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General News · 26th April 2014
As a long-time local food practitioner and activist, I feel compelled to comment on the recent imposition of (imho) micromanagement and over-regulation on our Friday Market vendors. I wish to make it very clear that I speak as a private individual, on a subject about which I'm personally passionate, and my views in no way represent the views of the Food Co-op or its Board. Having got that out of the way...

Seems like bizarre legislation is being proposed and drafted every year now, which seeks to criminalise traditional organic farming practises, demonise practical and efficient polyculture, outlaw farmgate sales, and hogtie local small-scale food producers with regulatory burdens more appropriate to multi-billion-dollar factory food corporations. The recent criminalisation of "unapproved" food production for sale at our Friday Market is in my view just one more chapter in an ongoing struggle over food sovereignty and local economies.

Hard to believe? Scroll to the end of this text to see some links: read 'em and weep - or laugh, if you're inclined to see the comic aspects of officialdom enthusiastically jumping onto the wrong side of history. If you like, you can do your own research and enjoy a few facepalms along the way.

Why do I say "the wrong side of history"? Because in an era of climate crisis, carbon reduction targets, rising energy costs and related financial and social instability, local human-scale resilience is a far better long-term investment than centralised gigantism. But for some reason North American government in general seems to be straining at gnats and sabotaging local food economies when they claim to have our safety in mind - while wilfully ignoring or even promoting some of the most dangerous projects imaginable (such as fracking, crude oil pipelines, increased fossil fuel combustion, for a start). In unstable and precarious times, what we most need is local security, local economic activity, local employment: good forward planning for our safety and well-being would encourage, not discourage, all the above.

I'm guessing that most of our readership would agree that we need to reduce, not expand, the number of miles our food travels; that local fresh food is superior in several senses to long-haul stale food; that organic food is probably safer and more nutritious than the products of factory ag; that healthy soil and local food production are the best insurance a community can buy; and that local production-based economies are of increasing importance as central finance-based economies and resource liquidation economies stutter and yoyo unpredictably. Most of our readership is probably sympathetic to the small farmer, the local grower, the farmgate seller, the home producer, and the aspiring locavore.

Most of our readership - very sensibly in my opinion - probably doesn't consider tomatoes to be a "high risk" food; we'd reserve that distinction for, say, hormone-laden factory meat or almost-wholly-artificial Twinkyesque "treats" sealed in plastic. And yet, CDC and VIHA are telling us we need protection from baked goods cooked by our own friends and neighbours, because they contain dangerous substances like tomatoes and cheese.

Friday Market has been a Cortes tradition, so I'm told, for more than 25 years. Does anyone recall the last time anyone on Cortes fell ill after eating anything they bought at Friday Market? Is there, in short, any actual *reason* for this crackdown?

Taking a larger view, what's the logical outcome of obsessive biophobia and a giant-industrial mindset among our technomanagerial elite, including legislators and enforcers? what does it imply? If it's criminally dangerous to prepare food to sell in a non-inspected, non-approved kitchen, why is any of us allowed to have company over for dinner? How about our own families, who eat and (shocking! criminal!) even sometimes play with kittens and puppies in our kitchens? Should I expect the VIHA inspector to drop by weekly to make sure that Fido is chained outside whenever I'm making a sandwich? Should I be heavily fined if I don't wear a hairnet while preparing dinner for friends? Should I be allowed to serve my hapless partner vegetables from my unregulated and uninspected greenhouse? How about potlucks? Good heavens, we certainly shouldn't permit those! Absolute hotbeds of disease and lethal risk! …Not. Really, not. We'd all be dead by now if they were.

The only real difference between all these scenarios and our Market situation is that a few loonies change hands. The physical money that changes hands is potentially a much of a disease vector as the food being sold; yet we're told that the same food which would be perfectly fine at a potluck or dinner party is somehow lethally dangerous when sold by the same preparer at the market. Do you sometimes feel you've fallen down the rabbit hole?

Anyway, you get my point already. We are a tiny community with a strong web of identification and trust amongst ourselves; if anyone serves food that makes people ill at Friday Market, we're all going to know who and what within the first 48 hours. There is no problem with accountability, and there is the strongest motivation for every baker and cook to do their very best to serve us wholesome, clean, and healthy food - unlike a corporate producer whose reputation is established by their advertising budget, not by results. The kind of food served at our Market is highly unlikely to make anyone ill in the first place (like I said, has it ever?); far greater health hazards are imposed on our population every day by perfectly - legal sales of processed foods, junk food, fast foods, tobacco, and so on.

There's a fundamental issue of scale here. Scale is one of the most important considerations in rational legislation and policy. We don't expect a bicycle to carry the same size and weight of headlights and brake lights as a car, and we don't let cars drive on cycle paths. We don't insist that a 2-person rowboat should meet full SOLAS standards; we don't enforce registration of vessels under a certain horsepower, or insurance of nonmotorised vehicles. And we shouldn't impose the same rules on a lemonade stand - or a rural weekly market or farmgate seller - that we would apply to, say, a multinational fast-food chain or restaurants in the busiest area of an international metropolis. Scale really matters.

The large corporations who routinely adulterate and contaminate the factory food supply have a profit margin (and a legal department) large enough to comply with burdensome regs, weasel out of all the regs they can, and pay the fines if they get caught not complying; they just pass the cost on to the consumer. Getting busted barely makes a dent in their profits. One of the ways they realise those big profit margins is by cheating on the quality of the product, so it's always worth cheating; and with their large, diffuse, anonymous market, accountability is hard to establish. Their large scale is what makes them a problem; they do need to be regulated, tightly and with substantial penalties in place, to overcome their natural tendency to cheat and cut corners. Anyone who can poison a million people with one month's factory output - and is strongly motivated to do so by single-minded profit-seeking - needs to be watched closely.

