As you've no doubt noted, we here at Keep Food Legal are most vocal in our opposition to the many regulations around the country that restrict the rights of individuals to buy or sell the foods of their own choosing. That's largely a function of the pervasiveness of such rules.
But our longstanding definition of "food freedom" includes much more than buying and selling food. Specifically, we define "food freedom" as "the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing."
Sharing food might seem at first glance to be the least controversial facet of food freedom. But food sharing--particularly when it involves the homeless and less fortunate--has faced a growing attack in cities around the country for several years now.
In his latest Reason online column, Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin looked at bans on sharing food with those in need and found such bans to be spreading. That's unfortunate, as Linnekin wrote last year about our hope that these unconstitutional bans (as Linnekin described in a 2012 column) were in retreat.
But it's true. These bans are spreading.
Here's Conor Friedersdorf, who notes our opposition to bans on sharing food in an excellent Orange County Register column today.
"'Starting in about 2006, several cities began arresting, fining and otherwise oppressing private individuals and nonprofits that feed the homeless and less fortunate,' says Baylen Linnekin, who heads the organization Keep Food Legal. 'Since then, other cities have followed suit.'"
Friedersdorf makes a key point worth repeating: opposition to bans on sharing food with the homeless and less fortunate knows no ideology.
"If there’s anything conservatives, liberals and libertarians ought to be able to agree on, it’s the goodness of private charities meeting their needs," he writes. "Denying food to these people because of its uncertain fiber content, or the fact that no one wants them around, hurts the most downtrodden."
In a new Fox News opinion column, Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin argues that food freedom is facing a withering attack of the sort this country hasn't seen since the New Deal era.
Whether you're a champion of small farmers or Big Gulps, this year has something for everyone to dislike. The thing that makes this year stand out as so bad so early is the pervasion of terrible regulations at the federal, state, and local levels.
For example, writes Linnekin, in just the first few months of this year, the federal government has passed an awful Farm Bill, doubled down on a costly and pointless expansion of the USDA's flagging National School Lunch Program, and moved to ban trans fats. Other food ingredients--from salt to caffeine--are also under attack by the federal government.
States are also in on the act. A widely reviled California law that requires chefs and bartenders to wear gloves while preparing food takes effect this year. The state is also considering a bill that would add warning labels to soda and other sweetened drinks. And Idaho legislators passed a so-called "ag gag" law that criminalizes news- and information-gathering pertaining to farm animals (the First Amendment be damned).
Cities, too, are in on these attacks on food freedom. In San Francisco, officials there are considering an astronomical soda tax (just as even more research emerges that soda taxes don't reduce obesity) and have also placed restrictions on a drink people might choose instead of soda: bottled water.
All of this adds up, writes Linnekin, to the makings of an historically bad year for food freedom. While it's not yet on par with the New Deal era--when, Linnekin notes, the USDA barred farmers from making bread with their own wheat, and reports indicated that "the USDA was 'skeptical of amateur farmers'"--it's still early in 2014.
Earlier this year, in another Fox News opinion column that's one of the website's most-read and most-talked-about pieces so far this year, Linnekin warned that food freedom would be under attack in 2014.
A pair of bills introduced last week by Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) could loosen the FDA's stranglehold on the interstate shipment and sale of raw milk. Rep. Massie, a farmer who raises and markets grass-fed beef, was joined in sponsoring the bills by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D–Maine) and a total of eighteen other House members from both sides of the aisle.
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin told Politico that the bills are evidence of a welcome shift by advocates for raw milk and other food choices toward the more rights-based arguments favored by Keep Food Legal (e.g., you have a right to eat what you want) and away from more qualified, scientific- and nutrition-based arguments (e.g., you have a right to eat what you want because it's healthy).
"'It’s nice to see that people are now advocating for their right rather than science,' said Baylen Linnekin, executive director of Keep Food Legal, a group that describes itself as 'the first nationwide membership organization devoted to food freedom—the right of every American to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing.'"
According to a press release issued by Rep. Massie's office, the bills—-the “Milk Freedom of Act” and the “Interstate Milk Freedom Act”—-are intended "to improve consumer food choices and to protect local farmers from federal interference."
The bills would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk or its sale between farmers and consumers in "states where distribution or sale of such products is already legal."
Keep Food Legal's Baylen Linnekin to Moderate Panel at Harvard Law School Meat Conference Next Month
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin will moderate a panel next month at an exciting one-day Harvard Law School symposium.
The Meat We Eat, a forum co-sponsored by the Harvard Food Law Society and Harvard Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, seeks to "explore the legal and policy aspects of industrial animal farming and related effects on public health, the environment, and animal welfare."
The panel Linnekin will moderate, "Reducing Legal Barriers, Empowering Consumers, and Creating Pathways for Sustainably and Humanely Raised Meat," focuses on ways to lower the regulatory burden on small farmers and ranchers who raise animals for slaughter.
In a recent Reason column, Linnekin looked at how USDA regulations and mis-management of the process for slaughtering the animals we eat harms farmers, ranchers, and consumers alike and helps stifle consumer demand for niche (or artisanal) meat.
"USDA regulations effectively force consumers who want to support small-scale, local farmers to buy meat that's been processed in the same large slaughterhouses that larger competitors use," he writes. "Consequently, consumers who don't want to support large-scale agriculture have few, if any, ways to opt out of that USDA-supported system."