Hide the cheese It’s the cops, or buyer beware, seller take cover

Dear Uma: I know I ought not to be surprised by anything that happens in your part of the world; after all, they elected a governor whom Clive James has described as looking like "a brown condom full of walnuts," but the news that Jason and Sarah's food

Dear Uma:

I know I ought not to be surprised by anything that happens in your part of the world; after all, they elected a governor whom Clive James has described as looking like “a brown condom full of walnuts,” but the news that Jason and Sarah’s food co-op was raided by police leads me to believe the entire bureaucracy of that country has tested positive for stupidity.

Frightening and annoying as their raid must have been, it was not the worst one in the growing number of farm raids.

Jason and Sarah are not the only ones to have suffered this indignity and this appalling injustice. Raids on farms and private food-supply clubs are increasing, with the stated concern over illness caused by organic and raw food a feeble one. The number of cases of sickness ‘possibly’ due to drinking raw milk and eating locally grown food is incredibly small in comparison to the proven illness and deaths that have been traced to poisoned corporate products. Recalls of Big Food stuff are now commonplace and along with the sick and the dead there are many people suffering from chronic illness due to some of the ingredients in processed food but no one in authority is working to shut them down.

Your raid was small scale in comparison to the one Sharon Palmer in Ventura County had just a few weeks ago. She thought she had resolved the problem of labelling her goat cheese which was what she had been told was the issue in previous raids. This was her third raid in 18 months; this one involved 20 agents who searched her house and barn for five hours and left with the family’s third computer (the other two were taken in the previous raids) and the milk (not the milk used in making her cheeses but cows’ milk) she was feeding to her pigs and chickens.

Her 12-year-old daughter asked the agents if they couldn’t leave the computer behind this time as she needed it to do her homework; the other two had not been returned. Her pleas had no effect and the kid had probably the best excuse for undone homework ever presented.

No one in authority would say officially what the purpose of this latest raid was, other than to be “part of an investigation in progress” but government raids of producers, distributors, and even consumers of nutritionally dense foods appear to be happening ever more frequently, sanctioned by the issuance of search warrants.

The same day of Palmer’s raid there was a raid on Rawesome Foods, a Venice CA private food club run by nutritionist and raw food advocate Aajonus Vonderplanitz. Members pay $25 to be able to purchase unpasteurized dairy products, eggs that are not only organic but unwashed, and a wide assortment of vegetables and other products organically grown. His raid also involved the FBI.

In the Rawesome raid agents make off with several thousand dollars worth of raw honey and raw dairy products. They also shut him down for failure to have a public health permit, though the size and scope of the raid suggests the government officials might have more in mind. In defiance of the shutdown order, Vonderplanitz had the doors to the outlet opened within hours after the departure of the authorities.

In early June of this year Traditional Foods Warehouse in Minnesota, a popular food club specializing in local foods, also saw agents of the Department of Agriculture, escorted by police. They were raided and shut down. Two farms in the area, suspected of illegally selling raw milk, were also raided that week.

In Wisconsin the Department of Agriculture has launched three raids over the last three months on the dairy farm and farm store of Vernon Hershberger who sells raw milk only to consumers who contract privately for his food.

A national first among such raids was the one where agents searched a private home and made off with the family’s computers. The offence? Allowing one of the raw milk dairy farmers to park in the driveway and distribute raw milk to area residents who had ordered it.

Also in Wisconsin, Max Kane, the owner of a food buying club was actually subpoenaed by authorities for the names of his customers and suppliers. He was subsequently prosecuted for contempt of court for failing to give up the names. His case is under appeal after he was found guilty last December.

There was an armed raid on Manna Storehouse, an Ohio food club that saw a mother and eight young children held a gunpoint for several hours while police and officials searched the home and food storage areas. The family has challenged the legality of this raid; the case is still tied up in court.

The recent spate of raids suggests a quickening pace and a broadened scope in targeting this rebellion among consumers and one has to wonder what is behind this activity. Private food groups are springing up everywhere: groups that provide specialized local products that are generally unavailable in stores, like grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, fermented foods, and, in some cases, raw dairy products.

Because these are private, and limited to consumers who are members, these groups generally avoid obtaining retail and public health licenses required by retailers that sell to the general public. A large part of that avoidance is the oblique and questionable wording of some of the food laws, wording that is being challenged in courts across the land for its ambiguity and its openness to interpretation. Most of that interpretation is being done, naturally, by the forces behind the vast corporate structure of the food manufacturers.

An easy and obvious explanation for these raids would be the licensing; after all, why should retailers have to pay while these upstarts go unlicensed? but it seems to me that the real motive is the challenge to the monopoly of Big Food.

More and more people are insisting on feeding their families foods that they know are not genetically modified or processed with unnamed substances. These are the folks who take the time and the trouble to educate themselves about what exactly is in what they eat and what the potential for harm is contained in too many of Big Food products and then go to the trouble and expense of sourcing clean and nutritious food.

Maybe I am making unfair assumptions but it seems these people, these ‘enemies of the state,’ are likely to be thoughtful, educated, and intelligent people and it would make sense that the people providing the food are likely to be of the same ilk, so what could be making their activities seem a threat worthy of the FBI, police, search warrants, and all the force of the law?

Perhaps the money being spent in persecuting people for desiring to eat well would be better spent in paying for the health costs accrued by those who aren’t taking the same care. They are, after all, the majority, a majority seemingly immune to absorbing the news that their food purchasing habits are making them and their kids sick.

In Watson Lake we are safe from the long arm of these particular laws; the monopoly for the provision of groceries is entirely sewn up and there is no danger of the locals forming food clubs. According to the latest information, published in the Yukon News, there would be far more likelihood of our folks forming booze groups, if they weren’t so drunk, that is.

In the spirit of support for Jason and Sarah, but also in recognition of where I live, my contribution to the cause will be wine. From now on I will drink only organic wine, accompanied by organic sesame seed crackers and organic yogurt dip flavoured with organic sun-dried tomato bits. Sadly, none of the ingredients are local. If I were to go whole hog, so to speak, my happy hour wouldn’t be happy.

The wine I have found, locally available even if the source is the local government liquor store, is red and dry. I find I am amused by its presumption, though it is at the same time strangely dumb in the glass – rather like our local politicians.

Here’s to the revolution.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.