The ability to choose foods with which to nourish yourself is a fundamental human right, explicitly sanctioned in U.S. and state constitutions as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We acknowledge food freedom to such an extent that it is legal to commit slow suicide at the bottom of a fast food bag or box of donuts. Why then has a movement to define local food sovereignty arisen?

In several states across the U.S., from east coast to west, municipalities have adopted town ordinances that define food sovereignty. These ordinances assert authority for members of a community to enter into private contract with their neighbors to obtain local foods in their unprocessed and unadulterated state as we have done for generations. This stands in stark contrast to state regulations which define a limited foodway that favors large-scale producers, food processors, and mass distribution of food or food-like substances. When once we could buy food directly from a farmer, the overwhelming majority of us purchase foods through the middle-man of a factory.

Although food regulations have their place in protecting the public from an industrial food system without names or faces, without personal accountability, applying regulations designed for large corporations stifle small producers and off-the-farm sales. For our local economies to thrive, we need to take legislative recourse to support these cottage industries which are the lifeblood of rural communities.

A local ordinance defining food sovereignty may at first seem to be extraneous; aren’t we free to choose our foods? One example of how government regulation suppresses freedom of choice to engage in a private contract is in the case of locally purchased honey. You neighbor can produce honey in their garage and he or she could sell you that honey from that same garage, but if that neighbor stirred it to make creamed honey, now purchasing that food has become illegal in the eyes of the state. Creamed honey is considered a processed food, and unless performed in a certified kitchen, a state sanctioned facility, this honey is now deemed unfit for sale for human consumption. We are not talking about sale at a large chain grocery store or for packing to be shipped across state lines (for which these regulations where imposed) we are simply considering your ability, or lack thereof, to access this local food from a friend and neighbor.

Another example where freedom of choice is being regulated by the state is in the purchase of raw dairy products. As part of a traditional food culture, I enjoy making dairy-based kefir at home for personal consumption. Kefir requires the combining of fresh milk with kefir grains and allowing the combination to ferment over 24 hours. I have a friend and neighbor in the area who raises goats. The traditional middle-eastern recipe for kefir utilizes raw goat’s milk for the making of this drink. I would love to support her burgeoning business while at the same time acquiring the needed ingredient for my recipe, however, it is again illegal for me to arrive at her farm and enter into a private contract to purchase this milk according to state regulations.

Defining food sovereignty not only allows for private arrangements but also protects what current freedoms we have. It is currently legal to buy raw apple cider from a local producer. If states were ever to mandate that apple cider be pasteurized prior to sale, a local food sovereignty ordinance could maintain the rights of the members of that community to continue to purchase this food product in its unadulterated form should they so choose. Think that can’t happen? It used to be legal to buy raw almonds in the state of California. A student of traditional foods understands that raw almonds are alive and full of enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed when heated. State regulators have mandated however that all almonds be steam sterilized prior to sale. The same thing could happen to apple cider, or spinach, or any number of food products if food sovereignty is not sought and legislated.

In a free and healthy society, food sovereignty defines the right to produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local food traditions.

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