One sunny day in August 2001, armed federal agents stormed the farmstand at Rawesome Foods in Venice Beach, California. The proprieter of the shop, James Stewart, was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime, and ended up spending four months in jail (you can follow the twists and turns of the bizarre and emotional story via David Gumpert’s blog, The Complete Patient). The raid of Rawesome Foods made headlines in Los Angeles, and was even spoofed by the Colbert Report.
It’s easy to imagine that this California farmer was doing something seriously illicit to draw the fire (almost literally) of the authorities the way he did. But Stewart was merely selling raw foods, particularly goat milk, yogurt, and kefir.
Stewart was not the first person in our “free” country to feel the wrath of the FDA for actively seeking the foods he wanted to eat — foods not typically available through the normal channels provided by our industrial food system. And agents marching in with guns at the ready aren’t the only forces keeping our food system from being free. In addition to bizarre government raids and oppressive laws that don’t make sense, we find massive corporations like Monsanto in control of seed supplies, and processors like Kraft and Cargill maneuvering politicians to do their will.
Government and large corporations work together to do what they think is a good thing: make lots of cheap food. And it’s hard to argue against the benefits of a full belly. Except that the fuller our bellies are with corn (especially high-fructose corn syrup) and soy (and meat that’s fed soy-based feed), the bigger those bellies are getting, and the less healthy our bodies are becoming. Obesity and diabetes are rampant public health problems in our country, and they can be directly tied to the style of agriculture we’ve created.
If we want to create a better outcome, for health, for our communities, and for the planet, we need to fight for a different system. If we do, we won’t be alone. As journalist David Gumpert outlines on his blog and in his forthcoming book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, the struggle to gain and keep access to foods like raw milk, yogurt, butter, kefir, fresh lacto-fermented vegetables, and others is drawing in stakeholders from all walks of life. Unlikely alliances are forming between Amish farmers trying to keep a traditional way of life afloat in a new century, and suburban soccer moms trying to feed their families healthfully.
At the forefront of this struggle is the Weston A. Price Foundation, with chapters in cities across the country. Weston Price advocates for a return to ways of eating that have historically made for healthy humans, and tend to avoid processed food, wheat, refined sugars, and soy. In an era obsessed with “nutrition” and terrified of saturated fats, it’s controversial to say that lard is a health food, and that you’d be better off eating a slab of rare steak than a hunk of wheat bread — but that’s exactly the kind of advice you’ll get from Weston A. Price champions like Sally Fallon Morrell.
Price was a dentist, and he studied diets from traditional societies around the world to find out which ones were the best for overall health. His research forms the basis of books like Nourishing Traditions, and makes for some delicious eating. But because of its promotion of raw foods — especially raw dairy — eaters who follow Price’s advice open themselves up to frightening persecution.
What do you think? Are food regulations too strict, or are they not strict enough? Certainly there’s ample evidence to support either opinion. For every raw-food buying club that gets raided there are hundreds of serious illnesses from contaminated industrial food.
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