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August 29, 2007 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin. This Saturday will mark this article's four year anniversary. Frankly, I was mildly surprised not to have found it mentioned before in MeFi. It's a good read about a sad state of affairs; how our government is turning its own people into outlaws, because freedom has been traded in for an illusion of security. ...but then we already knew that. Don't we?
posted by ZachsMind (110 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like him. He owes much to Paul Goodman.
posted by nasreddin at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2007


I feel I should mention Wendell Berry in here. I've not read much of his stuff but I think it's in the same vein
posted by nola at 1:36 PM on August 29, 2007


You would think that if I cut the trees, mill the logs into lumber, and build the house on my own farm, I could make it however I wanted to. Think again. It’s illegal to build a house less than 900 square feet. Period. Doesn’t matter if I’m a hermit or the father of 20. The government agents have decreed, in their egocentric wisdom, that no human can live in anything less than 900 square feet.

Say wha.
posted by billysumday at 1:36 PM on August 29, 2007


Goodman was an activist and that which he disliked he went out and protested physically about it. This guy has nice intentions but zoning etc are not Govt but local ordinances, and in a democracy you have both individual rights and the rights of the larger community. You can not just do any old thing you want to do because you want to do it. Now that may not seem acceptable but it is a present reality.
posted by Postroad at 1:38 PM on August 29, 2007


At my place of employment, we have a workplace violence policy. One of the big no-no's that will get you in trouble is the shaking of fists. Yes! You can't shake your fists. That is a sign of intense aggression.
posted by doctorschlock at 1:43 PM on August 29, 2007


Liberals always mention Hitler but fail to condemn Joel Salatin!

Oh wait, wrong guy...
posted by Artw at 1:43 PM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Postroad, all but a few states have statewide building codes. This is not local, and in fact local governments are quite chafed in some cases about (a) having to piss off their constituents and (b) the unfunded mandate of having to hire inspectors to implement the code.

This is a hot topic in northern Louisiana, where the statewide UBI was implemented in the wake of Katrina. Those parishes that are poor, rural, and less affected by hurricanes are not pleased.

I am planning to eventually build something really experimental in rural Mississippi, where the general rule is that if you can demonstrate the existence of an approved septic system you can get power run in, even if your home is one of those storage sheds sold by Home Depot. MS is likely to be the last holdout on statewide codes because it is so rural.
posted by localroger at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2007


The government agents have decreed, in their egocentric wisdom, that no human can live in anything less than 900 square feet.

My god. I've been torturing myself for years in my tiny old house and I didn't even know it! Think I can get a grant to build a McMansion in its place?

(Snark aside -- what is this law about? I've never heard this before.)
posted by cmyk at 1:47 PM on August 29, 2007


Everything this guy wants to do, he actually can do--so long as he's willing to accept the consequences.

But I guess whining is more fun.
posted by gsh at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


localroger, PA must be one of the few because the building codes here are local. I'm surprised that that's uncommon.

Joel Salatin's essay reads like a series of overlaid composites piled up for dramatic effect. If it's even possible, it's pretty unfortunate that one person has this many unusual requirements, and happens to live in a legislative district with this many restrictions on exactly those requirements.

I call FEF (forwarded email fiction)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:50 PM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


Plus, abbatoir: Is there a more beautiful word in the English language for something so distasteful?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:54 PM on August 29, 2007


Our community is blessed with all sorts of creative artisans who offer products that we would love to stock in our on-farm retail venue... As soon as our farm offers a single item — just one — that is not produced here, we have become a Wal-Mart.

Wait, this guy complaining about our government bureaucracy lives in China?
posted by Big_B at 1:58 PM on August 29, 2007


A large section on salatin and polyface farms is found in the omnivores dilemma (out in paperback today!)
posted by lalochezia at 1:58 PM on August 29, 2007


You mean French?
posted by hermitosis at 1:59 PM on August 29, 2007


stupidsexyFlanders


Salatin is well doccumented as a pioneer in this stuff. No fiction.
A lot of the ordenances are there for a good reasdon but clumsily written or don't contain appropriate opt-outs for the small guy. The big guy paid to have his optouts inseted into the laws when written.
posted by lalochezia at 2:00 PM on August 29, 2007


Michael Pollan discusses Joel Salatin's farm extensively in The Omnivore's Dilemma. He seems like a really interesting guy. [excerpt]
posted by designbot at 2:01 PM on August 29, 2007


D'oh.
posted by designbot at 2:02 PM on August 29, 2007


There's probably room for complaining about real-life restrictions--giving your teenager a drink, babysitting limits, housing rules, etc.-- but this one confuses me. I'd like to know how accurate it is.

I live in an area that, because there are so few apartments, permits, very grudgingly, something called accessory apartments, in owner-occupied homes. One of the issues is whether renting said apartment causes parking problems, so there are all kinds of restrictions, including one that forbids me, the owner, to ever park on the street in front of my house. That's to prevent me, as the owner, to put the tenant in the driveway and then my own car on the street. I doubt this law would hold up in court but who knows these days? The law also requires me to allow an inspector to come through the entire house, not just the apartment, and check every room for sufficient windows, smoke detectors, etc.
posted by etaoin at 2:06 PM on August 29, 2007


I'd love to see some ... hell, any citation in this. Outlandish claims couched in over-the-top rhetoric tend to go down smoother when they're accompanied by any sort of fact.

Faith in what? Faith in diversity. Faith in each other. Faith in people’s ability to self-educate, thereby making informed decisions. Faith in seekers to find answers. Faith in marketplace dynamics to reward integrity and not cheating. Faith in Creation to heal.

Faith in wide-eyed naivete, I guess? Oh, sorry, slip of the tongue, I meant "libertarianism".
posted by kafziel at 2:10 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wait, this guy is complaining that he can't hire underage labor to do farm work without paying taxes and observing safety regulations?
posted by transona5 at 2:14 PM on August 29, 2007 [5 favorites]


My (small, comfortable, awesome) house has 875 finished square feet. I'm pretty sure it's street-legal.
posted by COBRA! at 2:15 PM on August 29, 2007


Ah, Polyface is a name I know.

Joel speaks about sustainable ag and "natural foodsheds" at various events around the country.
posted by zennie at 2:16 PM on August 29, 2007


In the disconnected mind of modem America, a farm is a production unit for commodities — nothing more and nothing less. Because our land is zoned as agricultural, we cannot charge school kids for a tour of the farm because that puts us in the category of "Theme Park." Anyone paying for infotainment creates "Farmadisney," a strict no-no in agricultural zones.


WTF is he talking about? People believe strange things about the law, but that's not a problem with the law, it's a problem with the people who believe those things.

I hate this type of screed. "Wah wah wah the government" when in fact, the writer might actually be wrong. But that doesn't matter, people will read these things and pass them around like gospel and then vote for republicans. Stupid.
posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on August 29, 2007


Could it be that in their infinite lameness the gub does something good, every now and then ? Pretty please ?

If not the gub itself, could it be that some regulation is useful , or do we all suffer of infantilism, behaving like kids that just want to say no to daddy for no other reason that we want to assert ourselves ?

