 people would come, drink beer, eat grilled meats and salads, play music and dance. There was no license, no advertising - everyone just knew. You'd think this would be annoying, but I loved it - they were friendly and welcoming and paid off the landlord with beer and barbecue. It exists outside the local economy, producing good food at a slight markup and providing an income, a local gathering place, a supportive environment. Its merits are far greater than any triple sink can describe.

The local food system is elitist in large part because it is forced to be. Others have documented the ways in which small producers are discriminated against - the way subsidies favor large producers, the way externalization of pollutants favors people who don't actually live where they produce their food. Joel Salatin in _Everything I Want to Do is Illegal_ carefully documents ways in which beaurocratic regulations have nothing to do with food safety - and indeed, the system that produces the 1,000 cow hamburger can't be said to be primarily focused on keeping eaters safe.

The arugula jokes, the accusations of elitism come from the same people that support a system in which good food is largely unavailable to low income people - then they explain that low income folk didn't really want it anyway, and that they don't have time or desire or knowledge to care about food. What's remarkable is that this self-perpetuating cycle gets broken by the ordinary low income eaters themselves who also can see the virtues of eating well. What they need to understand is why the milk and produce and soup they want, they can't afford - because the industrial system doesn't just produce falsely "cheap" food, it also drives up the price of small, local and good.


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You miss one major point. The population in the US is not distributed based upon where food can be produced locally. Therefore, in many of the population centers locally produced food can not supply much of the food for the people and will therefore be elitist in those areas. If not elitist, it will be priced such that only those who have relatively high incomes or those who are willing to pay a significantly higher percentage of their income for food.

The other issue you raise is how important are food safety regulations. I think you seriously discount the horrible disease outbreaks from contaminated foods, particularly dairy, that came from small farms 100 or more years ago prior to the increase in farm size. I personally would never want to sell meat of milk from my farm that did not follow the USDA regulations. The liability risk is too great. If a child were to get sick, the farm is essentially gone.

I've been ranting about this very thing all week. There ought to be exemptions or 'different rules' for smaller operations.

We have new regulations regarding ear tags for sheep here in Canada - the old metal tags are no longer allowable, we must now use RFID tags. This means I have to buy a new tagger and the new tags cost double what the old ones did - and they serve exactly the same purpose for a small farm. I know my sheep by name. The purpose of the tags is to trace back to farm of origin if a case of scrapie is found - and I have no problem at all with tagging my sheep. But really, why should a small producer HAVE to use the RFID tags? We'll read them by human eye anyway. Let the feedlots refuse any animals with metal tags - then people who want to play Industrial Ag buy the fancy tags, and the rest of us can stick with the ones we've used for years.

The milk thing is silly too - I can feed you egg salad at my table every day of the year, and you'll eat it if you figure I keep a clean enough kitchen. But under no circumstances am I allowed to serve you milk from my cow, even if you watched me wash the udder, saw the test strips come up clean with your own eyes, and washed the mason jar with your own hands. It's illegal to give you that milk, even if I pasteurize it, because I am not a 'proper dairy'.

I believe we should all be kept safe, and that regulations and inspections are a good thing. But safe on a household scale and safe on an industrial scale are two very different things - and the rules should reflect that. They don't - and this definitely contributes to the inability for small farms to be competitive ... in fact, it keeps a lot of people from even starting.

Your response is Elitist!


No, really... ok, sort of really.

Long meticulous logical expositions... feed them.

My point (of view) - "elitist" is merely an epithet, yelled into the ether because the yeller is pissed off. Would you respond with an essay if they'd yelled "you shithead!" (that's pronounced "sha-theed")? "They" are boxing; and you're playing chess.

Unfortunately, we on the usual receiving end of this epithet do not have a good reciprocal one. Elitist is a good boxing punch; it's effective, sticky, and so far unanswerable.

The standard ripostes are, so far, not very effective. "Capitalist tool!" "Obstructionist know-nothing!" and the like; well, the opposition will just consider those confirmation of their charge of elitism.

