Even in job interview settings, when folks ask me what my biggest professional challenge is, I can easily name that I am not so good with authority. I also consider this one of my greatest assets. It’s why I choose leadership positions professionally, and why I love to host the dinner parties. So, naturally, resisting the food authorities resonates with me.

I should qualify this post by saying that I firmly believe in food safety regulations. However, my inner Libertarian (we’ve talked about her before) asserts that individuals have the right to, for example, consume raw milk products if they darn well please!

This morning over coffee I was reading my favourite online rag, Grist, and caught David Gumpert’s piece, “Six things you should know before defying the real food police.” Gumpert is right on that food resistance is serious business. We all know what happens when you stand up to Monsanto, for example — they put Blackwater on your trail!

So, what are the six things you should know to support you in your resistance efforts?

As more individuals contemplate resistance, it’s important to consider the ramifications. Here are a half-dozen insights I’ve gleaned from speaking with a number of resisters as to what you can expect if you defy the real food police. 

1. You will be treated harshly: The sight of agriculture agents escorted by one or two state police vehicles showing up in one’s front yard is an intimidating one for most people. The intent, of course, is to send a grim message to others who may be contemplating a similar action. Sometimes there are ongoing search warrants, as in the case of Vernon Hershberger in Wisconsin. Sometimes there are additional official orders, as in the case of Rawesome in California. 

2. Get used to the loneliness: Some individuals who resist expect other farmers to back them, and for consumers to rally to the cause. While consumers have made noise in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts by phoning local politicians, farmers are often shocked by the lack of support they receive from other farmers. One farmer who spoke out loudly after his raw dairy was shut down told me several neighboring farmers not only didn’t help, but used the event as an excuse to steal customers from him. But even those unaffected farmers who are sympathetic are mostly concerned with making a living so they can keep up on their home and equipment payments.

3. Better have your family on board: There’s little worse than publicly standing up to the authorities then having your spouse tell you shortly afterwards that you were a fool, and that s/he can’t take the pressure. One farmer told me his wife dreads his business trips for fear she’ll have to confront the authorities herself. 

4. It is stressful: You should assume you’re being watched a lot, and you never know when the authorities will show up. The authorities will play on the fear and uncertainty most people feel, sometimes keeping a farm under observation, and even waiting till both parents are gone so they can confront the teenage children left in charge and serve a search warrant. 

5. Going underground is no panacea: One farmer who stood up in protest decided after a few months to simply do her raw milk business underground, out of public view. But now, each time she gets ready to ship or transport the contraband food items, she feels increasingly nervous: “I’m not naturally a sneak.”

6. Be ready to obtain legal help: Farmers and food distributors are often loath to seek out legal help because it’s so expensive — $300 to $500 an hour isn’t unusual. Based on what I’ve observed, resisters should do whatever they can to get legal assistance. There are too many instances where search warrants are defective in one respect or another — for example, in not giving authorities the right to use force to gain entry to buildings or storage areas. Sometimes, there aren’t even laws on the books covering the authorities’ actions; in Massachusetts, agriculture authorities said “cowshare” arrangements are illegal when issuing a cease-and-desist order to Brigitte Ruthman, yet there are no laws on the books covering cowshares. She has since engaged an attorney to help her counter the case. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund can provide legal input as well. 

There’s little doubt that more farmers will stand up to what seems to many uneven enforcement of food-safety laws, which favor factory operations over smaller operations. For example, officials have linked a new strain of E. coli to actual illnesses, reports the New York Times, yet they can’t even force the large meat processors to test whether their meat is tainted with it.

Just understand that the glory days of food resistance haven’t yet arrived.

Melanie Redman

Melanie Redman

Melanie Redman is a Social Mission Collaborator with more than 10 years of direct experience in strategic, leadership and advisory roles across the social mission sector in the U.S. and Canada. She...