I believe that issues pertaining to what we eat, where we buy our food represent an emerging front line in a developing war (of sorts) between ordinary people, aka ‘citizens’, and the various agencies and organisations who collectively represent their ‘rulers’.
All societies have class systems which develop from a valid need to separate functions, roles and authority in any group structure, from a small family to a large nation. And whenever there are such divisions of role and status, there is the danger of such relationships becoming dysfunctional or unhealthy. This too is entirely normal. The challenge of any such organisational structure involves how well it deals with inevitable imbalances.
My suspicion is that although we live in a time of relative peace and prosperity for those of us fortunate enough to live within the pale of industrial development, there are many quite sordid aspects which we collectively prefer to hide, both from ourselves, and also the leadership hiding from those below.
What’s good: most of us have significant basic freedoms: if you want to work to become a doctor or lawyer, you can. If you want to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a writer, a banker etc. etc., you can choose your path. You can usually choose who you marry and raise children with. You can usually choose where you live, roughly speaking (i.e. we can’t all just pack up and move to a mansion in Beverly Hills CA).
What’s bad is the encroachment of commerce into nearly all aspects of everyday life. Since the development of civilisation there has been a natural growth of trade as goods (now also services) are transferred from one location to another. From this basic trade – most of which no doubt occurred at market places about one day’s journey away from each other as populations expanded, or more closely knit in concentrated urban areas, such as the neighbourhood street markets that exist to this day each Saturday in the various arrondissements in Paris – emerged a class of traders, those whose livelihood depended upon their cut of a deal between buyer and seller, the transaction being mainly up to them since they would buy from wool vendor A in Town Z, and then sell to carpet maker B in Town Y, with wool vendor A and carpet marker B not necessarily ever meeting, both dealing only with Trader T.
There is nothing wrong with any of the above. It’s natural. However, increasingly over the past few centuries, the Traders have taken over society.
This is where the following linked article comes in:
Here is an excerpt from the initial few paragraphs, but I recommend reading the entire thing:
This would seem to embody the USDA’s advisory, “Know your farmer, know your food,” right? Not exactly.
For the USDA and its sister food regulator, the FDA, there’s a problem: many of the farmers are distributing the food via private contracts like herd shares and leasing arrangements, which fall outside the regulatory system of state and local retail licenses and inspections that govern public food sales.
In response, federal and state regulators are seeking legal sanctions against farmers in Maine, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California, among others. These sanctions include injunctions, fines, and even prison sentences. Food sold by unlicensed and uninspected farmers is potentially dangerous say the regulators, since it can carry pathogens like salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli O157:H7, leading to mild or even serious illness.
Most recently, Wisconsin’s attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to file criminal misdemeanor charges against an Amish farmer for alleged failure to have retail and dairy licenses, and the proceedings turned into a high-profile jury trial in late May that highlighted the depth of conflict: following five days of intense proceedings, the 12-person jury acquitted the farmer, Vernon Hershberger, on all the licensing charges, while convicting him of violating a 2010 holding order on his food, which he had publicly admitted.”
The underlying story here – to my mind – is that the government (which mainly represents Commerce, which is the modern Trader) feels inspired to step in to interfere with private arrangements between individuals and a farmer. These are called private agreements (as opposed to commerce which transcends local or national jurisdictions and used to be called ‘the law of the sea’ or Maritime Law for that reason), and it is such ‘privacy’ that is supposedly protected by various constitutions and charters throughout the Western developed world, and such rights exist principally to provide a bulwark against the encroachment of too much power and control from the Rulership, whether that be in the form of a Monarch or a Legislature or a Tyrant, democratically or otherwise chosen.
And here we see the emergent battle getting down to what you can pick up with your hand and put in your mouth, surely one of the most simple, basic function of any living organism. If your neighbour has chickens who run around the woods feeding themselves and the hens lay (unfertilized) eggs and you pay your neighbour (or do some other deal or even receive them as a gift), the government can step in, in the interests of ‘public safety’, and forbid you from such elemental transaction as taking an egg, boiling it, and enjoying it for breakfast.
Well, this is a simple blog with infrequent contributions and this topic is worthy of several volumes, for it involves no end of examples from current news stories, many of which are not well written so it is hard to figure out what is really going on, constitutional law, commercial law, common sense and so forth.
Suffice to say that I remain increasingly convinced that it is Farmers’ Markets in local communities that are the principal main Force for Good in this general War Front in developed societies. There is a place for regulation, including basic standards of hygiene and so forth, but also there is a line beyond which it should not cross. That line has something to do with acknowledging privacy, the right of a private person to make agreement with another private person, which is outside or underneath the realm of Commerce and extra or para local affairs. In other words, if you are going to get into Commerce which involves transferring goods and services outside a local jurisdiction (however that is defined), fair enough: you must obey various regulations, usually in the form of legislated Statutes enforced by various Government Agencies. But within a local context, such regulation should have no part to play.
We have allowed Commerce via Government Agents into our bedrooms and kitchens where they have no business.
A Farmers’ Market is a front line of local person-to-person interchange, which is why I feel it is perfectly correct and normal that you find more than only farm produce at such venues, and also why so many of the various Boards encourage things that are made locally by local people but discourage little stands selling franchised items (various brands of shoe polish or soap made far away for example). Most importantly, it is a way for local people to make things for their friends and neighbours who can choose whether or not they want the products. And even more importantly, if enough people were to choose the local products, then more producers would step up and gradually we could get rid of the Big Box stores, whose presence has been shown to harm local economic and cultural life again and again.
I suspect that 95% of people who sell and buy at Farmers’ Markets are unaware of just how (potentially) important they are. Certainly all such markets in Nova Scotia are forbidden to operate unless they get every single vendor in them to agree to abide by various Statutory restrictions.
Personally, I would love to put together a market that clearly and unequivocally stands free from such restrictions for it is a matter of principle. But also it would mean that both sellers and buyers would have greater awareness of the significance, the importance, the value of basic human society, which is consenting free people exchanging goods and services together in a common area, aka a ‘market’.
Sorry, this was too long, but anyway…..