The Complete Patient Blog
David will be covering the trial from Baraboo, WI. Keep up to date with the latest analysis by visiting his blog.
Among the resources being arrayed against the Wisconsin farmer: assembling 130 prospective jurors, gathering 70-plus witnesses, involving at least four highly experienced attorneys (two on each side) on something approaching a full-time basis (and numerous other attorney on each side on a consultative basis), and readying a jail cell in case there’s a guilty verdict. (I say the U.S. is assembling these resources because the cooperation of the Wisconsin regulators and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been previously documented in the prosecution of food club owner Max Kane.)
Seriously, I’d like to know. I doubt there are any other countries, aside from totalitarian states like North Korea and Cuba, where food has long been used to reward loyalists, and punish ordinary people as part of the regime’s use of fear to maintain order. The most grotesque example of food violence in the last 100 years occurred during the 1930s, when the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin oversaw the murder and starvation of an estimated seven million Ukrainians as part of an effort to bring farms under state ownership.
Why is the U.S. virtually alone in prosecuting farmers for doing something that farmers the world over have been doing for millenia--selling or trading food privately with members of their community? And why now?
I’ll offer some speculation. The most important factor fueling the food violence and repression, in my judgment, grows out of our very strange relationship with food that has developed over our history as a nation, most especially over the last 60 years.
In most of the rest of the world, there is a huge amount of respect for both food and the people who produce it, going back hundreds of years. In Europe, Asia, and Africa, there are long-standing traditions around food. Recipes, prized ingredients, seasonal favorites. If you go to Germany in June, everyone is excited about asparagus season, especially about savoring the white asparagus. The same goes for cheeses in France, where regions compete to outdo each other with delicacies. In China, regional specialty foods are celebrated, and young married couples are showered with fruits loaded with seeds, like pomegranate.
Farmers and food producers around the world have long been the objects of special respect, both from the people and their governments.
In the U.S., it’s been practically opposite. We know how fast-buck artists produced tainted milk and meat in America’s major cities during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Over the last 60 years, we embarked on a path emphasizing the mass production of food. Corporations were encouraged (and financially incentivized) to produce food ever more cheaply. They set up CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to raise farm animals, gave cows hormones to push up production and all animals antibiotics to ward off disease from all the crowding.
Americans were conditioned to seek out the cheapest food they could. The idea was that if people spent less of their incomes on food, they’d have more money to buy cars and furniture and televisions.
It was a marriage made in heaven. Except, of course, it hasn’t been heavenly.
There’s been tremendous pollution; creation of new pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant pathogens, leading to cases of serious illness from food; and perhaps most significant, chronic illnesses have shot through the roof. Nearly 10 per cent of all children now have asthma. 8 per cent have allergies. Many schools now don’t allow peanut butter to be brought into schools—not too long ago, we all brought peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch.
Small farms couldn’t survive economically in the move to commoditize food. In the dairy industry, about 90 per cent of the dairy farms are gone from what we had 40 years ago. Yet milk production is about the same.
Now, as Americans begin to get it, that factory food may be part of the pollution-pathogen-nutrition problem , that meat and eggs from animals raised on grass are more nutritious than factory produced stuff…well, we are told that things have changed. We can’t just go back to the old-fashioned ways of doing things, when food was produced with care, and people obtained much of their food directly from farmers and other producers.
Regulators around the country have locked arms with judges and politicians to make sure we don’t try to go back. For those who try, the regulators pick out farmers like Hershberger, Dan Brown in Maine, Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania, and use them to send all of us a message: asserting your rights to access the foods of your choice subjects you to all the indignities and punishments America’s legal system can come up with.
What do I mean when I refer to “food violence”? I mean the individuals in authority taking it upon themselves to arbitrarily deprive their fellow citizens of food, especially food that people need for their good health. Hopefully the Hershberger trial will let the public know more about this new category of crime against farmers and consumers. The Farm Food Freedom Coalition has posted a schedule of events around the trial, and provides an opportunity to donate to support Hershberger's legal defense.