by Joel Salatin
According to a recent Pew survey, 85 percent of Americans believe the government is responsible for the safety of their food. Faced with a similar question in his day, Thomas Jefferson adamantly opposed government control of the food supply. It was completely unAmerican.
Oh, but you say control is not the same as responsible. We could parse the difference grammatically, I suppose, but in real life, the two words are synonymous. The responsible chairman controls who gets recognized in the audience. A responsible parent controls where the teenagers are at midnight. A responsible middle manager controls the information seen by bosses.
I wonder if 85 percent would have answered the question the way they did if it were phrased using the word control instead of responsible? Horrible regimes responsible for pogroms are remembered for their control tactics on the population. Can we agree that in that context, responsible means control?
Now let me ask the question: Do you think the government should control food safety in America? When anyone is put in control, our most reasonable query involves their paradigm. Obviously, control can be positive or negative depending on the assumptions of the controller. While all of us would love to think the government is a benevolent controller, I beg to differ.
What is the government’s paradigm? Remember, this is the outfit that encouraged conversion of America’s food system to organophosphates, chemical fertilizers, and DDT.
This is the outfit that told us manure wasn’t even worth hauling to the fields. That if we began organic farming on a large scale, half the world would starve to death. That invited thousands of farmers like me to free dinners and seminars teaching us about feeding dead cows to cows, eventually creating mad cow disease. That encouraged the patenting of life and now encourages Monsanto to egregiously trespass private property with promiscuous anti-natural life forms, and believes aggrieved farmers should pay royalties to the trespassers. That promotes wars in foreign countries to make sure oil stays cheap enough to continue floating an energy-intensive, segregated, nutrient-deficient globally-risky food system. That assumes anyone who creates a domestic larder is politically subversive. That sends SWAT teams to personal homes to raid private food clubs and raw milk producers. I know these aren’t complete sentences, but they save words and make the point.
Is this the paradigm we need to be putting in charge of food safety? Really? In the early 1970s the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) decided to tell Americans what to eat by creating and publishing the food pyramid. The foundation of that pyramid was grain. It did not differentiate between Triscuits and sprouted spelt bread. Consequently, Americans increased grain consumption (primarily wheat) 50 percent in just 35 years, and we have the Type II diabetes and obesity epidemics of today. We would have a much healthier America if the government had never told us what to eat.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why any reasonable person would want the government to control food safety. That control has given us exactly what we have. Our current food system is not in spite of government’s control, but because of it. Remember, the government is in a war against raw milk consumption, but subsidizes high fructose corn syrup that forms the basis of Coca-Cola. The paradigm drives the policy.
Perhaps the wonderfully positive spin on this survey comes in the 15 percent who do not think the government should control food safety. The problem is that as long as the government is in charge, it does not want to offer choice to those 15 percent. It holds them hostage, practicing food extortion on the entire populace whether we like it or not.
In case you’re wondering, I’m in the 15 percent. And if we were allowed to opt out of government control, the entire industrial-mechanical food empire would collapse. But I can’t sell you bacon without a license. I can’t sell you chicken broth without a license. And the license determines what temperatures, infrastructure, capital, bathrooms, septic systems, sanitizers, location . . . . Get the picture? The ability to determine what is safe is the ability to determine what may enter the marketplace. It’s really that simple.
Until eaters realize that nature’s innovation and efficiency arises out of diversified self-interest and choice, our foodsheds will be stuck in the current paradigm. Predator-prey relationships are not very safe. Plants are not very safe from marauding insects, herbivores, and disease attacks. The jockeying in nature for a place in the sun, a place to breed, a place to survive creates the wonderful diversity we all lovingly know as nature.
A one-size-fits-all approach — like the government mandates — if applied to nature would create only a few dominant species and not much beautiful diversity. Hmm. Sounds like factory farms, corn, and soybeans. Anybody still want the government to control our food supply? Welcome to the reasonable 15 percenters. May our tribe increase.
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