The nonprofit Food Tank recently posed 10 questions on food policy to the presidential candidates in the 2016 race. Joel Salatin throws his hat in the ring and answers.
This query just came across my desk and provides good food for thought. I thought just for fun I’d answer these as if I were running for President. Some answers will infuriate, some will inspire. I can assure you that my only agenda is to see a million Polyfaces displace all the Monsanto and USDA demons. Enjoy.
– Joel Salatin
1. In 2014, a group of leaders in the food justice movement, including food writer, Michael Pollan, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, argued that the United States was in urgent need of a National Food Policy. Do you agree? If so, how do you plan to implement this policy?
Joel Salatin: I haven’t seen many helpful policies come out of the federal government. Official policy currently includes the right to patent life (GMOs), the right to indiscriminately spray toxic poisons all over the environment, encouragement to feed cows dead chickens and chicken manure, subsidies for land-destroying farming practices, dietary guidelines that refuse to differentiate between Twinkies and fresh-sprouted whole wheat sourdough bread. I don’t see any positives from these policies and don’t see any national will to alter these policies. Until someone can show me that more Americans want grass-finished beef and compost-grown tomatoes than their nutrient-deficient cheap counterparts, I think we’d better quit making policy to let things sort out on their own. Often the best policy is to take your hands off the airplane controls and let the plane establish its own equilibrium. We’d actually be a much healthier nation had the federal government never created a food pyramid or pushed hydrogenated vegetable oils. Since we’ve tried federal government meddling and it’s yielded disastrous results, how about we try having the federal government stand down and see what happens? Maybe we heretics would have a better chance of getting our message across instead of being burned at the stake by the USDA, FDA, Monsanto and the fraternity of orthodoxy that runs Washington.
2. According to a recent poll by The New York Times, 93 percent of Americans are in favor of labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs). What is your stance on GMO labeling, and what changes would you make towards the current policy, which does not require products to be labeled?
Joel Salatin: Labeling laws have hampered many local and small farmers from accessing the market. The label police create unprecedented barriers to market access for small entities. Having fought these battles first hand, I don’t want any more labeling regulations. If labeling restricts choice and options in the market, why do we want more labeling regulations? The fact is nobody has to buy GMO food. Know your farmer, know your food. This kind of requirement simply reduces the search for local foods because people feel like they have all the information they need at the supermarket. I’m in favor of eliminating the supermarket, not enabling the supermarket with false security so folks quit buying local. Government solutions rarely solve anything. Whenever we ask for government relief, it disempowers the citizenry and reduces freedoms, and that’s not a positive development. If you don’t know if a product has GMOs, don’t use it or buy it. That doesn’t require an act of Congress; it ultimately empowers the individual, and that’s cool.
3. There is a growing interest in organic fruits and vegetables in the US, yet our farmers are struggling to meet their consumers’ demands. How would you support small and medium-sized organic farmers? In addition, are you in favor of increasing funding for organic production?
Joel Salatin: The best way to support small- and medium-sized organic farmers is to lower the impediments to market and reduce size-prejudicial regulatory costs. This means if I want to live in a tent, or have workers or interns who want to live in a tent and participate in a grand learning/farming/food experience, we can do that without running afoul of housing, labor, and zoning police. Voluntary arrangements between consenting adults should be allowed without bureaucratic intervention. Furthermore, we desperately need tort reform so the horrendous cost of product liability insurance does not jeopardize the viability of small producers. Insurance companies demand risk abatement, which generally means industrial solutions to problems that don’t even exist on small farms. As to funding support, the best way to encourage small and organic farming is to eliminate all subsidies and concessions to the industrial food complex. That includes, by the way, free taxpayer-funded electricity to hook up the Monsanto recruitment bus at land grant universities. Eliminating crop insurance and publicly-funded research that becomes a shill for Monsanto and friends would go a long way to reducing the unfair advantage enjoyed by the entrenched industrial fraternity. We don’t need more funding for organics; we need less funding for industrial chemical destroyers.
