At the Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Sen. Tom Coburn posed this situation: supposing Congress passed a law requiring all Americans to eat three fruits and three vegetables every day, would that be legal under the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce provisions?
“Sounds like a dumb law,” commented the Supreme Court justice-to-be…but she refused to say whether she’d consider it unconstitutional.
When I first heard the exchange, I figured that, despite all the government’s outrageous behavior around food in recent years, this particular notion of the government stepping in to control my food preparation and eating preferences wasn’t something likely to happen during my lifetime.
I was wrong. In clean, green, serene Vermont, something akin to Sen. Coburn’s proposal is in the process of going down.
Here’s the situation: Rural Vermont, an activist organization that lobbies on behalf of small farms and food rights, planned a series of classes for consumers on preparing raw dairy products like butter, whipped cream, yogurt, and cheese.
The first class was being held tomorrow evening in East Barnard: “Raw Milk Baked Goods, Whipped Cream, Yogurt, and Butter”. It promised to teach “the ins and outs of homemade dairy products- and how to incorporate them into tasty baked treats!” Yum!
Next up was a class on cheese making for people with some experience (“delve deeper into the biology and chemistry of moulds, yeasts and bacteria. We’ll discuss aging techniques and even spoon some curds together.”) The last class in the series was on preparing mozzarella, camembert, and farmers cheese.” (“A great class for getting into a variety of fun new products.”)
Tonight, Jared Carter, director of Rural Vermont, sent out emails suspending the classes, with this statement:
“Our dairy classes have been put on hold due to a Notice of Warning from the Agency of Agriculture’s alleging that by teaching consumers (or “unlicensed persons” in his words) how to make butter, yogurt, cheese, and other products at home Rural Vermont and our farmer hosts are in violation of Vermont law. The raw dairy processing classes are an important part of Rural Vermont’s campaign to educate consumers on raw milk and to increase exposure for farmers selling raw milk in their community. The warning threatened legal action towards Rural Vermont and our farmers. Rural Vermont does not want to put our farmer members at risk so we are temporarily suspending the classes.
“The Agency’s argument centers around its interpretation of the 2009 Raw Milk Law, in which they claim that it is illegal for farmers to knowingly sell raw milk to customers who plan to do anything to their milk besides drink it. Rural Vermont believes this violates the intent of the law and does not agree with the Agency’s interpretation. Nevertheless, until we have solid understanding of the Agency’s official policy, we have decided to suspend the classes.”
I know Jared Carter didn’t ask my advice, and besides, his organization has a great record of accomplishment on behalf of Vermont farmers–it was instrumental in a five-year battle to expand Vermont’s raw milk law the ended with new legislation in 2008 that satisfied most raw dairy producers.
But this situation is so outrageous, I’m going to offer advice anyway: Rescind that suspension order, pronto. Hold that class tomorrow afternoon, or re-schedule it, along with the other classes in your series. Invite television stations and other media to attend, and see if the Agency of Agriculture shows up. Challenge the bozos to go for a restraining order or injunction, or better yet, to come to the class and seek to interfere. I certainly will be glad to be there, and I can tell you, I won’t obey any order to leave the class. I can almost guarantee they won’t even try such theatrics. And when it’s over, you’ll have SRO in your remaining classes from all the publicity you’ll get, which at $20-40 a class, will produce some badly needed change.
Your first defense is the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment, protecting free speech. You can teach about anything you want (except maybe how to build a nuclear bomb, and even there you may have a case). You’re not part of the public school system, and as far as I know, you aren’t receiving government funds. You are your own man and your own organization, you can shout from the peaks and through the valleys of Vermont all the recipes in the world about raw dairy (and whatever else you want to teach people to prepare). And you can prepare whatever foods you want.
If my legal interpretation is erroneous, I’m sure there are lots of sharp lawyers out there who can figure out any of a dozen other constitutional protections you have that allow you to teach cooking classes. Don’t worry about paying the legal bills–at least a few of them will be willing to do it gratis, in exchange for the great publicity they’ll get from fighting such a blatant and outrageous case of food rights infringement.
And if by chance a judge grants an injunction against your classes, organize an Egypt/Tunisia/Yemen-style march. If this doesn’t get the populace worked up, I don’t know what will.
But you MUST NOT accede to this intimidation. That’s all it is, bluffery, intimidation. If you do go along with it, you are complicit in the affront the threat represents, and the goons will be emboldened to go the next step, and the next. This must not stand!?