Did you ever think there could be a police crackdown against raw food? It's a reality, and right here in Los Angeles. In fact, the police are taking "heat" (pun intended) for one "crackdown" that's back in the news. The story of the "bust" itself last summer was already an insult to our freedoms, but reading about how the "bust" went down is even more outrageous. According to Stuart Pfeifer, writing in the Los Angeles Times, it took ten law enforcement and regulatory agencies, hundreds of investigation hours, covert agents making "raw food buys," and even hidden surveillance cameras to bring about the arrest of an organic farmer, her assistant, and the operator of a health food store in Venice California.
That's a lot of fuss over some raw goat milk, cheese and yogurt.
The story about the bust last summer appeared in The LA Times, and realfoodrights.com has lots more info. Note; I love their name but "realfoodsrights" is not affiliated with my restaurant Real Food Daily, and we do not buy any products from them.
The three people arrested are out on bail and scheduled to go to court in December. The case makes me think of the things we take for granted. Basic freedoms: reading, traveling, entertainment, eating. Our freedom to eat and share food is not a given. As this raw milk story illustrates, it may land you in jail. The police have shut down food markets and raided stores -- just because of the food they carry. Even sharing food is encountering opposition from the authorities.
According to Civil Eats, the once flourishing San Francisco Underground Market is now facing a legal limbo. The Health Department saw the SF Underground Market as a private event where people could share their latest cooking inventions, but when it grew to accommodate thousands of people, the Health Department no longer recognized this as a private event, and shut it down.
All of this raises the question: Can it be illegal to eat healthy and share food?
The answer seems to be yes, it can.
Semi-private raw milk and cheese producers are having a tough time surviving. A year ago, NPR produced a story exposing both sides of the raw milk debate. One side argued the health benefits -- ranging from fewer trips to doctors and decreases in allergies including milk intolerance. Those against raw milk, including the FDA, explain the possibilities of contracting bacteria like Salmonella, E.coli O157:H7, and Listeria. Despite the dangers of raw milk, however, those who swear by its nutritional benefits keep on buying it because they believe in it.
The shareable food movement is involved in a different battle than the raw milk and cheese people. Food can be shared at gift-economy restaurants (where you don't pay or leave a donation), pop-up stores, food buying cooperatives and food swap events. But even these eateries can run afoul of health regulations.
We have a disconnect. The health laws that close down raw food stores and small producers were designed to control health violations prevalent at factory farms, large scale feedlot operations and large scale distribution systems. They have little to do with the way a community of consenting adults might choose to eat, and whom they might want to share food with.
I'll be watching the Rawesome case unfold because it's testing these issues right in my own neighborhood. What's going on in yours?