I remember seeing some collection of pix on the net about extremly lame and dangerous violation of building construction code , some of which so obvious my lack of experience on the subject didn't prevent me from understanding that it was WRONG ; yet in their infinite wisdom (read appaling ignorance) somobody built such horrors . Should a code exist and should be builders held responsible for their errors/violations , or should we just trust they will be always very comptent and not cutting corners to save money, blending more sand in concrete, the turkish-style ?

Similarly a debate in Europe about food safety : were the cheeses and some gourmand foods, developed in some objectionable conditions, effectively dangerous ? Or was it a move certainly welcome, if not conceived by the lobbysts of giants such as Kinder, Nestle, Unilever to make a grab and take control of production ?

My point being : some regulation can work very effectively discouraging abuses, sometimes just by simply pointing them out incessantly, some other is conceived just to further increase dependency and to obtain revenues parasitically such as the trick of considering "properly slaughetered meat" as a good that can't be sold , but with particualr other conditions, making the process artificially antieconomical in the name of protecting everybody at all cost even from the most statistically unlikely events.

And then you find e.coli in mass produced salade , just because maintaining very strict standard can be so expensive it's cheaper to irradiate anything , hoping that the statistic will never find a significant correlation between irradiation and problems.
posted by elpapacito at 2:17 PM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Building codes are local both in Michigan and in California, and I can't think of a place where zoning isn't local.

This guy is long on victimhood, short on common sense or pragmatism. I mean, many of the things he decries as impossible or illegal are pretty common in rural America. His foolishness either comes from trying to involve the government in his decisions or wrongly concluding that what he wants to do is against the rules after a five-minute conversation with some bored desk jockey, and then not bothering to investigate further.

And beyond that, there are some very good reasons for a fair number of the regulations that he decries (though I'm more than willing to concede that they're often warped by the interests of big business).
posted by klangklangston at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2007


Thanks for this. I forwarded it to my dad who has an organic farm not far from this guy.
posted by trbrts at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2007


I thought this article was going to be about drugs, public nudity, sex with minors, and downloading.

But i guess the farm stuff is cool, too.
posted by ELF Radio at 2:25 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


His foolishness either comes from trying to involve the government in his decisions or wrongly concluding that what he wants to do is against the rules after a five-minute conversation with some bored desk jockey, and then not bothering to investigate further.

This guy is a hardcore libertarian and pretty much the United States' foremost expert on this kind of farming. His complaints may or may not be hyperbolic, but I seriously doubt that he tried to get the government involved or gave up after a few minutes discussion.

The kind of farm he operates is far from the norm in America, and I don't doubt that he's run into all kinds of resistance from bureaucratic agencies.
posted by designbot at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2007


Building codes are local both in Michigan and in California, and I can't think of a place where zoning isn't local.

According to this site, you are mistaken regarding Michigan and will shortly be mistaken about California.
posted by enn at 2:27 PM on August 29, 2007


more on this from mother jones
posted by PugAchev at 2:28 PM on August 29, 2007




I went in expecting to share his outrage, but almost all those regs were not dreamed up, they were made necessary by the actions of assholes (and asshole companies) doing shitty things that hurt other people.

His complaint should be against the assholes who ruin it for everyone, not against the "lesser-evil" regulations that those assholes force society to adopt.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:38 PM on August 29, 2007 [11 favorites]


The perspective of this essay is probably this: farms have a very long list of regulations to deal with, and more keep coming down the pipe. Many rules, including those for Organic certification, don't actually make a whole heck of a lot of sense. That's not to say farms don't comply (as with the tours etc), nor that all government regulations are ludicrous (although Joel may think so).
posted by zennie at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2007


The unpalatable fact for people (and corporations) who whine about regulations is that in any identifiable case most people - voters - wanted them at the time, and therefore politicians tend to make them.

If I had a pound for every time some disaster was followed by a "this must never be allowed to happen again", I'd be rich enough to warp the American democratic system.
posted by athenian at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2007


So the guy wants to butcher his own beef and sell it without any inspectors checking it? I'm sure he operates a nice, clean organic place but the rules are there because some people don't. The article makes it sound like he's only going to butcher a couple of animals. Small farmers in Virginia can and do butcher a cow or a few hogs and market the product to their neighbors -- which is what Salatin claims he wants. I think Salatin has a much larger operation in mind. For that he needs to use an inspectable abbatoir or construct one on his property. He can do it.

BTW, here's the Virginia Building Code. See anything forbidding the construction of 900 square ft houses? Many mobile homes are smaller and the code certainly doesn't forbid them.
posted by CCBC at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a guy on fark whining about his HOA, and then saying that "the only thing" it was good for was getting rid of his neighbors HAM radio tower.

Frankly I'd prefer if the government regulated the slaughter of animals, large scale or small. I'd prefer if it regulated stores, large scale or small. I doubt this guy would be to happy if one his lovely neighbors decided to open a real slaughterhouse, or hog confinement facility and started stinking up his life.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on August 29, 2007


Everywhere I've lived, building was governed by BOCA codes, which have mostly been replaced by CABO. Zoning is a local matter, but most jurisdictions like the "safety" (largely from decisions) of national, or international codes. Having been in the construction trades most of my working life, I used to be able to quote many rules and sections from memory. Luckily, my memory is not what it used to be.

The drawback is that visionaries get short shrift from the authorities, because thinking and reasoning are not encouraged. Things like intensive farming, home butchering, straw bale structures, rammed earth structures,etc. have a hard time getting a toe-hold. It's a shame, because sometimes the great loses to the ordinary without even getting into the fight.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


This guy is long on victimhood, short on common sense or pragmatism. ... And beyond that, there are some very good reasons for a fair number of the regulations that he decries

My God ... I'm in ... agreement. With klang.

I must've stepped on a rake or something, and now I'm out cold on my lawn, with my dog looking down in puzzlement.

It’s illegal to build a house less than 900 square feet. Period.

Seriously, I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why you might want a law like this on the books.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2007


BTW, here's the Virginia Building Code

Um, yeah, that's from 2003. And if you read it you'll see that it incorporates in total most of the IBC and USBC.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:50 PM on August 29, 2007


Floydd: "[contradicts three points in the article with links to Polyface's website]"

Well, the article is four years (and one bestselling book) old.
posted by Plutor at 2:52 PM on August 29, 2007


He should try living somewhere without enforced health and safety codes. Like China. I see it's working out really well there for them.
posted by wuwei at 2:56 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


(Snark aside -- what is this law about? I've never heard this before.)

Lots of zoning laws, in conjunction with building codes, specify minimum house size, minimum lot size, minimum setback from the road, and so on for each zoning category.

The general purpose is, AFAIK, to keep like structure with like structure. Having areas with common zoning facilitates planning, since then planners can know in advance that the population of this zoning block will be no more than X in 2040, and that they can expand the road to 4-lane without having to move or demolish any houses, and so on. Another purpose is to keep one jackass farmer from putting up ten tarpaper shacks and killing the property values of his neighbors.