But the small producers are in a different world: they have a face-to-face relationship with their customers. Their annual volume is tiny. The costs of inspection, sample submission, factory-floor kitchen standards compliance and so on represent a heavy burden in terms of percentage of revenues, and even one penalty is enough to bankrupt them; legal defence isn't even an option. Maple Leaf Foods, proven beyond the stubbornest shred of skepticism to have taken the lives of 9 people by selling them contaminated tinned meat, is still in business. But Cortes Friday Market bakers, having harmed no one, ever, in the whole course of our market's history, are being told to change their menus, quit, or kiss their profits goodbye. The little guy is easily bullied; and imho it's unworthy and cowardly for our regulators to show the iron fist here, while Maple Leaf cans are still a staple of mainstream grocery stores.

This is not only unjust, it's not only ludicrous (though Jon Stewart or The Onion could have great fun with it). It's worse: it's disastrous policy. It's utterly the wrong policy, the exact opposite of the right policy, for the times we live in. It makes it harder for people to make a modest living by their own hands. It reduces our local food security by discouraging local food processing and production. It diminishes our island's appeal to visitors and tourists on whom our economy largely depends. Friday Market pizza and spanakopita and other tasty, savoury treats are well-known and well-loved among cruising sailors; how are we going to explain to them why they can't enjoy their favourite Cortes Island specialities any more? This doesn't make any sense. Policy should reflect reality on the ground and appropriate scale, not some kind of blind "one size fits all" authoritarian dogma imposed from far above and far away.

But what can we do? Others have faced this same situation (as the links below will abundantly illustrate). The pushback tool of choice: LFSGO.

Food Sovereignty Alliances are springing up worldwide in response to exactly this kind of inappropriate, scale-blind over-regulation. I heartily recommend that SRD adopt an LFSGO for all our rural areas, out-islands and small townships. Let's support and encourage, not fear, the small producer and local food. Let's get some rational policies in place that pay attention to scale and context. Let's leave the killer tomatoes to the B-movies where they belong.


Over-regulation discourages small organic veg and fruit farmers: USA

Over-regulation freezing out church suppers, bake sales, lemonade stands, small firmscana

Brief history of a proven dangerous food producer, still in business: Canada

Over-regulation discourages small organic meat/dairy farmers

Pushback! Sometimes Goliath has to back down

Artisan Food Law Web Site (UK)
Food Rights Network
Yale Agrarian Studies Department paper on Food Sovereignty (PDF)
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
Australia Food Sovereignty Alliance
Canadian Food Sovereignty Movement

Local food
Comment by Jack Whittaker on 29th April 2014
Thank you for taking the time to educate, inspire and motivate! The list of resources is enormously useful and informative. I get ill eating my own culinary experiments; not the fresh, locally produced, wonder-fulls at the Cortes farmers' market. Officialdom's take on this issue is bizarre and ludicrous. Is anyone listening?
Comment by Denis Thievin on 28th April 2014
This is an exceptional piece of work. Many people on Quadra would agree with it wholeheartedly.
some people are glad
Comment by Shirley on 28th April 2014
Some people are glad that they are ensuring people follow safety guidelines. I know most food vendors on cortes most likely follow food safe practices, but as a consumer I have no way of knowing that, I'm simply trusting, and hoping that this is the case. And since I have had a few bad experiences with professional cooks in restaurants on the island not following foodsafe practices (not naming names), I am concerned that the average vendor may be unaware of these protocols. After all, it's easy enough to make a mistake as a foodsafe certified worker in a kitchen where at least there are other foodsafe certified workers to remind you if you are doing something wrong, so it is not unlikely that someone without foodsafe training who works from home, alone, may make a mistake, especially with no one there to remind them. For example, do you store meat in your kitchen refrigerator above your produce drawer? This is not foodsafe. Knowing that food vendors are following guidelines allows the consumer less worry and prevents any mass food poisoning from happening. Simply preparing your food in a foodsafe kitchen and following foodsafe practices is not an unreasonable request to make of people who hold their customer's health in their hands. I agree that local food initiatives are extremely important in the current environmental and economic climate. However no one is preventing local food vendors from operating, they are making it safer for them to do so.

As for examples regarding maple leaf vs cortes vendors. Maple leaf foods took necessary actions to correct the issue that caused unsafe food product. Why should they be shut down for having contaminated food tins when they corrected the problem and are no longer producing contaminated food? It is a damn good thing they are a multi million dollar company who had the money to pay out the damages caused to the people who were poisoned. If someone on cortes were selling a contaminated product and even one person got severely ill from some kind of food poisoning, the vendor would be personally ruined, both financially and their reputation, so it's even more important for local vendors to be vigilant in food safety practices, for their own protection as well as their customers.

I believe it was mentioned in a related post that the manson's hall kitchen is foodsafe certified, so vendors simply need to book the space and time to prepare their items in advance in the foodsafe environment. Obtaining foodsafe certification is not difficult either, I believe it is even offered online nowadays. It's an easy one day course otherwise which will give you the background info you need about holding temperatures and times, and storage and preparation procedures which help prevent food born illnesses.

Food safety is a very real issue which does not magically disappear if your venture is on a smaller scale. Scale is not relevant to the issue of food safety. All it takes is one wrong finger in the wrong place, or one contaminated food item, one batch of baked goods left in the unsafe temperature zone for one hour too long, and a handful of the customers you know face to face could become severely ill. if you have a small scale business, losing some of these customers would be a huge blow to you, so you should take all the precautionary measures to ensure this will not happen. Those measures include being food safe certified so that if anyone gets sick you can confidently reassure your customers it was not from your food.