Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights
The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat
Do Americans have the right to privately obtain the foods of our choice from farmers, neighbors, and local producers, in the same way our grandparents and great grandparents used to do?
Yes, say a growing number of people increasingly afraid that the mass-produced food sold at supermarkets is excessively processed, tainted with antibiotic residues and hormones, and lacking in important nutrients. These people, a million or more, are seeking foods outside the regulatory system, like raw milk, custom-slaughtered beef, and pastured eggs from chickens raised without soy, purchased directly from private membership-only food clubs that contract with Amish and other farmers.
Public-health and agriculture regulators, however, say no: Americans have no inherent right to eat what they want. In today’s ever-more-dangerous food-safety environment, they argue, all food, no matter the source, must be closely regulated, and even barred, if it fails to meet certain standards. These regulators, headed up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with help from state agriculture departments, police, and district-attorney detectives, are mounting intense and sophisticated investigative campaigns against farms and food clubs supplying privately exchanged food-even handcuffing and hauling off to jail, under threat of lengthy prison terms, those deemed in violation of food laws.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights takes readers on a disturbing cross-country journey from Maine to California through a netherworld of Amish farmers paying big fees to questionable advisers to avoid the quagmire of America’s legal system, secret food police lurking in vans at farmers markets, cultish activists preaching the benefits of pathogens, U.S. Justice Department lawyers clashing with local sheriffs, small Maine towns passing ordinances to ban regulation, and suburban moms worried enough about the dangers of supermarket food that they’ll risk fines and jail to feed their children unprocessed, and unregulated, foods of their choosing.
Out of the intensity of this unprecedented crackdown, and the creative and spirited opposition that is rising to meet it, a new rallying cry for food rights is emerging.
Reviews and Praise
"Before the advent of pasteurization in the 1860s, there was no food processing and little regulation. Since then, “a lot has changed in attitudes and approaches toward food safety,” despite what some believe is evidence suggesting chemical processes that match FDA standards are unhealthy and raw foods are not dangerous. So claims journalist David E. Gumpert, who makes a strong case in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights that restrictions on raw food distribution and consumption are impinging our basic rights as American citizens.
The journey begins when Gumpert introduces readers to Dan Allgyer, an Amish farmer whose home was raided by the FDA when the agency discovered he was selling unpasteurized dairy products to consenting consumers through a food club. Though he’d been running his business for many years, Allgyer began to worry when hearing of other farmers who had been forced by the FDA to destroy thousands of dollars worth of food, even made to pour bleach over it so they could not feed it to their own pigs.
The examples Gumpert provides of overregulation—such as the illegality of raw milk, even when produced for private use by a family cow, and the FDA’s destruction of raw foods that tested negative for harmful bacteria—are made more assertive by quotes from first-hand witnesses, legal documents, and testimonies, which he skillfully weaves into the narrative to make for both an engaging and authoritative read.
Also effective are Gumpert’s inclusions of a short history of food processing and FDA regulations, as well as statistics regarding how safe it is to consume raw food. He shares the stories of parents of children with ADHD and asthma who have shown improvement without medication, crediting their health to daily consumption of raw milk.
While the lay reader may have difficulties following the pasteurization process lingo and legal jargon, those with knowledge of food regulation, farmers and co-op members, or those interested in public administration, will admire Gumpert’s efforts. This book is not simply a portrayal of people who have been affected by the increased enforcement of FDA regulations, but is more significantly an argument against regulations that infringe on Americans’ rights to choose what they eat or drink."
"[David] Gumpert (The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, 2009, etc.) illustrates how Americans have lost the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to procuring and consuming food, which he considers outrageous. Through extensive passages on organizations, such as the now-shuttered California-based Rawesome Foods, Washington, D.C.–based Grassfed on the Hill, accounts of their Amish suppliers and their encounters with the FDA as well as local public health officials, Gumpert considers some of the still largely unresolved legalities surrounding the sale of raw milk, pastured eggs and other raw foods. He also presents a brief overview of issues familiar to those engaged in food rights activism, including debates on the merits of raw milk in alleviating health problems versus fears of pathogens and outbreaks. Gumpert makes it clear that he sides with the right for private groups to operate without interference, raising basic yet worthy questions on fundamental rights with well-chosen examples of police overreaction, including undercover raids, trespassing, confiscation, mass-disposal of foods and dramatic arrests. Still, he does not write with an overly alarmist tone and fairly portrays the quirks and flaws in the individuals involved—e.g., author and war food activist Aajonus Vonderplanitz.