This guy is a hardcore libertarian and pretty much the United States' foremost expert on this kind of farming. His complaints may or may not be hyperbolic, but I seriously doubt that he tried to get the government involved or gave up after a few minutes discussion.

Naw, that seems about par for the course for hardcore libertarians. There's no more value-added activity for the libertarian than ranting about government, and libertarians actively seek it out.

You would think that if I cut the trees, mill the logs into lumber, and build the house on my own farm, I could make it however I wanted to.

No, I wouldn't think that, because I am not the King of the Dumbfucks, who is the only person who might have thought that for even a millisecond. Even fully cooked trout know that you have to comply with the building code. Did he really think that he could wire this new house with leftover 3-foot lengths of speaker wire, and plumb it with lead pipes and chewing gum, and paint it entirely with whatever goo they make matchheads from?

And, to answer the next question, the reason that there are building codes that won't let him do that is that inevitably, houses enter commerce. Even shit you build for yourself eventually gets sold to someone, and people deserve to know that their home was properly built.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:57 PM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Also, this is going to get "worse" as standards of living and environmental impacts continue their rise, because my right to swing my fist ends at your nose, and every day, modern living effectively makes more noses closer.

Once upon a time, you could dump raw sewerage into the street. More recently, cars had no exhaust emission requirements - there was no need. The idea of regulating emissions would have been absolutely unthinkable.

Some contemporary examples of swinging ones fist slightly into the nose of others becoming less tolerated by society are smoking indoors, dogs free in the streets, drink-driving, and so on.

Tomorrow, there will be more instances, that like car emissions, will initially seem absolutely shocking, "Political Correctness Gone Mad!", but as breathing the air in LA demonstrates, are the inevitable and necessary consequence of the march of civilisation, and the next generation will think we were funny in the head (or worse) for opposing such movements.

But that's ok - we'll think they're complete wusses. Just as our own ancestors did us. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:01 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Another vote for Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma (linked above by designbot) if you're interested in learning more about Salatin.

Paperback version of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals was just released yesterday. It's the essential book of 2007 for any Mefite who eats and reads. Under $10. Buy a copy and read it.

Pollan has a new book coming out in January: "In Defense of Food." I'm looking forward to it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:02 PM on August 29, 2007


"According to this site, you are mistaken regarding Michigan and will shortly be mistaken about California."

Building sizes are very much locally regulated in Michigan, despite adoption of international building codes.

"This guy is a hardcore libertarian and pretty much the United States' foremost expert on this kind of farming. His complaints may or may not be hyperbolic, but I seriously doubt that he tried to get the government involved or gave up after a few minutes discussion."

If all he wanted to do was slaughter a few hogs and sell them to his neighbors, he'd just do it, regardless of the law. And there'd be no repercussions because nobody cares. You know how I know? Because my uncle was a farmer and he did it easily. I'm sorry, but noting that marijuana's the cash crop of, well, just about everywhere in rural America, I'm having a hard time believing that if someone wants to do something "illegal" that there's gonna be a whole lot of grief given unless that person is also stupid or militant about getting caught.
posted by klangklangston at 3:06 PM on August 29, 2007


The fly in the ointment is that Salatin's methods are healthy and sustainable, and most by-the-book building and agriculture is not.

(And I am definitely not a libertarian)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:10 PM on August 29, 2007


Further, something that I've come up against much more since moving to a "city" (well, a huge sprawl that has a lot of people) is that there's simply no farm I can go to, to buy everything I need to eat for a week. I can go to farmer's markets here, and I do (even though they're spotty at best), but one of the problems of the "buy local" folks is that local agriculture is inherently not a universal solution. You'd think that would be obvious, because of the inherently parochial nature of the commerce, but it's treated as a panacea.

I don't want to just eat squash in a Michigan winter, and I don't want to have to spend every weekend in the car, looking for someone who can sell me a dozen eggs and some tomatoes.
posted by klangklangston at 3:12 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston, you are wrong yet again. The title of the essay is not "Everything I Want To Do Cannot Be Done." The essay is titled, "Everything I Want To Do Is Against the Law."

If you believe that laws are meaningless and that people should just do as they please, breaking every law, until the authorities deem them "stupid" or "militant" and jail them, just say so explicitly.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:13 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


I initially read that as: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joe Stalin. Needless to say, the article isn't what I thought it was going to be about.
posted by Brak at 3:24 PM on August 29, 2007


...but one of the problems of the "buy local" folks is that local agriculture is inherently not a universal solution...

I don't want to just eat squash in a Michigan winter, and I don't want to have to spend every weekend in the car, looking for someone who can sell me a dozen eggs and some tomatoes.


Unless you're living on the moon, there has to be local agriculture on some scale. Whether it's sufficient to suit you or not is another question. And you don't have to hunt everything down yourself. Grocery stores are getting behind local produce in a big way.

Part of the "buy local" concept is you eat produce in season. You don't get tomatoes in the wintertime, unless they are hothouse grown. This avoids the incredible waste of fuel that is used to get tomatoes to you from Chile in January. It also keeps more money in the local economy.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:29 PM on August 29, 2007


If all he wanted to do was slaughter a few hogs and sell them to his neighbors, he'd just do it, regardless of the law.

You know, I think this guy's rant is a bit whiney and obnoxious but he does have one point. Too much of our food regulation does not have exemptions for "the little guy". And I don't mean someone who is selling a few pigs to his neighbors either. I mean someone who is selling to small niche of customers locally. That's an order of magnitude over selling a fell illegally slaughtered hogs here and there. Enough enterprise that there should be some regulation, and strong labelling laws making it clear that these exemptions exist, some limits as to volume and distribution chanels, but not the level that exists for mass produced food.

The FDA has traditionally been very bad about caring about the little guy. I suspect that that is going to slowly change in the next few years, mostly because of the activisim of Joel Stalin and his ilk.
posted by aspo at 3:29 PM on August 29, 2007


Ikkyu2— Well, except as we've seen from Floyd, it wasn't really illegal (otherwise he wouldn't be doing it now).

The rest of your comment is so bizarre that I'm not sure exactly where you got it from. Perhaps it's time to step back from the ether cone, doctor.
posted by klangklangston at 3:30 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


and I sy that the govt ought not bother guys who want to train, raise and have pit bull fights for money! It is a sport and the govt should butt out.
posted by Postroad at 3:30 PM on August 29, 2007


"Unless you're living on the moon, there has to be local agriculture on some scale. Whether it's sufficient to suit you or not is another question. And you don't have to hunt everything down yourself. Grocery stores are getting behind local produce in a big way."

By the time you drive out from LA to get to it, it's hardly "local." And while I respect the grocery stores for getting behind local produce, that sort of ignores the repeated point about having to look the person who grows your food in the eye.

As for adjusting my diet— again, that might be more feasible here in California than it was in Michigan, but the idea that I should give up fresh greens, fresh tomatoes, etc. just to support someone's local parsnips is a sacrifice I'm not willing to make, sorry.