Likewise; "Neanderthal!" "reactionary!" and so forth.

Personally, I'd hit back with : "Unamerican!" "anti-business!" "anti-free-enterprise!" ... or words to that effect. Maybe; "anti-anti-intellectual!" hm. or not.

:-) Really, I think Unamerican is the best response. Hits'em where they live, and it will confuse them.

I'm sorry, I have to have a little OCD quibble with this statement:

"[...]again, without anyone dying or even getting sick."

Not really!
Not without ANYONE dying or getting sick.
Shoot, overindustrialized food-safety-regulation-compliant "sterile" modern dairies still don't acheive the "nobody even gets sick" goal.
If you said, "with only moderate levels of disease" that would be a different question.

I might have more to say about this later, but for now suffice it to say that it sure is a conundrum - how to balance food safety, animal welfare, the farmer's ability to make a living, and a cost the consumer can pay.

We have, if you will pardon the expression, a chicken-and-egg problem here. The regulations are in place because, in a system where short-term perishable goods like milk might be coming from an industrial producer a thousand miles away or more, the regulations are needed to ensure that the producers don't cut corners and make lots of people sick with bad food products. In a system where it is normal to consume locally produced food, there wouldn't be a need for these regulations because a local producer who routinely produced bad food (adulterated or contaminated so as to produce short-term harm, not just long-term harm) could be shunned socially as well as economically and therefore be driven out of business. When the supplier is some distant industrial concern, that's harder to do, short of an egregious case like the Chinese milk producer that was fortifying its milk with melamine, resulting in the deaths of many children.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

Excellent post! I stumbled upon it by accident and you can now count me in as a loyal reader. As a small farm owner, I struggle with the same questions and problems everyday. I have yet to solidly justify in my morals either side of the "Go big, sell legally" / "Stay small, sell illegally" coin. I avoid it mostly because I just don't have the wherewithal to confront it at this point. People think that I am being elitist when I tell them I won't sell them fresh goat milk and that they are better off just buying their own goats. Maybe I am being elitist or maybe I am just trying to save my own skin from the "food police".

Nice rant Sharon.

@Mike, I'd quibble with your second point. First, don't fall into the trap of thinking that arguing against the industrial food system means "going back" to something from 100 years ago. Her passage on France tries to make that clear. Second, when I step back and look at the health impacts of the current food system -- well, people are actually dying - maybe not from botulism, but dying nevertheless - and often unpleasantly. People can argue that somehow, in contrast to getting salmonella, getting diabetes or cancer from this food system is more "your own fault," (like Sharon's neighbor who won't cook), but that strikes me as naive.

Modifying these rules for sane local production would be VERY difficult. Difficult to the point of not being worth trying. Can the whole issue be circumvented through sharing in a non-commercial way? Is barter subject to regulation? Living in urban environ does increase dependence on longer distance imports, so it will cost more for food than in rural neighborhoods.

Mike, I disagree with both your points - see the French example. The 100 year old outbreaks were due to early forms of industrial agriculture - the keeping of cows in basements under breweries and feeding them only brewery waste, for example, and came well before it was possible to test bacterial levels. There is ample evidence that the American model is not, in fact, the only one. As for the sale of meat - in most states it is legal to sell poultry direct off the farm in some moderately large numbers, and there are few major outbreaks (Thisbe's point about my rhetoric taken) associated with this practice.

As for the urban point - that could be true, if everyone who produces foods in cities sells for the highest price, and has no other motivation. But it isn't true in much of the world - what we see in the Global South for example is that even quite dense cities successfully produce about 20% of their meat and produce - high value items that supplement lower cost staple foods. And most people sell in the communities they live in - some may transport them to wealthier areas, but in many cases, for example, in Tanzania we see that a preponderance of small market growers improve overall nutrition in poor areas, so they are definitely selling locally. It is true that someone raising meat rabbits in the Bronx might take the train to the Union Square Greenmarket, but it is also just as possible that that person, motivated by laziness or desire to feed his neighbors, might be content to sell them to his actual neighbors if the costs of production weren't artificially pushed up and he could make a reasonable profit at a moderate price.


