I just got back from the Food Freedom Festival. This event, put on by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), was held in Staunton, VA and included a day at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Attending conferences is always invigorating for me, but this one was different. I’m feeling really optimistic for the future of nutrition and sustainability!
Joel Salatin is on the left and Robb Wolf is to the right. Both have been big influences on my work and contributed to my recent book.
The event kicked off with an introduction by one of the lawyers for the FTCLDF, Gary Cox. In case you’re unfamiliar with the organization, the FTCLDF provided legal assistance to consumers and farmers who are facing daunting government intervention when it comes to what foods are grown, and what consumers have the right to buy. Here’s an example: There was a case in Michigan where all farmers who were raising pigs that didn’t fit into a very narrow category of “pig” (pink, hairless, raised indoors, etc) must slaughter their pigs. Heritage breed pig farmer Mark Baker refused to put down his pigs and fought back with the help of the FTCLDF.
I’m really excited that Robb Wolf has become passionate about the FTCLDF in the last few years. He gave a moving talk, followed by a break-out panel that Laura Schoenfeld and I hosted on how we’ve dealt with going “against the grain” with our nutrition advice. I personally have faced some discrimination during the process of getting my RD (Registered Dietitian) credential; having been rejected from the first round of dietetic internships despite a 3.98 GPA and substantial work experience in the food industry. It was great to see such a large showing of paleo-leaning nutritionists and foodies come out for this event!
One of my favorite talks was by Congressman Thomas Massie, who holds two engineering degrees from M.I.T. He showed us some really great homesteading projects he’s working on, including a cooling system be designed using deep trenches his son dug and some radiators and fans. It was impressive! Massie is also the sponsor of the “PRIME Act“, intended to make it easier for small farms and ranches to sell locally raised and processed meat to consumers. H.R. 3187 the Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act, would give individual states the freedom to permit intra-state distribution of custom-slaughtered meat such as beef, pork, or lamb, to individual consumers and to restaurants, hotels, boarding houses, and grocery stores that directly serve consumers. For more information on the act and how to contact your senator, click here.
If you’ve never heard Joel Salatin speak, I highly recommend you figure out a way to do so. I sort of wish he was my dad. He’s very much like a minister when he takes the stage, and I feel exhilarated after spending time with him. His talk at the event was very different from many I’ve heard before. It was all about inspiring folks to take action. His main point is that food freedom is not a “partisan” issue – it doesn’t matter if you’re democrat or republican, a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, paleo, or whatever other nutritional plan you follow – food freedom is critical to all of us who want to exercise our right to choose what we want to eat. He led us through some questions intended us to “gently engage” those around us to start to care about right to purchase food from the producers of our choice. I’m hoping he decides to publish this talk because it was that good.
I also had the honor of attending a special dinner at Polyface farm and ate with Joel’s 92-year-old mother. Joel gave an homage to his father, who sounds like a man I would have loved to be sitting next to. I also got to spend some quality time with Sheri Salatin, Joel’s daughter-in-law, who I interviewed on the Modern Farm Girls Podcast a few months back. We were served a beautiful meal by the Polyface interns that featured chicken liver pate, farm-raised pork, and some amazing gluten free chocolate cake that made everyone’s eyes roll back in their head.
I considered skipping the farm tour, since I’ve been on it before, but I’m glad I didn’t. I got to chat with a bunch of new people, including Noelle Tarr and Kristin Kaschak, young rising Nutritional Therapy Practitioners and bloggers. Of course, I learned a ton of new things during the tour, met some incredible people, ate the best chicken of my life at lunch, and heard more passionate speeches about the importance of food freedom.
A few key quotes I gleaned from Joel:
“It is only because of cheap fuel that we’ve been able to move agriculture away from where we live”
The three ‘M’s’ of Polyface farm’s techniques are:
3. Management Intensive
Finally, when talking about industrial agriculture, Joel said, “Nature is on her knees begging you to stop raping her.”
The final day of the weekend was hosted by the Nutritional Therapy Association. I gave a talk about how all of the experiences in my life (my background in art, summer jobs on farms, diagnosis of Celiac disease, career in natural foods marketing) led me to making the decision to become a nutritionist and start this blog. My advice to the young students out there was to relax, do your best, understand that doors will open, and to know what you’re good at (and what you’re not) to hone your unique message. I’m touched by how many emails I’ve already received thanking me for the inspiration. I am so thrilled to be able to give to others what I’ve gotten from the people who mean the most to me: fire.
In the next few months, I’ll be busy finishing my internship for the RD credential. I can promise you that this fire will keep burning and you’ll see more politically-inspired posts from me in the future. As Wendell Berry said, “To be interested in food, but not in food production, is clearly absurd”. I’d like to alter that to:
“To be interested in food, but not in food politics, is clearly absurd.”
Perhaps irresponsible, even?
Let’s go beyond just talking about healthy food, to include sustainable food systems. Let’s stop sitting back, hoping others will take care of the important issues and pick up the phone. Sustainability > Abs, folks. It’s not just about how good you look naked anymore.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can help support the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, visit their site, sign up for their newsletter list, and become a member. They send out important agenda items that need action and provide easy steps so that you can make a difference.