Further, hey, I like the taste of Washington apples. When I worked at my local food co-op, I could tell the difference between the local varieties and the "imported" ones, and sometimes I'd like one, other times I'd like another.

Local produce is great, when I can get it (and when it's good— a lot of local produce is still just as crappy as the shipped-in variety). But the answer isn't thousands of agricultural microcosms that people have to tour in order to ever taste a Mango or a Thai banana. And while it's lovely for Salatin to demand a white-collar income for producing food, it's still an economic barrier for most people— good food shouldn't be purely the province of the rich.

I'm all for relaxation of regulations in order to make some things easier for small agricultural producers. But does that mean that I think every apartment dweller should be slaughtering his own chickens? No.
posted by klangklangston at 3:46 PM on August 29, 2007


I'm not sure if all of you are seeing the bigger picture. I didn't post this cuz I agree with it. I do, on some points. Other points I'm like "well what do you expect?" I honestly think that it's well written and persuasive and all the things an opinion piece like this should be. IMNSHO, it's just a good read. It's not a matter of whether or not you or I agree with this guy. The problem isn't legislation, execution, or even judgment of said laws. The problem is a lack of common sense to go with the package. You can't have checks and balances between branches of gov't if the gov't consists of people from Bizarro World.

This is not a question of liberalism or conservatism or republican or democrat or libertarian or whatever - please for the love of God just push all that crap outta yer heads for a second or two. This is about the individuals we got on our planet being The Deciders of your fate and mine.

There's the story (myth or history, call it what you will) of King Solomon and the two mothers. Two women came before Solomon claiming that this child they were arguing over was theirs. They couldn't have both given birth to the child, but they both insisted they had, and that the other mother was lying. So not having any proof beyond the testimonies of the two women, King Solomon decreed that the child be cut in half, and that way both women could take home half of a dead child.

Now this is judgment, legislation, and execution in action. On the surface it sounds like old King Sol had a screw loose, but he knew that the mother whose child was REALLY hers, would give up her rights to the child, so that the child would continue to live. Why did Sol know this? Cuz he was SMART.

Today we have tens of millions of people globally making decisions every day just like Old King Sol. They make decrees left and right. Politicians. Lawyers. Judges. Clergymen. Government appointees. Community leaders. Parents. Educators. Corporate executives. Mysterious geeky dudes with clipboards whom other people blindly assume have authority. et cetera. Not a lick of today's 'Deciders' exhibit Solomon's common sense.

Thanks to everyone for making this thread such a kickass discussion. Making FPPs in The Blue always freaks me out. It's taken me seven years, but I think maybe I finally figured out how to make one. =) Maybe.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, Zach. :)

By the time you drive out from LA to get to it, it's hardly "local." And while I respect the grocery stores for getting behind local produce, that sort of ignores the repeated point about having to look the person who grows your food in the eye.

Dude, "Buy Local" isn't all-or-nothing. You can define "local" for your own purposes. Maybe local for you is less than 800 miles. If you live in CA, you can get several kinds of fruit year-round from your own state, and very easily if your local grocer carries it. Nobody's trying to take away your Washington apples, but if we used a little more common sense about how far we ship and how much we centralize, our food sources would much more secure.
posted by zennie at 4:23 PM on August 29, 2007


And, to answer the next question, the reason that there are building codes that won't let him do that is that inevitably, houses enter commerce. Even shit you build for yourself eventually gets sold to someone, and people deserve to know that their home was properly built.

That's a perfectly weak argument. He could be allowed to build the house so long as he agreed never to sell it.

The whole question is amazingly insane. We're better than the indians (it was no doubt argued) because we have private property. Then, once it's "private", we burden it with communal legalities (and, no doubt eventually) surveillance. And you'll still be an apologist for a stupid, broken system which constantly steps on its own toes.
posted by Twang at 4:45 PM on August 29, 2007


Oh, okay then. What happens when he dies, or moves? Should it just be demolished? At whose expense? Of course, if he decides to build it with asbestos insulation or somesuch, demolition might pose a significant health hazard to those destroying it too, or even people nearby. Maybe that's not something can be mandated without more specific information about how he's building it, or at least making sure he isn't using dangerous materials, and that's practically building codes.

Okay, when he leaves it, can't just destroy it. So if he can't sell it, can he will it to people? And will they be under the burden to never sell it? Must this construction, and the surrounding land, remain inviolate for eternity? What if it catches fire, and he had decided to line it with poison ivy? That's a pretty big hazard to people nearby, too. Seems like a lot of risk and a lot of trouble just because one asshole just can't stand to have someone objectively measure the quality of his work.
posted by kafziel at 4:54 PM on August 29, 2007


Too much of our food regulation does not have exemptions for "the little guy".

Why is it OK for the little guy to kill people with contaminated food?

When it comes to food safety, small producers and processors are exactly where the risk is (well, other than in your homes and on your family BBQs, but they don't get inspected). Big companies have big enforcement departments - little companies can't afford it or don't bother.

Case 1: Wishaw, in Scotland: 21 dead after a small independent butcher didn't notice his cooker was on the blink.

Case 2: Peacehaven, down the road from where I live: a mechanic died in an explosion at a small independent garage where the manager allowed his employees to smoke while filling petrol tanks.
posted by athenian at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


That's a perfectly weak argument. He could be allowed to build the house so long as he agreed never to sell it.

Oh...oh god. That's just too funny. kafziel just elaborated on why, so I'll skip repeating it.
posted by LionIndex at 5:10 PM on August 29, 2007


interesting article, except that i kept saying, "but I know somebody who [....]" but i suppose that's the point: i know a lot of people who obviously don't give a flying fuck about the law (re: yurts/treehouses/otherwise substandard housing/hiring the local teenager for cash/slaughtering your own meat. doesn't everyone?
posted by RedEmma at 5:22 PM on August 29, 2007


)
posted by RedEmma at 5:23 PM on August 29, 2007


Twang writes "He could be allowed to build the house so long as he agreed never to sell it."

I concur , but how much experience do you have at evaluating an house compliance with norms ? Unsafe electrical wiring solutions are easily deadly , mixing too much sand into concrete can't be easily detected, but it's one of the reason that will cause an apparently solid concrete to fail. Now one could, probably, hire experts that would ask fine money for a difficult evaluation (expecially if they carry some responsability).

Wouldn't it become a lot more easier and convenient to just have builders comform to technical norms and punish the builders, instead of the owner, for not complying ?

Problem is that the norms may be way too general , or sometime utterly useless in well definied conditions ; yet technical consesus can be achieved, a transparent scientific method can be used, norms can be changed.

Biggest problem : when the law is writting to favour X with little or no consideration for the effects it may have, because the persons affected are unlikely to notice in a short-enough time or care. If such a law becomes very significant in a profit making process..for instance think about copyright , then changing it becomes a lot mor4e difficult.

