The current war over unregulated food is very similar to the war over home schooling 35 years ago. Most people don’t realize that government-approved food and government-approved education require similar compromises.
Try buying raw milk from a neighbor who has a dairy cow (at least in most states). Try buying chicken potpie from Aunt Lilly’s home kitchen… or lard from Farmer John’s Thanksgiving hog killin’… or a pound of ground beef from an animal that never saw the inside of a government-approved abattoir.
The first-ever Rogue Food Conference, held January 25 in Cincinnati, addressed all these issues and more.
I conceived the idea many years ago but could never pull it off until I had a competent partner to handle the logistics. Once my friend John Moody in Kentucky raised his hand to do it, we were up and running.
The 300 people who convened for this momentous, daylong event enjoyed a refreshing immersion in American liberty and entrepreneurial ingenuity.
Circumvention, Not Compliance
The theme “circumvention, not compliance” permeated the day’s presentations. Passionate presentations brought tears and laughter as we roller-coastered between anger and cleverness.
Niti Bali from North Carolina, whose 4-year-old daughter died from cancer, radically changed her diet and found no authentic food in supermarkets. So she began cultivating individual farmers to fill her pantry, eschewing grocery stores and revolutionizing her family’s health.
Others noticed and asked to join her endeavor, so she began operating a food exchange out of her garage that grew into a brick-and-mortar storefront where food inspectors intimidated her.
As a result, she started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit food church called the Farm to Fork Meat Riot (and has written a book by the same name).
She was hounded for offering nutritional advice and for not having a meat handling license. But with her new church, she could say what she wanted, preach her beliefs, help people and facilitate uncredentialed, authentic food transfers.
When the regulators stomped, threatened and bullied, she learned to say, “I don’t care.” And she urged attendees to learn those important words in the face of bureaucratic intimidation.
Remember Your Rights
Then Mark Baker told his story about his pasture-raised pigs being outlawed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The department issued a ruling that essentially declared any outdoor pig feral and therefore not legal to own, feed or sell.
After a three-year court battle, Baker won. But then the Michigan Department of Agriculture tried to shut down his legally licensed on-farm abattoir.
During those three years, Baker studied the U.S. Constitution and discovered the Fourth and Fifth amendments.
He finally realized that if he didn’t have a license, the government had no jurisdiction over his private contracts with his customers on his own property and the agents could not legally enter his property without a warrant.
So he simply let the license expire and continued business as usual. Today, his customers come to his butcher shop and buy what they want. Some customers ask him to process their animals, and he does that as well.
It’s been two years, and the department is stymied.
A Raid Ordeal
Dennis Stoltzfoos from Florida presented next, telling his story about bringing food from Mennonite and Amish acquaintances in Pennsylvania down to Florida to feed his family and friends.
Then he was raided by the food police. All 13 of his freezers were sealed with police tape. He videoed the ordeal.
Eventually he prevailed through the helpful negotiations of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (everybody who cares about food freedom should join) and sold his unlicensed ice cream, milk and meat as pet food.
That purchased a reprieve for a while, but now the agents are back demanding licensed labeling to the tune of $5,000 in expenses.
In all these cases, the farmer is happy. The patrons are happy. The only ones not happy are government agents demanding expensive and unnecessary oversight.
He’s waiting for a court ruling in April. It never ends.
Another Way to Play the Game
Tyler Boggs came to the podium next and represented the other side of the game – using the bureaucrats’ rules to play the game your way.
He began processing animals on his porch and selling them to folks. Government agents didn’t take kindly to that.
But Boggs asked if he could process animals for himself. They said of course.
“Can two people own an animal?” he pressed. “Yes,” they answered.
So he constructed a written agreement wherein he co-owns the animal with his customer. The agreement specifies what he owns (the guts, hide and hooves) and what the customer owns (all the meat, bones and gutted carcass). This way, Boggs can legally process the animal without any inspection.
Boggs’ advice to attendees: “Never answer a question. Always ask a question.”
He calls this the porcupine strategy – you throw the issue back in their lap.
Boggs uses this strategy to create titular workarounds. For example, ponds are illegal, but not “rainwater catchment facilities.” And nobody lives in his trainee bunkhouse. They may sleep there, but everyone lives together. What does it mean to live in a house?
In this way he doesn’t fight the regulators; he simply gets them to tell him the loopholes to their own rules.
Strength in Numbers
The day ended with John Moody, who operates the private Whole Life Buying Club, telling his story of being raided and quarantined. This club exchanges uninspected food as a dividend to investors.
It’s not sold; it’s a perk offered by a private club. But the government food police didn’t like this idea and raided the place.
Moody activated all 100 members to come down en masse, rip off the government quarantine tape and take their food out of the warehouse. All but two did.
The government backed down because everyone would have been arrested, and it would have been political suicide to do that. A mass arrest for people who just wanted raw milk and homemade pepperoni would have been plastered on every newspaper in the country.
Since then, the state has left them alone.
Tyranny eventually reaches a tipping point when mindful people realize that circumvention is actually easier than compliance. The Rogue Food Conference showed that our nation is at or past that tipping point.
It was a wonderful day for anyone who truly loves self-actualization, liberty and freedom of choice. These techniques are not taught in public school social science classes.