Thisbe, actually, if you look at the grammar of that, you'll see I was speaking of one hypothetical producer - it is perfectly reasonable to imagine dairy production going on for many years without a single documented case of illness or death - for example, at my house small scale dairying has 0 cases of death and 0 cases of illness. I did *not* say that there would never be any food borne illness in the whole system of people doing this, merely observed that it was pretty normal for that to happen even without an American-style industrial dairy.

I agree that balancing food safety with freedom is important - but we should also remember we don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are models out there.


Still, "no one gets sick" seems like an unbelievable claim--I for one would like to see a source for the relevant health statistics.

Oh, this is very, very well said, and -- y'know -- food is simply on the same curve as everything else.

[What you need][can't be done] because [we made it uneconomic and illegal or against regulations or unfashionable or taboo] because [if we didn't you wouldn't do it our way] and then [we] wouldn't get rich. To be explained away as [we know what's best in this case]

Simple housing, simple farming, simple medical system, simple trading, simple transportation, simple sanitation, and pretty much renewable anything are decentralizing in their effects, keeping wealth streams away from those who game the system. So they game the system a little more in every legislative session (this is called government by lobbying, and works), incrementally. The catcalling is part of this arrangement.

It's easy enough (if we tear ourselves away from the television and, increasingly, my laptop and your iPhone) to notice all this and call foul. But the lock-in is much of a done deal pretty universally. The enforcement is ubiquitous, from food raids down to media cat-calling and snide remarks by second cousins.

But the enforcers *are* sincere. They _do_ see a pan-social danger in good-food activism. This is based on our (almost all of us in "Western" civ) having been concentrated, by the forces unleashed through the enslavement of coal and oil, into urban enclaves to the extent that, for all almost anyone can see, there's no alternative to doing it all "their" way.

Maggie Thatcher (remember her? Sort of the Brit George Bush Senior) made the blanket statement concerning all decentralist notions: "There IS no alternative."

Discussions of how to get out of this fix ultimately run up against the thing we don't like to talk about here, so I will say it just this once: population.

Once there are a certain amount of people relative to resource supply, equity becomes a form of social capital which we suddenly run out of. That's really what people over on the right are seeing down the road, and it's why they feel sincere about calling social-justice movements elitist. _Real conversations need to be held_.

Meanwhile, I urge everyone: if you CAN, unplug and get away to someplace where you can grow something. Even if it means going into indentured service at Sharon's. :D

'Elitist'?! Nobody has called me that yet! Lots of other things, usually along the line of 'weird'. I agree, the system is rigged- how much goes into marketing the 'savings' and 'convenience' of frozen pizza? How many high school grads are taught how to cook a soup or make bread. Oh, well first you have to save up for the $150 bread machine! Use your hands and a pan? Heavens no!
Here in MN, there is an ongoing story about a farmer who has been selling raw milk, and some people got sick. The newspaper stories make it sound like consumers of raw milk are a looney underground who 'deal' milk to each other. Lots of good social control messages in the narrative, if you care to look it up. In general, yes, hygiene, sterilization and standards are good. But it will not stop all illness. One must accept that, and not let it interfere with small farmers/business. Unless you just want to eliminate the competition :)

Then you can raise prices, because you neeeed to!…

Maybe you could ask your neighbor for some help now and again. Something he has skill at or that makes him feel useful, since babysitting may not appeal to him at this point. Then 'repay the favor' with a good meal? Then he is not indebted to you, nor you him. Love economy in action?

By ChrisBear (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

Since when is being "elitist" a bad thing?