Consider, for instance, laws extending the expiration of a copyright to 100+ years from the death of the author , easily giving the owner of the copyright a monopoly for 100-150 years . Why the hell should we allow that, or actually care after so much time ? Wasn't the author more then enough compensated for his work , why should we extend the RIGHT to his/her offspring ?
posted by elpapacito at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2007


The FDA has traditionally been very bad about caring about the little guy. I suspect that that is going to slowly change in the next few years, mostly because of the activisim of Joel Stalin and his ilk.
posted by aspo at 3:29 PM on August 29 [+] [!]


This is a great point, and pretty much what I took out of this article. Simple concepts such as eating locally, and the "100 mile diet" are virtually impossible in many places in the USA, due to the overemphasis on mass-produced foods. Would you pay 25-50% more for local, artisanal products? Probably (especially once you taste them). Can you? Maybe in a few places.
posted by mek at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2007


Joel Salatin is a fundamentalist Christian. Remember that, it influences one's discursive style. His point is not that he can't get away with skirting the laws and regulations, it's that he doesn't want to have to get away with anything. He is a visionary and prone to overstatement and hyperbole to make a point. That's because he's an activist.

However, he and his family do make a living off their farm. He is far better at walking the walk than he is at talking the talk. This is a rare situation. He's not god, of course, and he's not immune to being fantastically full of shit and he's not ashamed to play up the stupidities he sees, but he makes a living in agriculture and he does so according to his principles. This is not easy, this is not something that some Internet whiner who's read too much Ayn Rand can do.

My impression of his argument, and it may be wrong, is that Salatin doesn't want relaxed regulations so much as Not Stupid regulations. In the Omnivore's Dilemma, Salatin offers to haves his chickens tested for bacteria rather than establishing a theoretically safe yet not empirically verified slaughterhouse. That's not permitted in the current regulatory environment. Should it be? I don't know.

Salatin's faith, as he calls it, or naivate, as I perceive it, is that people will make good decisions, use good judgement, and apply critical thought to regulations and decisions. This is not my experience. If we were to write a regulatory code that would allow distinctions between Polyface-like operations and the culinary equivilent of a puppy mill, we'd have to write in so much flexibility that enforcement would be largely discretionary. Historically, discretionary law enforcement hasn't gone that well.

I don't know what the solution is or how we can fix things. I know what choices I'll make (for most situations) and how I'll try to live my life, but I don't have Salatin's faith in people's good judgment. Oh well.

Also, fuck cargill, fuck ADM, fuck patents on living organisms, and fuck the fucking Farm Bill right the fuck up its corn hole.
posted by stet at 5:38 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why is it OK for the little guy to kill people with contaminated food?

The little guy should have some safety regulation, just less. The little guy should have limited volume and distribution limits. The little guy should have strong labeling laws that make it very clear that his food is not heavilly regulated.

Small bussinesses have different rules than large ones. Why shouldn't that be true for farms as well?
posted by aspo at 5:39 PM on August 29, 2007


When it comes to food safety, small producers and processors are exactly where the risk is (well, other than in your homes and on your family BBQs, but they don't get inspected).

So by your logic we should start requiring everyone to have their kitchen inspected by the FDA if they ever want to cook.
posted by aspo at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2007


This book describes the high-quality1 food produced by the gentleman farmer2 during the Libertarian Utopia before evil nannycrats3 forced their do-nothing laws4 on an unwilling populace5.
posted by swell at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I buy chickens and ground beef from Joel Salatin. The chickens are the best, the ground beef is terrible, chewy and tastes like smelly leather. If you read Ominvores Delima these results seem obvious.

Salatin is of course closely connected with Salley Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which I highly recommend if your trying to figure out "what should I eat".
posted by stbalbach at 5:43 PM on August 29, 2007


"He is far better at walking the walk than he is at talking the talk. This is a rare situation."

Well, not in my experience, actually. There are far more farmers who walk the walk than are interested in talking about it. At least until you get 'em drunk after lambing.

"Would you pay 25-50% more for local, artisanal products? Probably (especially once you taste them). Can you? Maybe in a few places."

One of the nice things about where I was in Michigan was that it often cost less to buy local, and I got better food. Of course, there was still a fair amount of crap, and I wasn't buying any local bananas, but I'm still in culture shock about how different it is in LA.
posted by klangklangston at 5:44 PM on August 29, 2007


So by your logic we should start requiring everyone to have their kitchen inspected by the FDA if they ever want to cook.

Right, because there's no difference between cooking for yourself and selling untested meat.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:52 PM on August 29, 2007


The apprenticeships are open to "men" only, cuz, well, obviously girls can't farm. Any attempt to enforce equality is just The Man tryin' to harsh his organic buzz. I'm sorry, I've been a smallholder most of my my life, only recently leaving my palatial country estate for a deluxe urban apartment. I'm sympathetic to the cause, but this guy is just a prick.
posted by Floydd at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Illustrative Question: Should children be allowed to operate lemonade stands?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2007


1. If you're a fecal bacterium
2. Agribusiness, less efficient then than now.
3. Teddy Roosevelt
4. (wiki) "Foreign sales of American meat fell by one-half. In order to calm public outrage and demonstrate the cleanliness of their meat, the major meat packers lobbied the Federal government to pass legislation paying for additional inspection and certification of meat packaged in the United States."
5. Life in the days of the Robber Barons was suprisingly unlike the works of Ayn Rand.

posted by swell at 6:02 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


This essay is so ham-handed, I thought it was a parody of something a crank would write.

But from what you people are saying, he's serious!
posted by jayder at 6:07 PM on August 29, 2007


swell:

I understand, and take, your point. But might the problem lie in the whole concept of national and international agribusiness? Today's agribusiness may be safer for workers and consumers (as long as you ignore e-coli outbreaks due to constricted processing plants or the horrendous mistreatment of migrant workers), but it certainly isn't safer for the environment -or sane farming, for that matter.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2007


Mrs. _nate asked me to post that Salatin just released a book by the same name of the article. I just read the essay, and if the book is as hyperbole-laden and persecution complex-fueled as this screed was, it'll be a scream to read. (Sorry, honey.)

Regardless, do you know who else had a polyface? That's right.
posted by cog_nate at 7:01 PM on August 29, 2007


Today I was at a laundromat - privately owned one by the way - and there was a guy outside on a souped up bike selling icecream. well I say bicycle but actually I didn't take the time to count the number of wheels. Maybe it was three. A souped up tricycle with a small refrigerator tied to it.

I had ten minutes to kill, having just come back from the errands I scheduled doing while my clothes dried. I was hot and tired and hungry and figured what the hell. The guy barely spoke english, and I flunked spanish twice, but I said "ice cream sandwich" and showed him my money. That's about all it took.

After I bought the ice cream sandwich and the guy smiled and peddled off to wherever it is that smiling hispanic ice cream bicyclists go, it occurred to me that I have no idea who that guy is, who he works for, where he got his ice cream, whether or not this ice cream passed through any government sanctioned whatevers to insure that it's suitable for consumption, and if for some reason this ice cream sandwich did cause me death or worse, that guy's just gonna keep on biking with that smile on his face and I wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

So y'know whut I did? I ate the goddamned ice cream sandwich. And so far I haven't suffered any ill-effects, aside from contributing to the rising statistics of obesity in this country. Damn fine ice cream sandwich. Neopolitan. My favorite.

