Friday, February 6, 2009

Busted! My Food Is Now Under Government Control

Wonderings from the EcoWonder...

Last year, in my quest to "go local" I joined a food club. It was easy. An ambitious and dedicated woman with boundless energy coordinated healthy, local and innovative suppliers to send her their wares and each week she sent the members the friendliest email describing the week's offerings and an attached order form. With ease, each week I filled out my list sometimes being adventurous and trying new foods, like fermented veggies and unique handmade soaps. Other weeks I played it safe and stocked up on chocolate cupcake mixes from a local mill, delicious raw cheeses, local eggs and even fresh produce when in season. For a $5 delivery fee, coolers lovingly packed with ice and instructions arrived on my doorstep while I was at work. I was in local food heaven!
And then? Busted. The Department of Agriculture shut us down. Why? Because you can't store food meant for sale in your home. You also can't sell food that isn't properly marked for resale. Never mind the fact we all signed agreements that allowed the food club to be our "personal shopping" service. Or the fact that we all agreed to allow the club to package, store and deliver the food safely. It's a no-no and we got shut down.

I was angry! Why can't I choose where and how I get my food? Why should I trust the government to secure safe and healthy food for my family? Aren't they the ones who allowed mercury into the corn syrup? Didn't they allow a peanut factory with more than one health violation to keep operating, pumping a dose salmonella out with every granola bar? How about that chocolate with a little tweak of melamine in it that arrived here from China, just in time for Halloween? Aren't they the ones to blame for all those tomatoes that were thrown out or left to rot because the government was sure that was where the e-coli when coming from. Oh, wait? Or could it be those crazy peppers?

Now my food is under government control. No more share-sies of a 5-gallon tub of frozen Michigan cherries with the rest of the club. No more loose tea purchased in bulk. No more ethically raised chickens bought directly from the farmer, cut the way we like them and wrapped simply and ready for the freezer. Our fearless food club leader is looking for ways to reorganize and restructure her businesses so we can once again operate as a cooperative. But for now... I am lost.

Today, I bought eggs from the grocery store. Yes, they're organic, cage free and vegetarian fed. But creepily, they're all the same size and uniform in color. I miss my eggs with the pretty rainbow-hued shells in different sizes with the nice handwritten date on the plain carton. But, I needed eggs, so I bought them.

I ordered from the handmade soap company that I love dearly, but had to pay for shipping and the soap actually was more expensive than through the volume buying discount of the club. But, I needed soap, so I paid the price.

Can anyone please tell me why, in this tough economic time, is our government making it harder for us to buy local, save money and eat healthy?

Why is the government making it more complicated for parents to choose what foods they feel healthiest for their children, yet they allow vending machines and soda into the schools?

Why do they feel that my food, bought from a straight shooting farmer that will shake my hand and give me his phone number, is less safe than factory farmed animals that stand in poo for most of their lives with their only identification a 16 digit number?

Seriously, doesn't the government have something better to do with their free time? I don't know, like bail out some banks? Fix the housing crisis? Straighten out health care or maybe education? I can't imagine that a bunch of suburban housewives splitting up a bucket of frozen cherries is really that critical to the survival of our country... Am I missing something here?

17 comments:

Holly said...

Try this link and see if it might help: http://www.unitedbuyingclubs.com/index.htm

It's a natural foods buying club on a larger scale. Often it includes most all the stuff that you would find at your local Whole Foods store. While it might not be as local as your previous one. It may help in the interim until your other one gets back on track. There may be a club already in your area that you could hop onto to try it out. Good luck.

Heather @ SGF said...

The "system" is set up to keep us safe from those big corporations at the expense of the smaller ones. The bottom line is, they don't catch the big guys very often (for 2 years that peanut paste company has been shipping salmonella tainted products) and the rules end up putting the little guys out of business.

I don't know about anyone else, but I don't feel safer which is why I try to link up with farmers in my area. But that's not possible for everyone, especially those of you in the North in the winter time, or in isolated areas.

What to do? I really don't know. We do have some power with the dollars we do spend - keep it out of the hands of the big companies who only use it to lobby Congress for the rules we hate in the first place.

Maybe we "subversives" should have an underground buying club.

This is frustrating. I'm sorry.

Green Resolutions said...

What a great post.

How lovely it would be to have such an organized coop w/great local selection AND delivery. How do you go back to "normal" after that?

I wish your coop good luck finding a way to work through the regulations.

Green Bean said...

It is so frustrating, isn't it?? It's like the CPSIA and how it will really only work to protect us if we buy toys made by Mattel. If we want toys or kids clothes from a local mom who has created her own business selling things made from natural, organic ingredients or if we want to get it second hand, too bad. (CPSIA implementation wil now be delayed a year but still . . .).

I'm reading Big Box Swindle (review coming soon) but it's the same thing. Uncle Sam gets involved and is in cohoots with the big guy. The small, independent one falls by the way side and we move toward a culture dictated by others, controlled by a handful of big corporations.

