Food Freedom

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"If
there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may
have peace." — Thomas Paine

That quote
echoed through my mind during my nine-month deployment in Iraq
with the United States Marines back in 2004. I came home, thinking
I had done some good not only for my country but for my family.
At the time I thought my baby boy was going to grow up without
the threat of terrorism and the Iraqi people were now free to
choose their own destiny. However, those nine months had taken
a heavy toll. I stared daily in the mirror, looking into the eyes
of a cold and tired soul with more gray hair than any twenty-three
year old deserved. Adjusting to civilian life was hard, and my
family was suffering. I was in need of healing, and I found it
back on the farm I grew up on.

There was
something deeply satisfying about the cool Ozark air blowing across
the fields of waist-high fescue grass. The cows stood chewing
contentedly while their young calves frolicked about seeing who
could kick their back legs the highest. My father had spent his
entire adult life working, saving and accumulating over one thousand
acres of productive grassland in northwestern Arkansas. Besides
the peace it brought me, the thought of being self-sufficient
and self-employed in a profession as noble and humble as farming
drew me in further. Would I continue his path of the conventional
beef market? Would I certify organic, or find overseas markets?
No, my path was a more local one.

In the following
years the local food movement heated up. New words like nutritional
density, biodynamics and sustainability filled my vocabulary.
I toured successful farms and sought the advice of their entrepreneurial
owners. They said raw (unpasteurized) dairy was at the forefront
of the local, nutrient dense food movement and they were gaining
market share every year. That settled it — a raw dairy herd would
be the centerpiece of our diversified farm as well as meats and
vegetables of every kind. We'd have an on-farm store stocked with
raw milk and cheeses and frozen meats and fresh, seasonal veggies!
It would be glorious!

Except —
it's illegal to sell raw dairy products in Arkansas and twenty-one
other states. It's also illegal to sell any meat that hasn't been
processed in a USDA or state inspected facility. In Arkansas,
it's illegal to have a flock of more than 200 laying hens unless
I pay for the equipment and facilities to qualify for Grade A
certification. It may soon be illegal to own livestock of any
kind without belonging to a government database called the National
Animal Identification System (NAIS) and having each animal tagged
with an RFID chip. A carbon tax for animal flatulence is also
in the works to stave off the "imminent threat" of global
warming.

Excuse me?
Is this the land of the free or what? What exactly did I get rocketed,
mortared and road-side bombed for nine months in Iraq if not to
have the freedom to do as I please as long as I wasn't hurting
anybody? Let me get this straight — I can pour toxic chemicals
on my crops, process hundreds of animals an hour over feces-covered
conveyors, or sell genetically alter foods with documented health
risks as long as it's approved or supervised by inept government
trolls? The government had, over the last one hundred years or
so, positioned itself squarely between myself and my personal
and economic happiness. I was angry. I had been used and thrown
away, and now found myself in the belly of the leviathan I had
once sworn to protect.

Every time
the market is suppressed, it goes underground — and real food
is no different. People sell raw milk as pet food, or offer shares
of their farm's production in exchange for labor and feed costs.
Others just ignore the laws outright, and offer their superior
products despite the legal risks. Some pay the price — overzealous
regulators issue crippling fines, and some are jailed. Some have
even been attacked by armed state thugs with their families held
at gunpoint while search warrants are executed. They take everything,
all with the approval from their Federal masters at the USDA.

Thomas Paine's
quote floats around in my head once more as I ponder the future.
I was so wrong those four years ago. The battle for freedom is
not over, not by a long shot and the biggest threat to it is certainly
not from Islamic terrorism. Food freedom will become an important
front in this battle as the government-subsidized methods of food
production collapse in the wake of economic reality. It will be
important to everyone in the coming years to have many reliable,
local sources of healthy, wholesome food.

Once again
I have no choice but to fight. This time it is different — our
weapon is the awesome power of voluntary interaction in the private
marketplace with the goal being nothing short of total liberty
for all. I'll drink some raw milk to that.

May
7, 2009

Brian
Keeter [send him mail]
is a computer programmer, ex-Marine, and third-generation farmer
living in the hills of northwestern Arkansas. See
his blog
.

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