Sometimes being free means taking an occasional risk.

*smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 7:16 PM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


But might the problem lie in the whole concept of national and international agribusiness?

Absolutely. However, economies of scale are a huge factor in farming, and if the goal is to feed lots of people with as little money as possible, small-to-medium sized farms aren't going to do it. Co-op type farming on a scale we haven't yet seen may manage to bring production costs down to a competitive level.

However, "banning" agribusiness over a certain size would certainly violate Salatin's principles, so I'm assuming that's not really at issue here.

but it certainly isn't safer for the environment -or sane farming, for that matter.

Yup, sustainable farming has a cost associated with it - Hog Farmer Jones has to pay someone to load up his waste, haul it down to Corn Farmer Smith's place and dump it there, then Smith reloads the truck with husks for Jones' pigs. But if you have 600,000 hogs in one place, you need a river to carry it away.

Salatin states in the MoJo article that part of the reason his prices are higher that the bigs is that the big guys "externalize" many costs that he must pass on to the consumer. Somehow, that needs to change.

Abolishing the laws that he's decrying would benefit ConAgra much more than it would benefit Mr. Salatin. The same laws that keep him from building a 775 sq-ft "country cottage" for his "young interns" are the same ones that keep ConAgra from building massive tarpaper shantytowns with shared plumbing facilities for child laborers.
posted by swell at 7:38 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


About a year and a half ago I was leaving work -- a state institution, by the way -- around lunchtime. I hopped on my bicycle. It's got two wheels, so I know it's a bike. Before riding off I donned my helmet.

I had about an hour in which I needed to ride home, eat lunch, return a rental car and ride back to work. I was feeling positive, about to get married the coming Friday afternoon and figured it'd be a great day for a ride. I'm not a racer, but I get me there. Pedal forward, that's all it took.

I'd crossed most of campus and, smiling, took a right down a nice hill leading down a quiet street towards my apartment. On the way down the hill, the front wheel of my bike crossed a patch of loose sand, causing me to lose control. I fell off and solidly cracked my head on the pavement.

You know what I did? I sat for a second, took a couple deep breaths, stared at the goddamned two-inch long strawberry and a brown, chocolaty bruise welling up on my vanilla-white left forearm, shook it off, hopped back on the bike and went about the rest of my errands. I haven't suffered any ill-effects since, except for the loss of a $25 towards the purchase of a new helmet. Damn fine helmet. Bell Faction, my favorite.

Sometimes being safe means a little discomfort.
posted by cog_nate at 7:42 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


That bruise sounds mighty tasty CogNate.

TheOnlyCoolTim: "Illustrative Question: Should children be allowed to operate lemonade stands?"

I've recently be reviewing the recent Marvel comics storyline "Civil War." For those not geeky enough to find this of interest, in a nutshell it's a story about a fictional world in which vigilanteism is as big an issue as drug abuse, terrorism, abortion, and American Idol. Thousands of humans running around in silly outfits taking the law into their own hands. Some might say it's an absurd idea for fiction. Some would say it's a shame it is fiction.

The storyline echoes issues we're dealing with right now. There's freedom and there's security. There's people on this planet who would seek to do you harm if it meant improving their own quality of life in the bargain, and there's some on this planet who would seek to do you harm just cuz they can. There's other people on this planet who, under the right circumstances, would be willing to be your shield. They'd take your bullet and they don't even know you. Some of them wouldn't think twice about saving your hide, and some of them say it's cuz of their god or their beliefs or their karma or whatever - but some of them don't even know why. They'd help you out if they could, and they don't even know why.

If only they had some kind of edge against the bad guys.

Surely no one would question if a complete stranger out of nowhere showed up to save your child from a burning building, or help your pet kitten out of a tree, or stop hoodlums from robbing the neighborhood, or unmasking charlatans, or keeping the peace, but where would you draw the line if in order to do these things the person in question might have to damage property? Get a little dirty, morally speaking? Make a split-second decision that cost the lives of twenty in order to preserve ten thousand? Make a mistake that cost the lives of thousands but spared a score?

These are not easy questions.

Does life begin at conception?

Is this man fit for nothing but lethal injection?

Can that person be allowed back into society, after what he's done?

Should victimless acts be criminal?

How far should that porn store be from that grammar school? Why should we allow porn stores in the city limits? Or smoking areas for that matter? Or anything we don't want to actually see? Or anything we don't want our children to see?

Should humans be allowed to act on natural instincts when nature dictates, or do we need to make them wait until their parents can handle it? Frankly, if I had a daughter, I'd invest in a chastity belt and swallow the key, but is that a rational answer?

Should all food producers be treated as if they were going to poison the public, on the off chance that one of them might, either purposefully or by accident? How can we tell?

How can we protect ourselves from one another?

These are not easy questions. It's a shame we don't have someone like Captain America around to help us answer them. It's a shame America is unable to lead this planet with suitable answers. We're coming up with bupkus over here, and it's a shame we're too proud to look to the rest of the world and go, "okay smartasses what've you got? Can you do better?" Cuz we got The Caped Decider Codenamed "Stuporman" over here, and we're fresh out of pretzels.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:46 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


You have no idea, ZachsMind. In fact, I actually wanted to graft the bruised tenderized tissue, grow it in a dish and sell it to people to eat. But there are apparently laws in the way of that, for some damned reason.
posted by cog_nate at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2007


it occurred to me that I have no idea who that guy is, who he works for, where he got his ice cream, whether or not this ice cream passed through any government sanctioned whatevers to insure that it's suitable for consumption,

Well, that last is only because of your own ignorance. There was a complex web of regulation from the dairy through the ice cream maker through the refrigerated trucks that moved the ice cream sandwiches, all of them working to keep you safe from tainted ice cream without ever having to think or worry about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:02 PM on August 29, 2007


Why is it OK for the little guy to kill people with contaminated food?

The little guy should have some safety regulation, just less.


So, it's OK for the little guy to kill fewer people than the big guy?

Folks, there didn't used to be much of any food regulation in the U.S. And then there was this guy that wrote a book. Maybe you read it in high school?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:28 PM on August 29, 2007


Do you think there are, perhaps, potential intermediates between absent regulation and industrial strength regulation?
posted by zennie at 8:59 PM on August 29, 2007


Sure, zennie, and from the way ole' Jesus Freak Joel is running his enterprise it seems he's found that happy medium. No matter how much he claims he hasn't.
posted by Floydd at 9:27 PM on August 29, 2007


On every side, our paternalistic culture is tightening the noose around those of us who just want to opt out of the system — and it is the freedom to opt out that differentiates tyrannical and free societies.

I love these opt out guys. If he feels so strongly about this I encourage him to "opt out" and move to sunny Bangledesh or the Congo; lock, stock and barrel. I'm sure the free living locals will allow him to do everything on this list.

localroger writes "Postroad, all but a few states have statewide building codes."