4. According to the most recent census by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old. This is roughly six years older than the average age of farmers 30 years ago. How would you and your administration encourage young people to consider working in agriculture, and give beginning farmers a leg up?
Joel Salatin: Probably the quickest and most efficacious way would be to abolish the USDA. But that’s pretty far out, so let’s instead offer a Food Emancipation Proclamation to free up direct producer-consumer commerce from bureaucratic tyranny. I have not forgotten that as a young aspiring farmer in the late 1970s I was kept out of farming for several years because what I wanted to do—milk 10 cows and sell the milk to neighbors AT REGULAR SUPERMARKET PRICES—was illegal. And in fact, over the years government agents have tried to shut our farm down numerous times. If young people could access the market with embryonic entrepreneurial products, the explosion in successful young farmers and food choice would completely invert the food power structure. Ben Franklin was right when he said citizens willing to give up freedom for security get—and deserve—neither. Truer words were never spoken. Aspiring young farmers do not need subsidies, grants, or funding help: they need an environment of liberty to express their passions and ideas without jeopardy that failure to check a box or dot a workmen’s comp form will land them in criminal proceedings. We’re not lacking for ideas; we’re lacking in liberty.
5. In 2015, Forbes reported that 7 of the 10 worst-paying jobs in America are in the food system. Additionally, farm workers often struggle with injustice and lack of safety standards. What would you do to improve the conditions of those who work in the food industry, both on an agricultural level and in food production and sales?
Joel Salatin: The reason food workers are poorly paid is because Americans love cheap food. As long as people worship at the altar of cheap food, the system will bow to the market. People have been duped, partly as a result of USDA official-speak, to believe they could get something for nothing. As with most ills in society, this is not the government’s problem; it is the people’s problem. Unless and until people quit patronizing the system that rewards worker abuse, we will have it. If the government were not manipulating and official-speaking in the food system, perhaps we wouldn’t have so many people believing a lie. Asking for more government involvement, based on the record, is like asking for more foxes to guard the henhouse when a few foxes begin taking the chickens. Consider the government’s track record: hydrogenated vegetable oil, the food pyramid (Twinkies encouraged), feeding dead cows to cows (mad cow), genetically modified organisms (patenting life), chemical use, chlorine dredges—this list could go on for a very long time. To assume that the government is somehow more pure than business is naivete to the nth degree. We, the people, created this problem. We, the people, do not need to buy ANY food from outfits who abuse their workers. So get your nose out of People Magazine and research and then patronize food and farm organizations that treat their folks with the values you value. It’s really that simple. You can’t be for local food and bigger federal government. The two are completely antithetical.
6. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a domestic hunger safety net that helps ensure that all families can afford healthy food. This program reaches even further with the help of Double Up Food Bucks, which partners with other anti-hunger leaders like Wholesome Wave to give participants double the money to spend on locally grown produce. However, it is often devalued and deprived of resources. What would you do to eradicate hunger in America, and give families access to wholesome produce?
Joel Salatin: Ever since Lyndon Johnson started the War on Hunger, we’ve given trillions of dollars to eradicate hunger and it’s arguably higher today than ever. Clearly, what we’ve been doing has not worked. First, we need to appreciate the personal responsibility in this issue. It is not compassion to give a hungry drunk money so he can go buy some more alcohol. It is not compassion to give a smoker money so he can buy food AND cigarettes. I submit that most people who are hungry simply mismanage money so the hunger is symptomatic of a deeper underlying problem. Teresa and I deprived ourselves of TV, nice housing, and a respectable car for years in order to start this farm. If we didn’t grow it, we didn’t eat it. I’ve been to about three movies in my lifetime. We never ate prepared food. Victimhood is rampant in our country, and it does not help people either negligent, lazy, incompetent, or ignorant to give them money taken violently from folks who work their fingers to the bone and live on pennies.
