Monday, October 31, 2011

Land of the free? --Food freedom

Here's a story you should probably be aware of.

Beware: Your freedoms are being taken away.

This story has to do with food, food preparation, and government overreach.

I first heard about this from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
Farm-to-Fork Dinner Fiasco
By Laura Bledsoe | October 24, 2011

What an evening we had this last Friday night! It had all the makings of a really great novel: drama, suspense, anticipation, crisis, heroic efforts, villains and victors, resolution and a happy ending.

The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our young interns were teaching and sharing their passion for farming and their role in it. (A high hope for our future!) The pig didn’t get loose.

Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely. The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good.

And then, …

for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down. As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.

Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved. I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit”.

If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine.

Stunned, we immediately complied.

We were in the middle of our harvest day . . . but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee. (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?) Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out.

She came literally while our guests were arriving!

In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals. The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.

Susan deemed our food unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because:
  1. Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them. (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.)
  2. Some of the meat was not USDA certified. (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)
  3. Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)
  4. Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.
  5. We did not have receipts for our food. (Reminder! This food came from farms not from the supermarket! I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)
At this time Monte, trying to reason with Susan to find a possible solution for the problem, suggested turning this event from a “public” event to a “private” event by allowing the guests to become part of our farm club, thus eliminating any jurisdiction or responsibility on their part. This idea infuriated Susan and threatened that if we did not comply the police would be called and personally escort our guests off the property.

This is not the vision of the evening we had in mind! So regretfully, again we complied.

The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the food.

I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can.

Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away! I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food.

We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day. (A personal family choice to use our own food.) We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health. I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).

I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs. (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food. We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.)

Again, a call to Susan and another negative response.

Okay, so let me get this right.

So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?!

Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?

Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, [but] to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.

Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death. Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill! . . .
If you've been involved in any of the modern freedom fights, you know the Bledsoes made several mistakes when they meekly acquiesced to the demands and interpretations of the health department.

When the health department called and said their event was "public," Laura was correct to wonder, and she should have asked; no, she should have demanded for the legal chapter-and-verse reference for the definition. Laura and her husband should not have "immediately complied."

But then, having complied, when the inspector came and began telling them what they could and could not feed their guests: whence the craven asking the inspector if they could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day? And after the negative response to that supplication, why the craven request to be permitted to feed the food to their pigs?

The emotional direction of Laura's internalized question was correct: "Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?" The problem is, the answer implicates her: She and her husband gave the health department and this unseen woman named Susan and Susan's visible agent Mary . . . --She and her husband gave them the right when they abjectly bowed to and did what these people demanded.


Happily, the story doesn't end there.

Somehow, as the last of the food was being destroyed, Laura's husband remembered that they had joined the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) and they "even" had FTCLDF's emergency phone number on their refrigerator.

"We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion," Laura writes. "The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America! [But] not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms! The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment! Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown! I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates."
Well, I made the call, told my story and within a short period of time received a phone call back from the FTCLDF’s General Counsel, Gary Cox.

When told the story, he simply suggested that we apply our fundamental constitutional right to be protected against “unlawful search and seizure.”

I simply had to ask Mary two questions. “Do you have a search warrant?” “Do you have an arrest warrant?”

With the answers being “No”, I politely and very simply asked her to leave our property. As simple as that! She had no alternative, no higher power, no choice whatsoever but to now comply with my desire.

She left in a huff making a scene shouting that she was calling the police.

She left no paperwork, no Cease and Desist order, no record of any kind that implicated us for one thing, (we had complied to all their orders) only empty threats and a couple of trash cans full of defiled food.
Laura tells the story of what happened after the inspector left--including the police visit, the chef's hard work to make a new meal from scratch, and many other worthwhile details. If you like "the rest of the story" kinds of stories, I encourage you to read the rest of the story.

Laura Bledsoe concludes her article with the following comments:
I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the hand of providence helping us in the work of this farm.

As hard and demanding as this work is, I KNOW that this is what we are meant to do.

I KNOW that it is imperative that we stand up for our food choices.

I KNOW that local, organic, sustainable food produced by ourselves or by small family, local farms is indispensible to the health and well-being of our families and our communities now and in the future! If this work were not so vitally important, the “evil forces” would not be working so hard to pull it down. . . .

We were victorious, we will be victorious, we must be! Our grandchildren’s future is at stake! . . .

I feel that we have been compelled to truly become active participants in the ongoing battle over our food choices. This is just one small incident that brings to our awareness how fragile our freedoms are. We are now ready to join the fight!

We would encourage all of you who can to contribute and to become a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. They are not only fighting for the farmers, they are fighting for the consumers to have the right to choose. You can find them at

As I close, I am reminded of the passage written so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
The same battle continues. I pray the result of the battle will be the same, that we have been “endowed by our Creator with . . . life and liberty.” . . .

Monte and Laura Bledsoe
Written from Quail Hollow Farm
October 24, 2011

Sadly (probably in keeping with their apparently normally compliant personalities), neither the Bledsoes nor anyone else on the farm that evening shot more than the briefest few seconds of the inspector's activities.

You can see them in the first 16 seconds of this video. (Sorry I couldn't put the video directly on this page. Every time I did, it wanted to begin playing immediately.)

There's interesting commentary after the first 16 seconds. The chef's response from 1:20 to 1:45 absolutely blows me away. How did he ever control his emotions so well? I think I would be throwing things. I find the last 30 seconds or so, too, particularly poignant: "It makes you wonder: Who owns America?"

The chef makes about a 4-minute speech in this segment. Again, imagine the outrage you might feel if you were a professional chef being told to throw away thousands of dollars of your work. Here he responds with grace even as he outlines the specific--and crazy--charges the health agent laid against the food he had been preparing AND as he contemplates cooking an entire new meal from scratch for 100 guests in 45 minutes. . . .

Ready to do something about the future of your food rights in America?
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