His building restriction complaints sound like zoning issues rather than code issues. Code compliance is another issue. Same with the business license requirements. I'd bet he's paying a small fraction of the property taxes that a general store would pay because he is a farm which is why he doesn't want to change his zoning. All the guys in his area running varied retail establishments would be rightly pissed if he was allowed to under cut them in this manner. And getting a zoning change to allow for animal slaughter is going to be a tough row to hoe I'd imagine.

cmyk writes "The government agents have decreed, in their egocentric wisdom, that no human can live in anything less than 900 square feet.

"My god. I've been torturing myself for years in my tiny old house and I didn't even know it! Think I can get a grant to build a McMansion in its place?

"(Snark aside -- what is this law about? I've never heard this before.)"


People in McMansions sometimes view a tarpaper shack next door as reducing their property values. Whack I know. So they call their councilperson and get a local zoning ordance passed that requires certian minimum house sizes. It's stupid but common.

Twang writes "That's a perfectly weak argument. He could be allowed to build the house so long as he agreed never to sell it."

Square footage is a code issue rather than a zoning issue (which most of his complaints seem to be) but what if his house as constructed is dangerous for firefighters or tradespeople? Rarely are owners exclusively exposed to shoddy and dangerous work. What if the guy cross wires his generator and kills a linesman two miles away the next time a windstorm takes down a power line? Or his sub standard leech field contaminates the local ground water supply? It is this kind of stuff that brings his house out of the private domain and into the public.
posted by Mitheral at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal reminds me of an interview I just heard titled Florida organic farmer’s struggles with the state department of agriculture [mp3]. The farmer being interviewed explains how he gets around regulations about selling raw milk by selling the milk as pet food.
posted by chowder at 10:31 PM on August 29, 2007


Mitheral writes "Square footage is a code issue rather than a zoning issue"

Got the logic reversed there: Square footage is a zoning issue rather than a code issue
posted by Mitheral at 10:41 PM on August 29, 2007


Chowder there was a story in Melbourne back when Sunday trading was only allowed for certain things, of a bloke who wanted to sell billiard tables on Sundays, but couldn't.

He sold really expensive books, which each came with a free billiard table.
posted by pompomtom at 11:20 PM on August 29, 2007


I think the problem is that there really isn't a safety valve to regulation, and therefore the applications become ridged and ill-suited to diverse conditions. Instead of focusing on standards to be maintained, an endless row of checkboxes that may not even apply.

A further problem is the folks that insist every damn thing under the sun come under the the purview of some type of regulation at ever increasing reach and strain of logic. It is the worst aspects of meddlesomeness codified.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 12:08 AM on August 30, 2007


To a certain extent, I agree... but, the law is the law!
posted by secondadoption at 6:28 AM on August 30, 2007


Yup, sustainable farming has a cost associated with it - Hog Farmer Jones has to pay someone to load up his waste, haul it down to Corn Farmer Smith's place and dump it there, then Smith reloads the truck with husks for Jones' pigs. But if you have 600,000 hogs in one place, you need a river to carry it away."

No, sustainable farming doesn't have those costs; that's pretty much the definition of the word.

It's only when you industrialize and compartmentalize the farms into food factories that you run into these ridiculous situations. Farmers dumps tons of fertilizers made from irreplaceable fossil fuels into their overworked soil to keep giant, identical crops coming year after year, while cows sit in giant feed lots ankle-deep into their own manure, dependent on potent antibiotics and vaccines to keep from getting sick from standing in so much raw sewage. Apparently, this all makes sense on a spreadsheet somewhere.

Joel Salatin has pigs, chickens, cows, grass, and crops all rotating on the same property. The animals eat the grass and poop out fertilizer, which makes the crops grow. It's kind of obvious, if you think about it.
posted by designbot at 6:43 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can see how people who aren't familiar with Salatin might see this article as just another libertarian rant on the Internet, but seriously, the guy has done amazing work both practicing and promoting sustainable agriculture. There is some serious shit wrong with the American food system, and I don't mind a little hyperbole with my free-range chicken if that's what it takes to fix things. I would really encourage doubters to read up on these issues before rushing to judgment because of the guy's rantiness.
posted by 912 Greens at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2007


To everyone bringing up The Jungle, yes unfettered meat production was pretty much a failure in this country. However that's when it goes large scale. Large scale operations are very different from small operations and tend to need stricter regulation. I'm not saying there shouldn't be any regulation for small meat producers, I'm just saying if the farm fits a "small" designation (say less than x pounds of meat, slaughtered at someplace that does less than x heads a year, sold at only 1 place, no major distribution) that lighter regulations make sense. Combine that with strong labeling laws and you are free to decide if you want to eat that kind of meat or if you would prefer eating food from large operations that have different safety regulations.
posted by aspo at 10:26 AM on August 30, 2007


Look, if I want to build a yurt of rabbit skins and go to the bathroom in a compost pile, why is it any of metafilter’s business?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:02 PM on August 30, 2007


No, sustainable farming doesn't have those costs; that's pretty much the definition of the word.

It's only when you industrialize and compartmentalize ...


Care to back up that assertion with some facts?
posted by electroboy at 1:26 PM on August 30, 2007


I'm just saying if the farm fits a "small" designation (say less than x pounds of meat, slaughtered at someplace that does less than x heads a year, sold at only 1 place, no major distribution)...

How is the risk of contamination different in small place, rather than a large place?
posted by electroboy at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2007


I'm just saying if the farm fits a "small" designation ... that lighter regulations make sense.

Then what is the acceptable level of E. coli the small rancher can allow into the meat? Is it more or less than what the large rancher is allowed? Remember, the E. coli doesn't care what burger it's in.

This is where the "less regulations for the little guy" argument falls down. Safety is safety is safety, regardless of the size of the operation. We can argue all up and down about what exactly is safe vs. what isn't, but the scale of the operation is irrelevant. In fact, this is precisely why large-scale operations often muscle out small-scale operations -- because they have the economies of scale that allow them to meet the high standards in the first place.

Thankfully, this story turned out to be a hoax. But it's indicative of the kinds of shenanigans that "small" operations can and do pull off all the time when nobody is watching. Or do you think the Mom n' Pop diner is always cleaner than MegaTastyBurger, simply because Mom n' Pop are nice people?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:21 PM on August 30, 2007


"This is where the "less regulations for the little guy" argument falls down. Safety is safety is safety, regardless of the size of the operation. We can argue all up and down about what exactly is safe vs. what isn't, but the scale of the operation is irrelevant."

What I agree with you about is that "less regulations" is a dumb mantra to get behind. What I can understand is a call for different regulations for different scales of production, especially in light of the fact that regulations are, as noted above, often based on process rather than results. Regulations are often lobbied to benefit "scale" over any real returns in safety (and there is undoubtably a bigger risk from large-scale operations, due simply to the amount of food they sell to the public).

But hey, I get my eggs over medium, despite that warning label at the diner that says they have to be over hard or I could get salmonela and die.
posted by klangklangston at 3:04 PM on August 30, 2007



"This is where the "less regulations for the little guy" argument falls down. Safety is safety is safety, regardless of the size of the operation. We can argue all up and down about what exactly is safe vs. what isn't, but the scale of the operation is irrelevant."