The situation in the US is such that homegrown produce, eggs, milk, meat, etc., simply has to be marketed the same way that homegrown Cannabis is distributed. We found this out from our experience with the "official" local farmers' market. Couldn't sell tarragon vinegar because it wasn't produced in an "approved" kitchen. Couldn't sell eggs because of liability issues. Couldn't sell live aloe vera plants because the market didn't have a nursery license. Okay, fuck it, then. We'd just sell by word-of-mouth, to neighbors & co-workers, or from the back of the pickup along the highway somewhere. Don't have to deal with food stamps or WIC checks that way, too. Cash only. the Global South for example.. even quite dense cities successfully produce about 20% of their meat and produce..

And 0% of their grain. So these urbanites are supposed to subsist on 400 Kcals (20%) per day? The simple fact is that they're all going to starve once agro-industrial food production & transportation infrastructures break down, which they're bound to do as resource depletion & ecosystem collapse progresses. risa b is right: "I urge everyone: if you CAN, unplug and get away to someplace where you can grow something."

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

I wonder were you get your fascinating ideas about Europe from. While you can buy some raw milk cheese and some of the fascinating goodies prohibited by US regulations, the prices are so far above anything you pay here it's as elitist as the US system. The farmers spend their Saturday at the farmer's market because they can get MORE money than from the wholesale dealer, and typically augment most of their supplies from the same wholesale places the local grocery buys.

Timely, considering that there is another salmonella outbreak today.

I think maybe the way to solve the raw milk debate is to pursue some sort of co-op model with group pasteurization services. There IS a certain economy of scale and it is going to be necessary that small producers team up on expensive gear. But of course, to get to that point you need to have more than just one eccentric micro-farmer in a given town. (you know, a Nation of Farmers).

For an example of this, think of the cheese cave in Hardwick, VT.

Sharing gear like this is commonplace for, let's say, honey extractors. There is no need for every single person with single beehive to buy their own extractor.

Obviously it's more of a logistical challenge with milk which is constantly being produced vs. honey that is harvested once a year, but there has to be a way.

I am very deep in the local food movement, I get as much of my food as possible (including all meat and dairy) from the farmers markets. What I can't get there, I buy at Whole Foods or the local grocery chain equivalent (called Central Market) or the local grocery co-op. And I will be the first to agree that the movement is elitist.

I have the time to go the markets, I have a generous salary that allows me to purchase as much of my food as possible there, to own a car to take me there and to haul my food home with me, and to outfit my kitchen with all necessary (and some merely convenient or whizbang) equipment and accessories. I have a job that gives me ample time to prepare these fresh foods, which takes significantly longer than prepackaged or processed foods. My generous salary also means I can afford to eat at restaurants that source their menus locally. Lastly, I can afford to live in a city (Austin) that is blessed with an abundance of local/natural/organic/what-have-you food sources.

But a few years ago I was not able to do this, because I did not get paid enough, and I was working two jobs, and to this day very few of my friends enjoy my privileged diet because they simply can not fit it into their budgets.

I think it critical that those of us who can afford to adopt this lifestyle be ever mindful of those who can not, instead of trying to preach it as gospel. I know there are some who believe there are ways to bring it to the masses; I am pleased to note that my farmers markets recently began accepting Texas' food assistance card. I am skeptical that this is entirely possible, however. I have yet to read an argument that convinces me that soon the prices of such foods will be low enough for all to purchase. And I know that the markets, because of their need for space and parking, will never be widely accessible, especially for those dependent on public transportation or those who must work on weekends.

Not that long ago, say ten years, the local supermarkets sold fresh-squeezed orange juice made in the store. They had a machine that washed, cut and squeezed the oranges while you watched. Then there was an incident somewhere of someone getting an e. coli infection from some tainted apple cider, and unpasteurized fruit juice became illegal. Never mind that the acidity of orange juice makes it unlikey to get bacterial growth. The stores stopped selling the juice and now you can only get pasteurized orange juice. I'm sure Minute Maid only had my safety in mind!

