Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Maine is what “food democracy” looks like

Food democracy is more than “voting with your fork” by spending your food budget with your ethics in mind. “Voting” this way means the more money you have to spend on food the more votes you have. Real food democracy is based on the right of all people to make decisions together about how food is grown, produced and distributed, removing food from corporate control.

In Maine, more towns are set to vote on local food & self governance ordinances similar to those passed by three other Maine towns earlier this year. Local AfD members were active in the campaign to pass these ordinances, especially in the town of Blue Hill.

Trenton will be voting this Saturday. Monroe, which previously passed an anti-corporate personhood ordinance, will be voting June 13. Gray is working on their ordinance for a town meeting later this year.

This is food democracy because it changes the “rules” about food production. These local food ordinances allow local producers to sell home-made or farm produced food, including meat, baked goods, or preserved items without meeting federal inspection or facility requirements. These federal standards are designed for industrial-scale food production, and require an investment that very few small farms can afford. For instance, two Penobscot farmers found that in order to legally slaughter $1,000 worth of chicken on their farm they needed to spend almost $40,000 to build a slaughterhouse, an economic cost that has contributed to the very few alternatives to the highly corporatized and vertically consolidated US food system. (Recently, however, as the demand for local, organic meat and poultry has increased, small-scale and, often mobile, slaughter houses have emerged in NY, VT, and CA in particular.)

Local food and self governance ordinances emphasize the importance of small farm production to the local economy, and make clear that on the local, person-to-person level, individuals can ensure their own food safety. People who know their producers will buy from the ones they trust, and producers, knowing their sales depend on their reputation, will keep their standards for quality and safety high.

State authority vs. local food democracy
Maine is a state with strong municipal home rule, so town-level ordinances have not yet been challenged at the state level, although the towns that have passed this ordinance have received warning letters from the Food and Rural Resources Section of the state Department of Agriculture, saying that the local ordinances are pre-empted by state law: Blue Hill's letter is here. This is of some concern, as two state bills that would have bolstered the local ordinances at the state level were voted down by the Maine House of Representatives on the recommendation of the state's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

The term “food democracy” was developed by Tim Lang in the mid-1990s based on the principle that citizens or “food citizens” have the power to determine food policies and practices locally, regionally, nationally and globally. Food democracy asserts it is a right and responsibility of citizens to participate in decisions concerning their food system.

Food democracy is a framework for making our food system more responsive to the needs of its citizens and decentralizing control that challenges the corporate structure and allow for bottom-up control of the food system. This process transforms individuals from “passive consumers into active, educated citizens”. The goal of food democracy is to ensure all citizens have access to affordable, healthy and culturally appropriate foods. Food democracy emphasizes social justice in the food system, and food is viewed as the center of the democratic process. (Adapted from Food First. And check out Tim Lang, Food Security or Food Democracy.

1 comment:

Joe Lendvai said...

Thank you for this post. Local democracy, local decision making along with local accountability are the hallmarks of Maine town-level government. It seems obvious that I, as a consumer of food, should be able to buy fruits, vegetables and meat from my neighbor who grows those very items at a "small" scale, without fear of penalty from the government.
It is also obvious that we as a nation must have in place a robust food inspection and certification system, one that is fully funded and able to do the job. This may be a balancing act on the part of government regulators; common sense needs to prevail.
We should continue to press for laws that can define the difference between industrial scale food production, and small, community level growers to provide safe food choices for all of us.
Joe Lendvai
Brooklin ME