Image: Food and Freedom Rally in D.C., 5/16/2011 (James Buck/The Washington Post)
Food is never really just about food. The need to sustain our bodies and the enjoyment that many of us find in sharing a good meal with loved ones, have never been so loaded with significance as they are nowadays. Simply put, how we go about fueling and refueling our personal machine daily, whether compelled by necessity or pleasure (or both), speaks tons about our vision of the world and about our values. And this is true whether we’re aware of it or not.
Take milk, for instance. The most basic, simple, primal even, food made available to us by Nature. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or are lucky enough to consume milk straight from your own cow or your neighbor’s, you’ve undoubtedly been confronted over the past few years with various concerns and questions about what to pick from the dairy refrigerated aisle, and probably have done your research too. Organic or not? Cow or goat? Does local matter? And the most contentious one of all: raw or pasteurized?
Milk (as a poster child for all foods, really) has become altogether an environmental issue, a private health issue, a public health issue even, not to forget an economic and a social justice issue.
Last but not least, it has become a political issue in America (and elsewhere, if the “criminal” sales of raw milk behind closed doors in Canada are any indication). One that involves governmental control v. citizens’ freedom to choose. In that respect, milk has become a tangible, straightforward militant vehicle to confront the most troubling trend raised ten years ago by the U.S. Patriot Act and the establishment of Homeland Security: the unmistakable encroaching by the Federal government on civil liberties.
To be sure, milk has been the topic of many conversations in Washington, DC, over the past week. Yesterday, passers-by on the Hill were treated to the sight of a cow grazing in Upper Senate Park, across the street from the Senate. They watched it being milked by hand on site, and got to enjoy a sample of the warm liquid right there and then, if they were so willing. “Those who wrote the Constitution drank raw milk,” read a sign.
Charming as it may have been, the unusual, bucolic scene was a protest organized by the Grassfed on the Hill Buying Club in the name of a serious cause: the perceived persecution of Daniel Allgyer, a Pennsylvania Amish dairy farmer, at the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After 18 months of harassment, including a sting operation, the agency recently filed a civil suit against him for introducing into interstate commerce raw milk intended for human consumption, and gave him notice of a pending request for permanent injunction. It should be noted that no health incident was ever identified in connection with Rainbow Acres Farm’s raw milk. The farmer’s crime was to sell milk to residents of Maryland, Virginia and D.C.: transporting uncured milk across state lines is illegal, according to the Justice Department. In response, Grassfed on the Hill has sued the FDA, challenging the agency’s jurisdiction on ALL private clubs providing raw dairy.
“Despite the fact that there is no actual proof that anyone has ever been injured by milk from Dan’s cows, he is being treated as if he were a drug lord by our federal government,” said Jonathan Emord, a D.C.-based lawyer and author of “The Rise of Tyranny” and “Global Censorship of Health Information.” “He is being treated as if what he sells is contraband that will cause injury to anyone who gets near the substance. And this is fresh milk.”
Jonathan Emord was among several speakers invited to support the Food and Farm Freedom Rally. Other speakers included Sally Fallon Morell of Weston A. Price Foundation, author David Gumpert, and Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures Dairy.
The event was given national momentum by the introduction, last week in Congress, of a bill (H.R.1830) designed to “allow the shipment and distribution of unpasteurized milk and milk products for human consumption across state lines.”
“This legislation removes an unconstitutional restraint on farmers who wish to sell or otherwise distribute, and people who wish to consume, unpasteurized milk and milk products,” said its author Ron Paul (R-TX) when introducing the bill (read his whole, short speech here).
Freedom is what this bill is strictly about. Relevant and valuable as it may be, the health debate over the risks and the benefits of raw milk is a whole different conversation altogether, that only blurs the main issue at stake here: retaining one’s sovereignty over the food one chooses to consume (including “what” and “from where”), free of government control.
The impact of such a legislation would be anything but anecdotal. It is estimated that raw milk is a 10-million-consumer market in the United States. Legal in 10 states, sales of raw milk are illegal in 11 states (including Maryland and Virginia) and the District of Columbia, while remaining states have varying restrictions on purchase or consumption. And just to clarify, the hardship endured by Dan Allgyer is hardly an isolated incident.
“I urge my colleagues to join me in promoting individual rights, the original intent of the Constitution, and federalism,” Ron Paul concluded. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It will need all the public support it can get to not be stalled–petition, anyone?