Mu, I was in Toulouse recently and bought raw milk cheese at the Carrefour (supermarket). I thought the prices were very reasonable compared to what I would have to pay for even semi-decent cheese (e.g. anything that's not Kraft mild "cheddar") at the supermarket where I currently live in the US. And I when I lived in Montpellier as an undergraduate, I could afford to buy nice cheeses, as can a large section of French society - not just some "elite". Where are you getting your fascinating ideas about Europe?

By mangobingo (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

Brilliant, Sharon. Thank you for crunching and writing. I agree with you also on the co-op model as a solution to raw milk and other small farm advocacy issues. Best wishes.

I couldn't agree more! Never mind a triple sink in my kitchen (which I'd probably do!) but CT requires an entirely separate kitchen - a 2nd kitchen to sell homemade food. I could easily feed my entire neighborhood for pennies is they'd let me.

I even tried to give it away ... I wanted to bake fresh bread to be given away with Angel Food deliveries ... no go. :( It's so sad.

Maybe a bit of civil disobedience? How many health inspectors do you see in your neck of the woods?
Just start selling meals to neighbors and like your downstairs neighbors in college, keep it to word of mouth and small in scale and who will ever find out?

mango, growing up there until age 30 helped a lot.

Ironically this evening I received an email from the folks I buy my grain share from. In addition to the CSA that raise the grain, the same people own a bakery. The email was really about the bakery and urging people to order early for Thanksgiving.

A "localvore pumpkin pie" ... yes, completely and totally local ingredients, but still. Guess how much?? $20. I can see how that would be considered elitist. And yes this (forgive the pun) feeds right in to what you're saying ... how much could they charge if not for all the regulation? I don't know, but wow, that's one expensive pie.

what Risa said!
doing our best to unplug from whatever we can.

also, as for grains, we can safely move away from the idea that we have to have such a huge portion of grains in our diets. For those that want those grains, they could begin to explore growing grains on a small scale, not wheat, rice, oats, but the smaller grains: quinoa, amaranth, and maybe, if you have an abundant source of nitrogen, grow some corn to dry. Here amaranth grows like a weed. Moderation in all things, even grains.
This statement is not approved by the Amuricun Grain Growers Association.

By Sara in Alabama (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

Thanks Sharon for another excellent post. I really have no idea what the local growers need to do to legally bring their produce to our local farmers market, but like Constance, I pay them their price. Which here in northeast Kansas is not a lot higher than supermarket prices, and the quality is much better. So I'm an elitist on Saturday mornings. Then I go home and build a cargo bike for my friend who makes his living as a garden and construction laborer. He pays me for the time I spent building the bike with his garden produce. I trade my manual labor for his, and we both think we are getting a great deal. The lesson I take from this is that it is really expensive to convert your labor to money, and there are easy ways to avoid it. Fortunately, I am enough of an elitist that I can afford to not need a dollar return on every transaction.

By Eric in Kansas (not verified) on 10 Nov 2010 #permalink

Here in England you are allowed to sell raw milk directly from the farm. Eric Lund's comment #5 is spot on, this works because any producer using this system without being careful about hygene would soon go run out of customers. It's seems like an easy way to relax the regulations with minimum risk and bureaucracy, it benefits both tiny producers and larger farms who also sell to dairies.

So what is wrong with elitism? Someone has to buy our veneer wood, top quality pastured pork, hand crafted pottery, etc. It is a free market economy, for the most part, and people are welcome to spend what they want. The elite pay very well and I am thankful for them.

I could never afford to buy all of my vegetables at the Farmer's Market, especially the organic ones. So I joined a group called "The Winter Cache Project". We carpool out to a parcel of land on a farm we have use of for a work-trade. Starting in the spring we plant and tend our garden. Thruout the summer we bring home fresh vege and learn how to preserve the excess for winter. After the garden is put to bed in the fall we have a CSA like food distribution every two weeks. The formula is simple, if you worked a day you qualify for one food distribution. People who are there all growing season have fresh stored veggies all winter. We also learn to grow as much of our food at home as we have room for. This is a wonderful way for people in an urban environment to have winter food security.