I'm with you and Heather. I feel safer when I know who I'm buying from. And really? What does the government care. Go fix something already. There's plenty broken besides some frozen Michigan cherries.

Billie said...

You raise some interesting points. I liked the article.

Di said...

The government isn't looking out for our interests anymore, they are out to protect the big companies, heck most of em have been on the payroll for the companies! Look at Monstanto! Now we have GM contaminated honey!!!
The government WON'T help us, we have to help ourselves.

scifichick said...

Of course government interferes... They don't want you to go local and bypass all the big stores! The big stores are the ones lobbying and giving them money, the government is protecting their interests.
I get most of my food through a coop and at the local farm. I know that the coop can repackage big items if you want. I wonder what they have done to be able to do that.

Nancy said...

did she run into this problem in the process of applying for permits? is the personal shopper business do-able as long as she doesn't store the food at her home? could she rent a cheap apartment or even put a second kitchen area in her home to deal with this requirement? how much division is needed between her home and business kitchens?

there's a similar issue noted in "Omnivore's Dilemma" about the small-time farms not being able to slaughter their own animals because the sanitation rules for slaughterhouses are all made with large industrial operations in mind. Instead of setting out guidelines for measuring and reducing the actual food risk, they go straight to required solutions that don't make sense in all cases.

Nancy said...

also, i've often dreamed about finding such a service. i think there's a HUGE market for it.

Strawberry Girl said...

You know stuff like this just makes me mad!! I wonder how many of us are fed up? I have been driving about 20 miles to go and buy raw milk every week and they sometimes buy eggs (which I buy a lot of if I can). I know of a co-op for food in my area but I haven't joined it yet. They leave the packages of stuff in the fridge of the farm that runs it and you can go pick it up. I'm not sure exactly what they are doing though, i'm going to look into it this year.

EcoBurban said...

Holly - Thanks, I am looking for anything that delivers! Working mom + 4 boys + 2 dogs = no time to drive around town!!

Heather - I agree, I don't feel safe. When someone looks you in the eye, shakes your hand and thanks you for your business I feel more in control of my food!

Green Resolutions - I know, I know... I miss my delivery!!

GB - It frustrates me so that they protect the big industries that took our jobs overseas, but don't protect the small businesses right here in the US. Do you see the steam coming out of my ears from way over here? I bet you can see it from your side of town!

Billie - thanks!

Di - That's how I feel too, I am trying to help myself (and my kids!) and they still find a way to meddle in my handiwork!

scifichick - I am guessing most co-ops use a government certified building or retail outlet. I think most of our problem stems from running a business out of a home. Someone's home, that I might add, is pristine. I have been in some pretty scary restaurants and stores that get a govt. seal of approval, but after seeing the kitchen, I don't want to eat there!

Nancy - Yes, most of it is working out of her home I believe. But, that's what helps to keep the costs so very low. I could literally buy soap and flour cheaper from her than I could direct from the source! And, the delivery service was absolutely perfect for busy people! Sigh...

Strawberry girl - Now that you mention the farm fridge thing, I wonder about roadside stands and such? There are many stands where they simply pile up sweet corn and leave a "honor box" to collect the money. Is that regulated too? It can't be...

JessTrev said...

You're reminding me of Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin (who wrote a book called Everything I Want to Do is Illegal). Your food coop sounded AMAZING. I hope you all figure out how to get it back (and replicate it near me). Great post, and I'm sorry about your loss.

The Pirate Farmer said...

Perhaps you all can figure out a way to do what the big corporations do.... just find a loophole. For instance, in Virginia it is illegal to sell raw milk. It is not, however, illegal to sell a cow share wherein you can partake of the raw milk from your own share of the cow.

We no longer have a government "for the people" we have a government full of "i'm not voting for this stimulus package because it may cost me the next election".

I'm so sorry you've lost such a great resource. Maybe if you all put your heads together you can find that loophole!

Condo Blues said...

Is there some way that the folks in your co-op can talk to your local government about changing the law or regulations they used to shut down the co-op? Calling the newsdesk or if they have a consumer advocate reporters at your local TV stations and tell them how this wonderful green small buisness was shut down? The publicity might help you get your co-op back in one form or another

Lisa Sharp said...

*Sigh* I really wish we could get some of our freedoms back...

Raine said...

I think it's easier for the government to go after small local businesses that don't have the money to get the rules changes [or have exemptions made for themselves] or a team of corporate lawyers.

That way, they can say they shut down x number of "potentially unsafe" operations, making it look like they're actually doing something, while letting the corporations who can afford to lobby for loopholes get by with poisoning our food supply.

organicneedle said...

Along Nancy's thinking...perhaps there are ways to comply without losing the point of the whole thing. Our CSA paired up with an upstate farm organization that has set delivery dates...so there is no storage issue. We operate out of a local church. The food comes from the farmers to the church and members pick up their stuff within the 4 hour window. It is all local, fresh, and mostly organic. We get our fruits and veggies form the CSA and can personalize meat, poultry, dairy, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, etc. It has been amazing and without threat of government intervention.

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