Monday, October 8, 2007

The Secret Handshake

For some time it's been a joke around our house that you need the "secret handshake" to get real food. You have to know someone and know what to say in order to be let into the club. This most prominently applies to obtaining real, raw milk, which is either illegal, or legal with onerous conditions, in most states in the US. In Florida, we are allowed the "pet food" exemption--raw dairy can be sold for pet consumption only (are they allowed to check to see whether we are feeding that precious milk to the cat?). In other states, cow or herd share agreements are legal. That's an arrangement where you may purchase a partial ownership in a cow, then regularly pick up some of the milk that your cow produces. What you are paying for, after the initial purchase of part of a cow, is the care of your cow--room and board, if you want to see it that way. This has been tested, and has been verified to be a legally supportable type of contract. This strikes me as the same arrangement our daughter has for the care of her horse: she owns the horse, it lives at a stable where they care for it, she gets to ride it when she wants to. I suppose if the horse gave milk, she'd be entitled to that too (by the way, mare's milk has been traditionally drunk in the Asian Steppes, usually fermented into a kefir-like drink called koumiss).

Some states allow direct sales of raw dairy to consumers--the Holy Grail of Raw Milk Drinking--either from the farm or in some wonderful lands (California and Washington come to mind) in stores. I have participated in this very act of commerce, and what a freeing feeling it is. I can go to Washington state, walk into a store, and actually buy raw, grassfed milk from a local dairy. It took a while for me to stop looking around furtively, and then longer to curb the secret giggle that goes with doing something that has formerly been suppressed. When we visit Washington we don't have to spend much time thinking about that--suppression--but I don't ever want to take that availability for granted. While we don't have to jump through any hoops to get the milk, the farmers had to fight a very balky bureaurocracy to win approval to legally sell in stores. Even though Washington state law allows these sales, the functionaries in charge are always threatening to make things more difficult than they have to be. No matter where you live, you have to keep fighting just to retain the right to produce, sell, acquire real food.

There is an underground of food production and acquistion that, like any speakeasy, is only apparent if you do Know Someone, who can tell you the secret handshake. I have been reading Sandor Katz' The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved and am truly impressed by how creative and varied are the ways in which we, the consumers, will pursue real food. These efforts go far beyond obtaining raw dairy, which has become the cause celebre of the Food Freedom Fighters (I made that name up, but someone needs to jump on it--don't let the Health Freedom people be the only ones in this fight against the suppression of all that is natural by the interests of big business!) There are people in this country making food on an intimate scale and selling or trading it--all without commercial kitchens, inspections and Sysco deliveries (the horror!). This is the underbelly of the romantic farm tale I told the other day. This is the part where eating real food becomes an everyday act of rebellion against laws that make no sense and business that exists just to grow and profit, instead of serving the needs of its customers.

What I see happening is a confluence of viewpoints that will be very powerful as soon as we all realize we want the same thing and start working together. Some of us are approaching the desire for real food from a nutritional perspective, as manifested by the teachings of the Weston A. Price Foundation, and as explained so clearly by Nina Planck in Real Food. Some are seeking to reclaim the taste, the pleasure, of real food--these are the Slow Food people, who famously protested the invasion of a McDonald's into one of Rome's most prominent piazzas. Some, Locavores, are concerned about the environmental impact of modern agribusiness, and seek to encourage us to eat food from small local farms (see Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable and Miracle for an eloquent and entertaining description of a year of eating locally.) There are activists trying to change our deplorable National School Lunch Program such as Two Angry Moms. Those Food Freedom Fighters I mentioned above have gathered under the banner of Food Justice, seeking to ensure equal access to healthy food, no matter the individual's or community's economic circumstances. And, far from last, there is the movement to support small farmers, both through structures like community supported agriculture (CSA) and through legal advocacy (see the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund for an example). I am certain there are other worthy examples; I just wanted to make the point that no matter what door we use to enter this world, there are many of us trying to recapture some sanity in food. This is a birthright that we humans cannot give up without a fight.

No comments:

Clicky Web Analytics