By Sue in Maine (not verified) on 11 Nov 2010 #permalink

"So what is wrong with elitism?"

It's not a sustainable business model.

In a post-peak world, most of the elite (and by elite, I'm including most of the current middle-class) will eventually be in the same boat as everyone else. It simply won't be possible to sell high-priced niche products when nearly everybody's poor.

So if your post-peak career depends on a mail-order customer-base of yuppies rather than your struggling neighbors, it's probably not that sustainable.

Not that long ago, say ten years, the local supermarkets sold fresh-squeezed orange juice made in the store. They had a machine that washed, cut and squeezed the oranges while you watched. Then there was an incident somewhere of someone getting an e. coli infection from some tainted apple cider, and unpasteurized fruit juice became illegal.

my local coffe shop still has a machine like that, except that it neither washes nor cuts the oranges first. the e.coli scare must not have made news in my state, i suppose.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 11 Nov 2010 #permalink

A group in my town has been running something like the bootleg barbecue Sharon describes. They eventually came to the attention of the health department, so they teamed up with a local non-profit. The event now falls under the same rules as potluck dinner, and is no longer regulated. Also, the cooks are all volunteers, and after the ingredients are paid for, all of the "suggested donations" go to support a fund that makes very reasonable loans to local farmers to build hoop houses. And the breakfast-eaters volunteer in droves to put up the hoop houses. And then buy greens and other good stuff to put on the table at the next breakfast!

I grew up in central Europe. People could sell raw milk off the farm, and still can. Or cider. People butchered their own hogs in the yard, with the help of neighbors. Nobody was keeling over from disease. Nobody worried about salmonella. The system worked because it was localized. As long as people keep things reasonably hygienic, it's a good system. Americans should go around Europe and learn and make changes.

But of course it won't happen because it's really about greed and power. It always comes down to that. Unplug, unplug!

Sharon! I simply want to massage your brain!

A brilliant indictment of the USDA and the rest of the alpha bet soup of regulators that keep the Food Stamp system going to the detriment of the "beneficiaries" and to the betterment of the processed food companies.

I have been venting about the regulatory mess at the USDA et al for years... you have given me fresh fodder.

Shalom Bayit!

"it's really about greed and power."

How do you figure? Seriously, I just don't buy the idea that there is a deliberate conspiracy to hold down small-scale food production. What I do see in the US is a cultural shift in which big ag is seen as the norm and the way things were done before is seen as the dark ages. You know, old = bad, dangerous, unsafe. This is true across all facets of society, not just regulators. It's the Hot Pockets generation.

So I would really resist the temptation to make everything into a conspiracy.

Seriously, I just don't buy the idea that there is a deliberate conspiracy to hold down small-scale food production.

There doesn't need to be a "deliberate conspiracy" for it to be all "about greed and power," Ed. All there needs to be is for "big ag" and its lobbyists to act solely on behalf of corporate interests for small-scale food producers, who lack the equivalent resources & influence, to be disadvantaged. This said, there's no doubt in my mind but what some agro-industrial executives & lobbyists haven't considered ways in which to deliberately handicap small competitors who are individually insignificant but may collectively threaten maximum profits - all out of concern for public safety, of course. Yeah, right! Under corporatist Fascism government becomes an instrument for assuring corporate hegemony at the expense of the public interest. To believe otherwise is to be volitionally naive.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 11 Nov 2010 #permalink

Hi Sharon,

I read through some of the comments. In my opinion, regulations will go away when the federal govt collapses which is it trying very hard to do. Of course, first they have to make sure those in power and with lots of money already just get more. So I will just sit quietly and wait. I have told my children who work on a factory farm that the door is always open at my house. I say this to them to if they can they know where to go so that they can eat. It's the best I can do for now. I pray for all those who don't have that network. I also work to feed them. Why don't you offer your neighbor a chore or easy job that he could do instead of paying you money - barter for meals. I don't know that he would do that any more readily but it would change the conversation.

