Is Eating Well An Act of Civil Disobedience?

These days, YES. Until the 1950s, all food was local and organic. Let that sink in. Think about it the next time someone accuses you of being an “elitist” because of your food choices. These days, if we want to eat sustainably produced food that’s humanely raised and traditionally prepared, we’re food renegades.

In many places, we’re even outlaws.

It’s like what Sandor Ellix Katz wrote in the introduction to his fantastic book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved (a Food Renegade Must Read):

In the current regulatory environment, the rules make small-scale traditional food production and distribution almost impossible. Selling home-baked bread, or any food prepared in a home kitchen, is prohibited by most, if not all, health codes in the United States. Livestock for sale (with the exception of pultry, in most places) may not be slaughtered by the farmers who raise them; instead they must be trucked to anonymous factory-like commercial slaughterhouses. Milk and other dairy products may not be sold without pasteurization, which diminishes nutritional quality, digestibility, and flavor. Cider, too, is nearly always required to be pastuerized or irradiated. In other words, real food, increasingly illegal, is being replaced by processed food products. Laws dictating food standards are driven by the model of mass production, where sterility and uniformity are everything, rendering much of the trade in local food technically illegal. Eating well has become an act of civil disobedience.

He then goes on to chronicle a “bread club” that started in 2002 when a local person (kept anonymous in the book) decided to bake delicious sourdough breads and distribute them to neighbors and friends. With time, a sort of local foods underground sprang up around the social event as participants brought homemade raw cheeses to trade, raw milk, free-range eggs, and seasonal produce. The person who started the program (B.) always wondered if or when the health department would swoop in. B. said:

Hopefully we can just remain under the radar, but in other ways, if they do crack down, I almost hope for confrontation, because I think this is a rebellion that might explode in their faces if they try. You just don’t mess with people’s food.

The night before last, my husband sat out under the stars smoking a cigar and becoming acquainted with some new friends who tend 700 acres not far from us. They, too, were under the distinct impression that everything they wanted to do was illegal. The most natural, nourishing, sustainable practices are regulated to such a degree that it’s actually ludicrous. Laws are written with Big Ag in mind, not small-scale producers.

“Growing your own food is a dangerous, revolutionary act,” the young rancher said.

My husband nodded his head.

But herein lies the hope: We are the change we want to see in the world. Despite the law, that bread club exists. Despite the law, I regularly consume raw milk. (I have to jump through a series of minute legal loopholes in order to do it, but I do it.) Despite the law, I have friends raising chickens in their backyards and enjoying the benefits of a regular supply of fresh eggs. Despite the law, I buy baked goods at my church’s bake sale. All this, despite the law.

Like B. said, you just don’t mess with people’s food. They will find a way. And they will transform the world one bite at a time.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday carnival hosted by Cheeseslave. For other stories, anecdotes, recipes, and posts relating to Real Food, go check it out!

(photo by cafemama)


  1. says

    Amen! Peaceful, civil disobedience. I used to run an underground network providing raw milk to 200 or so families in a state where the laws are stupid. I was nearly HOPING they would try to arrest me, a then breastfeeding mother.


  2. says

    Marianne — Yes! As much as I want to be a law-abiding citizen, some laws are stupid and are just asking to be disobeyed. Particularly when it comes to food.

  3. says

    Great post Kristin. 2009 is my year of real food. I had no idea it existed before this, and I’m 42. They do a great job of keeping things secret…but the internet reveals all.

    Sustainable Eats

  4. says

    So interesting. You are right, organic gets a bad rap but really it’s the most mundane, old fashioned thing! haha When I started doing my cooking classes at my house, some friends warned me that I might need a permit from the city, etc etc etc. Well I have three cats so I doubt I’m passing any inspection. But, hey, that’s how people cook. In their homes. I’ve worked in plenty of restaurants and they can have all the government inspections in the world, still nastier than my kitchen any day!

    Michelle @ Find Your Balance

  5. says

    p.s. Kristen, I always want to post your links to my Facebook page. But when I do the title of the post and photo don’t come up like it does with other links. Maybe it’s something to do with how your blog is put together, have you ever tried it?

    Michelle @ Find Your Balance

  6. says

    Ed — Yes, he did. And in fact he wrote a guest post for me today which you might enjoy.

    Michelle — I’ve never had a problem linking from Facebook to my site. And, as far as I know, my blog is put together just like every other wordpress blog out there. Thanks for wanting to share my posts with your Facebook friends! That’s always an encouragement.

  7. says

    It all comes down to personal responsibility. If we (our culture) wer not “sue happy”, then there would not need to be so much ridiculous legislation. If people weren’t always trying to get an easy buck, a “I gots mines” mentality, then we would be able to trade/buy/sell things like we want.

    Honestly, I don’t know why the Fed. Gov. gets involved with small farmers or bakers who are just trying to make a little bit of money while providing whole foods to people who WILLINGLY want to purchase it. They need to focus on Big Agra like those peanut processors who KNEW their products had Salmonella, but insisted on selling it anyway. Would a small dairy farmer who knew one of his cows were sick sell milk to the public? Could he look into the eyes of a mother with a small child knowing the milk was tainted? I doubt it. I highly doubt it.

  8. says

    In my opinion: YES. But it’s the best kind and it leads to great personal freedom. I loved your post! Count me in as another dangerous revolutionary 😉


  9. says

    Organic is seen as “faddish, fringe” while intensive farming gets called “conventional'” farming. Wow, Big Food won the PR battle there. In truth: organic farming is conventional farming, the way farming has always been done (traditional combined with the latest eco-sciences and techniques of course) while intensive farming is well…intensive. chemical, industrialised…

    Let’s call a spade a spade
    (so to speak).


  10. Diana ofer says

    When you mention Hemp Oil do you mean cold pressed Hemp Seed Oil? I have been taking it for a while and a couple of days ago started to take coconut oil too. I was wondering if they interact with eachother in a good way or if it is too much?

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