This is addressed in great detail in the Omnivore's Dilemma. The short answer is that a lot of what the inspections are there is protect you from are caused by the methods of production. Fast Food Nation covers much of the same ground in terms of what is wrong. Salatin is described as doing his slaughtering in open air fields, with his customers welcome to come and observe. If you think a dubious purple stamp is better than that, then I guess I admire your patriotism or something.
posted by thirteen at 3:42 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


there is undoubtably a bigger risk from large-scale operations, due simply to the amount of food they sell to the public

Well, that's plenty arguable, just based on simple economic reality. Home Depot can sell more and more different kinds of hammers at lower prices because of enormous benefits from its large-scale operation. Mom n' Pop Hardware can't begin to match this economy of scale, and must price the hammers higher to reflect the higher costs of bringing them to market.

In order to compete on price, Mom n' Pop must cut back somewhere, either by cutting into their own profits, or cutting something else (e.g. not competing on variety, competing on quality, offering other services, etc).

And every now and again, Mom n' Pop will cut back somewhere else, in a place that hurts. Like safety.

Of course, that's not to say that Home Depot wouldn't also cut back somewhere where it hurts if they could make another dollar. Of that, I have no doubt. But if anything, a large-scale operation with deep pockets has more incentive to pay attention to safety issues, because of its large public visibility and the threat of big lawsuits that Mom n' Pop wouldn't face, because their small size and relatively shallow pockets make them less attractive targets.

Salatin is described as doing his slaughtering in open air fields, with his customers welcome to come and observe.

I'm sure Salatin is a very nice man. Just like Mom n' Pop are very nice people and rugged individualists. Mom n' Pop, however, are not everyone. They're not even most of everyone.

dubious purple stamp

Oh, please. Put down the hash pipe. The fact that large numbers of people aren't felled by food and waterborne illnesses is testament to a system that by and large does exactly what it says it does.

There's a reason there's such a thing as Montezuma's Revenge, and it's because Third World countries have shitty (or rather, shittier) standards than the good ol' U.S. of A. There's patriotism. And then there's reality.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on August 30, 2007


How large do the numbers have to be? There are millions of pounds of meat recalled every year, and people do get sick from it. I don't argue that it is not nice to have an agency to coordinate the recalls and try to prevent it from happening, but they are there to deal with facilities that process filthy, medicated and diseased animals. Salatin's animals are more likely to become tainted by being processed in a slaughterhouse than by the method he uses. With so much bad meat out there, what assurance should I take from that inspection mark?

Are you arguing that the USDA seal means the meat the the grocery store is safer than what you can buy from Salatin?
posted by thirteen at 5:10 PM on August 30, 2007


Well, that's plenty arguable, just based on simple economic reality.

Economies of scale are very important in most economic endeavors, but if you think American agribusiness follows any kind of sane market forces you've got a lot of reading to do. Subsidies, subsidies, subsidies, price controls,etc.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:06 PM on August 30, 2007


Heh. It's alwyas funny when proponents of the free market butt up against the problem that no such thing exists.
posted by Artw at 8:23 AM on August 31, 2007


Then what is the acceptable level of E. coli the small rancher can allow into the meat?

The regulations don't say "Tested levels of E. coli should be below level x." They say "Your meat must be processed in a a facility built to x specifications using y and z processes."

If the results were all that mattered, there'd be no issue.
posted by designbot at 8:31 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The regulations don't say "Tested levels of E. coli should be below level x." They say "Your meat must be processed in a a facility built to x specifications using y and z processes."

Yet, what is being argued is that a small operation should have relaxed regulations merely on the basis of being a small operation.

So, the argument is "Your meat must be processed in a a facility built to x specifications using y and z processes, unless you have only one cow, in which case, you're a paragon of DIY individualism, so you can forget what I just said. For you, oh enlightened one, you can process the meat in a different way that makes it less costly for you, even though that could make it more dangerous for the consumer, but like I said, we really think you're a swell guy that wouldn't hurt anyone, and if the consumer gets hurt, well, maybe they should've known better."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:37 PM on August 31, 2007


Much as I enjoyed our brief moment of agreement, it pains me to see that you cannot argue against anything as presented, but only against these sad straw men.

What is NOT being argued, at least by anyone here, is that DIY operations should follow zero regulations, that they be some sort of Junior Bacteria Purveyors League with an eye on poisoning the Republic.

What IS being argued here is that regulation based on mandated process rather than mandated results a) does not serve the function of keeping our food supply safe in the best manner, and that b) mandated process rather than mandated results discriminates unduly against those without the investment capital to adopt those processes, to the detriment of a diverse food supply. These regulations distort the market in a way that people don't agree with, for fairly understandable reasons.
posted by klangklangston at 12:16 PM on September 1, 2007


Process is a pretty strong indicator of what the results will turn out to be. In fact, we can (and do) measure both. But whatever.

These are not straw men (you toss that phrase around a lot -- not always correctly -- and it drives me nuts). I'm reacting to all the "the nice guy is good" circular logic (the argumentum ad verecundiam, if you will), that a smaller operation is somehow inherently better for all involved because these operations are run by nice guys. That an "unmandated process," to paraphrase your term, will naturally (obviously!) have the same or better results because ... because ... umm ... well ... well, there's no actual reason provided other than the wishful thinking that Mom n' Pop are somehow better at this than ConAgra. That Mom's hard-earned rancher savvy is just as good as anything the FDA could possibly come up with.

Historical experience tells us that this isn't automatically the case. Moreover, historical experience tells us this has never been the case.

We can argue up and down about undue discrimination, and what is a best way to keep the shit off the meat. But the emotion-laden argument comes down to something akin to "is a farmer's market better than a supermarket?" I'm sure it's better on the taste scale, if only because it's fresher. But is it safer? Fuck that, is it cheaper? Uhh, uhh ... and then the arguments start breaking down.

It all reminds me of the unregulated burrito stands that'd spring up in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert. I'm sure the burrito guy was a nice enough fellow, but I remember asking, how exactly does he kept the free-range chicken on ice before he cooks it? I remember saying, sure they were wrapped with Jerry's spirit, but does Jerry's spirit include a means for this guy to wash his hands in the middle of the Red Rocks parking lot? At least the hot dog stands on the streets of NYC have a passing nod toward licensing...

Where this "the small guy is unfairly beat down" thinking comes from is nothing less than the cultural perception of the authentic vs. the inauthentic. Small farmers and low-fi carpenters are "keeping it real," where Kroger and Home Depot have turned all that they touch into the tasteless, the bland and the uncreative.

As if salmonella cares.

As if it matters that the nails were hammered with love.

This is, unfortunately, a fairly typical and common MeFi vibe. I struggle with this community. Eighty percent of it is cool. Best of the Web. But the other 20 percent is just so f'n predictable.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on September 1, 2007


I mean, does your buddy who's good with tools know the difference between ungalvanized, electroplated galvanized and hot-dipped galvanized nails, and the correct usages for all three?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:10 PM on September 1, 2007


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