So how do you help people who really need it? You get the federal government completely out of the business and turn it over to states and localities. Anything that can be done locally should be done locally. The reason all these transfer payment programs are out of hand and abused is because they’re centralized at the federal level, which guarantees inefficiency, cronyism, lack of accountability, and bureaucratic abuse. As President, I would get the federal government out of the welfare business, reduce taxes accordingly, and give it all back to communities where accountability and efficiency can actually exist.
I would eliminate the IRS, go to a flat tax with cost-of-living rebate, which would drop the size of the parasitic federal government and tax compliance business, leaving billions of dollars in the pockets of folks so they could actually afford to buy good food.
Finally, the Food Emancipation Proclamation noted above would allow any person to produce and process food and sell it to willing buyers in their neighborhood free of government tyrannical harassment. The single mom of four in a crumbling inner city could put in a garden in a vacant lot, make pot pies, heavy soups, and quiche in her kitchen and sell it to other residents in the tenement. Right now, if such entrepreneurial savvy ever expressed itself, within 5 minutes, 10 government agents would be banging on her door issuing cease and desist orders for not having a business license, handicapped access, commercial building codes, fire extinguishers, and a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Plan (HACCPP) filed with the food police. Might some bad food be produced? Possibly. But today many of these people in food deserts are eating government sanctioned junk—how about we quit being elitist and let these folks access freedom?
7. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts, or areas without access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Do you think that the government can play a role in eliminating food deserts? What would you do as President to ensure all Americans have access to healthy food?
Joel Salatin: See above. These issues are all related and they have common solutions. As someone who has felt the sting of government agents telling me that open air processing of poultry is inherently adulterating and unsanitary, that eggs not washed in chlorine baths are inherently inedible, that a farm cannot employ a delivery driver, that I can’t make a chair and sell it from a tree grown, cut and milled on my own property because that’s manufacturing and disallowed in agricultural zones—folks, whatever we’ve tried to solve with government intervention has created more problems than the risky and free-wheeling world of liberty. Frankly, I’m tired of people looking to the government for solutions. I see that attitude as exacerbating the problems identified here. Yes, these are problems. But if the government made them worse, why would anyone seek the government’s help to make them better? Let’s try some liberty for a change. I submit that freedom would not impoverish, demean, disrespect, or disempower nearly as much as increased government meddling. I think our country would operate far better if our federal government were about 20 percent of its current size and we let folks govern on a state and local level. Think of the innovative ideas that we could try if we got the heavy-handed one-size-fits-all federal government out of the arena. One area could try one solution, another, another solution. Then we could all compare different options and see track records. Right now we can’t try innovative political answers to society’s questions because we’ve arrogated to the federal government every solution, and that inherently reduces options for innovation. You can’t be for local food and then ask for bigger government; the two are diametrically opposed.
8. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), increasing temperatures, droughts, floods, and other impacts of climate change will have a drastic effect on food production, particularly in the developing world. What plans do you have to mitigate the agricultural symptoms of climate change, and to help farmers adapt?
Joel Salatin: The answer is to take carbon out of the air and put it in the soil. That requires a fundamentally carbon-centric system. I sure wouldn’t do what Virginia Governor Terry McCauliffe did last year, giving subsidies to a Chinese company to take crop residues off fields. I’d eliminate all energy subsides—all of them; shut down the Department of Energy. I’d shut down the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and let anybody brew alcohol who wanted to. Want to make biodiesel? Anybody could make it and sell it. Real time internet and high tech gadgets—all private sector—offer accountability. Eminent domain would not be allowed for any private project, from pipelines to Donald Trump’s casinos. And the US military would pull out of virtually every base around the world and let local folks take care of their problems. If they destroy each other, so be it. Shut down all the safety nets, all the free education, make this nation a place that rewards work instead of sloth and integrity instead of the lie.
