I am convinced that by re-localizing our food supply and developing a real food culture, built around sustainably grown ingredients and simple preparations, we can make a big dent in curbing climate change. But unfortunately, right now that’s not so easy to do. There are a lot of regulations that prevent consumers from being able to buy food from the grower or producer of their choice.
For example, if I want to buy bacon from my neighbor who slaughters his own pasture-raised pigs and makes bacon in his house, I’m not legally allowed to. In order for me to buy bacon from him, he’d have to become a licensed meat handler. Then he’d have to pay to have his pigs processed at a USDA or state inspected facility. After butchering, he’d then need access to a commercial kitchen for making the bacon. Finally, he’d have to buy expensive labels and packaging and provide refrigeration until I could come to pick up my bacon.
These requirements evolved to protect consumers from large organizations with little direct accountability. And they still make sense in that context. But when I can look my farmers in the eye and make my own decisions about whether I trust their products, this kind of protection is not only unnecessary, it’s also kind of insulting. Legally it’s easier to set-up a summer day camp for kids, than for farmers to sell raw milk or dried herbs to willing buyers.
Doesn’t it seem strange to put more regulations on food production than child care? Are we somehow smart enough to make our own decisions about who to trust with our children, but not to figure out how to choose safe food to feed them?
If we really want to localize our food supply in a hurry and get more small producers offering what they have, we need to give consumers back their personal choice. And happily, I am not the only one who thinks so. It was really encouraging this week to see that this very idea is up for legislative consideration in Virginia. Click here to read more about it. (I should note, this bill won’t impact meat handling since that is USDA regulated, but it’s a step in the right direction).