Take care!

Mu: me too, until age 26. I guess that's why we need statistics as well as opinions.

By mangobingo (not verified) on 11 Nov 2010 #permalink

The Senate version of the Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, is likely to move forward in the closing session of the 111th Congress this coming week.

Is it time to do a little research and call our Senators?

Maybe a bit of civil disobedience? How many health inspectors do you see in your neck of the woods?

Not only will the revolution not be televised, it won't be properly licensed and inspected either.

Ed, could you explain to me why you respond with "conspiracy!" if I mention power and greed? I am curious, truly. (Otherwise, what darwinsdog said.)

It is true that the French spend a higher percentage of their income on food than Americans do. BUT, as someone I can't recall has pointed out, they spend sufficiently less per capita on health care that it more or less balances out. (Many French don't need cars to live, and I'd guess that that also helps to reduce their medical costs as well as their transportation costs.) Some pundits see it as outrageous to suggest that folks in the inner city should (or should be enabled to) eat vegetables, but perfectly reasonable that those same people have to spend the same amount or more on Glucophage.

In Africa, the figure of 20% of produce consumed in urban areas being produced within and around those areas is the LOW end. More typical is 40-70% or in one place even 90%. (Can't remember where that was; I used to have a book on the subject but somebody stole it. :-P) I do believe that I could personally produce most of my family's non-staple (i.e. non-potato) veggies from my own yard, given a few years to develop my skills and soil.

I do believe that I could personally produce most of my family's non-staple (i.e. non-potato) veggies from my own yard, given a few years to develop my skills and soil.

Why don't you think you can grow your own potatos, dewey? I find potatos to be among the easiest things to grow. Just dig a shallow trench, cut up some potatos & drop the pieces in. You don't even have to bury them, just cover them with mulch. I realize that a lot of gardeners don't grow potatos but I've never understood why not. I've found them to be about the most productive crop for the effort.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 12 Nov 2010 #permalink

I can - this year I grew La Ratte (dinky fingerlings yet productive) and Yellow Finn (scrumptious but not very productive), and I'm saving some of the La Ratte for next year. But I don't have enough free area, especially in a rotation, to grow anything like the quantity of potatoes we eat. (We're both part Irish - and even the kitteh likes garlic mashed potatoes.)

As for the deep-mulch tactic, I tried a thick straw mulch over seed potatoes laid on the bare ground, and found that the potatoes all still went down into the ground and had to be dug for. Next year, I will just plant them underground and not bother hauling a whole bale of straw. But some mulch is still very handy to keep the soil moist.


I think there is a line to be drawn. When the customer that eats or uses the product knows who the individual is that grew or produced it, that isn't "public health" or public safety. That is a personal relationship.

If I were to sell the milk from my cow or cows, with my name and either email or physical address or phone, or some combination, that should suffice everyone's needs for accountability.…

@ Jennie Erwin,

Keep an eye on Senate bill S.510. The Senate leadership deliberately postponed considering this bill until after the elections. They are appalled that all growers, all farmers - everyone that grows, produces, transports, or processes food, or anything that could be a component of food for people or animals, aren't federally registered and audited. S.510 intends to remedy that by creating a Federal Food Safety Administration (FSA) under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The bill will require every that grows, produces, etc. to register with the Feds and be audited regularly (every three or four years or so) - and cannot operate of registration is denied or revoked. Penalties include the normal fines and criminal stuff, revoking registration - and confiscating the "premises". Like take your home because you didn't get the lab test recorded for milk sold two months ago. Oh, and Monsanto helped write the original bill (it passe the House last summer) - and requires "science based" and Federally approved methods of growing, managing, and handling your products. Currently there is a caveat that anyone certified by the Feds as Organic can operate under those rules. But the Senate isn't done with it yet, it hasn't been reconciled with the version that passed the house, and no on knows what regulations will be written to implement this new FSA government growth project.