All of these things would make carbon extremely valuable, so that it would be more valuable to use than to waste. Chemical fertilizer would become so expensive that thousands of jobs would be created in the private sector harvesting diseased and crooked trees for composting on farms to build soil and feed earthworms. Ultimately, my policy would be to stop making it easier to destroy soil carbon than to build soil carbon. That includes corn subsidies and alcohol subsidies that make monocrops more valuable than polycrops and annuals more valuable than perennials. Ultimately, I’d use my bully pulpit to explain to people that they can patronize farmers who build soil carbon, but I wouldn’t regulate it. I’d just preach about it and let the constant barrage of self-help citizen empowerment and the strength of a hopeful, sacred, and righteous message shame people into realizing THEY are the answer, not another government program or agency. People tend to step up to the task when armed with proper information and inspired by possibility.
9. The White House initiated several sustainable food initiatives such as Let’s Move, the White House Garden, and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Do you plan to continue these sorts of programs in your presidency?
Joel Salatin: I’d sure have a White House Garden and I’d encourage exercise and kitchen-centric homes, but I sure wouldn’t start agencies that steal money from hard-working folks just so I could redistribute it to people more like me. Good can never come from stealing, even if it’s well intentioned. What I’d do is dismantle all the impediments thrown up by the government that encourage societal dysfunction. First and foremost, I’d repeal the Food Safety Modernization Act that is terrorizing small farmers and especially unorthodox farmers and fire Michael Taylor, the czar in charge of the program, who in his younger days shepherded Monsanto’s GMO agenda into being. This kind of regulation and tyrant negates the positive initiates mentioned above. We don’t need positive initiatives. We need to quit destroying positive initiatives. That is enough to create hope and change among the citizenry without stealing more tax dollars from hardworking folks trying to make ends meet.
10. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, improving our diets by eating more fruits and vegetables could save 100,000 lives and US$17 billion in healthcare costs. What would you, as president, do to ensure that every American has access to food that is sustainable, safe, healthy, and affordable?
Joel Salatin: This is getting like a broken record. I would quit funding the things that make this access more difficult. That includes food safety laws that restrict two consenting adults from voluntarily engaging in the act of private contract (farmer selling to customer). We’ve seen a plethora of choice initiatives recently: marital choice, sexual choice, reproductive choice, gun choice, education choice—how about food choice?
For the record, I do not believe food is a fundamental right. The Biblical admonition that if a man will not work, neither let him eat indicates that unlike right to life, right to speak, right to assemble, the right to food has some requirements. While that does not mean we look the other way toward the needy, it does mean that we cheapen true human rights when we throw in being fed. Some people don’t deserve good food. To say so is to speak reason into an assumption that has become both unreasonable and uncharitable. It is not charitable to steal from a hardworking person to insure that a drug addict has enough food to rob a commuter to get money for another hit. That is enabling, not helping. And until we quit this nonsense that elevates to human rights status something that is not a human right, we will not actually attack the underlying societal causes that ultimately create more problems.
That said, the best way to insure that every person has access to food that is sustainable, safe, healthy, and affordable is to quit marginalizing, demonizing, and criminalizing the freedom of a person to acquire the food of their choice from the source of their choice. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is probably doing more to preserve this right than any organization in America, and it should be far bigger than the National Rifle Association. Until Americans are as interested in food choice as they are gun choice and reproductive choice, we will continue to wallow in the quagmire we’re currently in. The government policy and system we have was created by us, the citizens. As President, I can’t fix what we’ve created. That’s up to all of us. I can free up food choice from the tyranny of Monsanto with a Food Emancipation Proclamation. Throw in downsizing the federal government about 80 percent, eliminating the IRS with a flat tax, eliminating ALL subsidies and market manipulation, and we’d have unprecedented innovation bringing solutions to the fore that we can’t even imagine in our current limited, tyrannical, and dysfunctional state. Let freedom ring.
Reprinted with permission from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.