Enriched with historical references ranging from Pasteur to de Tocqueville, this is an accessible, if at times exhaustively detailed, work valuable for its reportage of incidents that have remained largely unknown to the average citizen."
“It seems far-fetched to think that ‘police’ in black suits would make an assault on what we-the-people have forever assumed was our right to eat what we want to eat. Based on an extraordinary journalistic investigation, David Gumpert makes a compelling case that we are witnessing a concerted national program to shut down the buying and selling of pure, wholesome, unadulterated food—farm by farm and state by state. These assaults, being carried out on farmers in the name of ‘food safety,’ are jeopardizing our basic liberties, which must include access to foods that keep us healthy. There is no bigger story, and Gumpert has told it in a compelling, highly readable fashion.” --Abby Rockefeller, president of the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems and author of the scientific paper “Civilization and Sludge”
“A wakeup call for anyone who eats, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights is an exposé on the American government’s calculated attack and sinister use of brute force on family farmers and consumers involved in the local food movement. Through harrowing tales of government spying and raids, David Gumpert demonstrates how complacency has allowed corporations to manipulate federal agencies and gain complete control of our entire food supply. If you care about what your family eats, read this book.”--Linda Faillace, author of Mad Sheep: The True Story of the USDA’s War on a Family Farm
“An issue this important should have its own revolutionary flag. The image would show a farmer and a neighbor exchanging food above the classic motto ‘Don’t tread on me.’ This is a revolution that needs to happen. What could be more important to all of us than control over the quality of food we put in our bodies?”--Eliot Coleman, author of The Winter Harvest Handbook, Four-Season Harvest, and The New Organic Grower
"Journalist Gumpert (The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights) chronicles the increasing government regulator crackdowns on private food clubs and the farmers who provide for them, drawing vocal and heretofore unnoticed attention to the lack of freedom Americans have over what they eat, due to the watchful eye of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The book contains many disturbing examples, from the farmer who faced jail time for providing raw milk to customers without proper licensing or labeling—though they were clamoring for the product, owned the cows through a co-op, and also never became sick—to the distributors for food clubs who saw close to six figures worth of food destroyed by regulators on cursory evidence, followed by their own trip in the back of a paddy wagon. Unfortunately, the book reads like a call to arms for those who already share Gumpert’s point of view. The book would have benefitted from further discussion of the few examples where people did become sick from private food sources, and analysis of the government regulators’ perspective. Despite the occasionally chaotic narrative, Gumpert commendably draws attention to a multitude of injustices committed in the name of food safety."
“With incredible clarity and masterful storytelling, David Gumpert leads us on a journey into the trenches of America’s battle over food rights. No one knows this terrain and understands the implications as thoroughly as Gumpert, and the result is a book that will by turns enrage and inspire you. The battle for the right to nourish our bodies with real food must be won, and this book is an essential part of making that happen.” --Ben Hewitt, author of The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food
“This book will get you fired up! David Gumpert makes an eloquent case for the importance of food rights and documents the actions of government regulators against small farms and buyers clubs. These infuriating stories are woven together and contextualized by Gumpert’s insightful legal and political analysis. For anyone interested in reclaiming food, this book shows you that you are part of a larger political struggle.” --Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, and Wild Fermentation
“The 18th century was the century of political rights; the 19th century was the century of women’s rights; the 20th century was the century of civil rights. The challenge of the 21st century will be the struggle for food and farming rights. Thanks to the work of David Gumpert in chronicling this ongoing battle, we have a roadmap for establishing the right to access the foods of our choice. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights is highly recommended for anyone interested in family farms and nutrient-dense food.”--Sally Fallon Morell, president, The Weston A. Price Foundation
"David Gumpert plucks out some of the most salient battles in this current food war and brings them to our awareness with the storytelling genius of a spy novel. The intrigue, the angst, the heartache and heroism are all displayed."--Joel Salatin, from the Foreword