Civil disobedience may be the right thing to do. But be aware it might cost you your home and property without compensation.

"I know that the markets, because of their need for space and parking, will never be widely accessible, especially for those dependent on public transportation or those who must work on weekends."

They could be. The rotating-location, four-times-a-week neighborhood farmers' markets near me replace parking, if anything -- one of them settles into a wide piece of street. The weekday ones run in the late afternoon and evening so people can shop on their way home from work.

Even at the Ferry Plaza market in San Francisco, which is as elitist as I've seen, people go to and from by foot or transit. I'm never the only person going home with perfect peaches on the subway.

When I want *really cheap* ripe fresh food, I go to Chinatown, which is technically someplace with parking but in reality not! at! all!

So why are markets elsewhere so inconvenient? This is why I (and Sharon) suspect that there's a system set up that makes them so, with the left hand (zoning, traffic regs) washing the right hand (centralized growers and sellers). Also, if transit is so bad that those who can't drive can't get to decent food on it, the problem isn't so-called 'elitist' supply of food, it's the *actually* elitist decision to build infrastructure only for the fairly rich and healthy.

Glad to see the cottage food law in Michigan. How refreshingly rational. Got nothing like that here, of course.

nicely put. I heard 'elitist' and even 'Racist' with respect to caring about what you and your family eat. ONe of the thing that is have issues with in the comment section: that the food safetyregulation are preventing anybody getting sick. I don't even want to refer to cancer and obesity and karies in the current system (karies is actually a big issue: yes you can brush your teeth, but the point is, because of the way your regular household sugar is often produced, you get a much more effectove caries producer than the europeans have) also, there is very little possibllity of being actually responsible about the health issues associated with this PURELY industralized system as people don't have to declare what they put into their food. and very little reliable research is done on the health costs of the preservative cocktails used: due to the need to keep bacteria out.

it is a balance, yes . but the really really annoying truth is that the balance is tipped with arguments like: OUTBREAKS and diseases and the ugly words of: germs and bacteria.

Being seriously clean in your kitchen. THAT is the key. And while I don't necessarily agree with the need of a stainlesssteel triple sink (why should I not be able to use ceramics, seriously, only curious if there ever has been an argument for that)

and...the salmonella situation is also more dangerous due to farming realities. When the comment referred to 'salmonella' outbreaks due to the prectise of being able to sell a certain amount directly off the farms...those outbreaks I bet you were not originating from responsible small farmers and teh biggest issue with salmonella isn't even the selling infected animals or eggs, but the use thereafter. I like raw egg as ,much as the next girl (seriously I like my egg mushy ;)) but if I eat that and get sick I WOULD consider that my own fault. BUt sad as that is: I will not make majonaise from scratch for dinners as much, nor holandaise...nor.... oh man,

Yes, I see on MSNBC today that the professional food fusses are arguing that the expensive regulations to be derived from Senate Bill S510 should be applied just as rigidly to small producers because we've had outbreaks from eggs, lettuce, etc. that "sickened hundreds of people." Yeah, but those were corporation eggs and lettuce that were being sold to thousands of people in multiple states! You show me one case where the little truck farmer has made hundreds of people sick, and I'll consider changing my opinion on this.

Anyway, I realize mentioning the Constitution is a good way to get put on the no-fly list, but FDA only used to have the right to dictate production methods for food in INTERSTATE commerce. States also have health regulations, so it is not the feds' business what people choose to make and eat within a single community.

They could be. The rotating-location, four-times-a-week neighborhood farmers' markets near me replace parking, if anything -- one of them settles into a wide piece of street. The weekday ones run in the late afternoon and evening so people can shop on their way home from work.

Brilliant! Corporations, who control government, don't freakin' want deregulation. They LOVE regulation. It's their monopolistic hold on competition. And there's only one way for it to go down.

Wage Slaves Unite, General Strike!