Testimony of Representative Craig Hickman, LD 475: An Act To Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities Before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, April 2, 2013
Senator Jackson, Representative Dill and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. My name is Craig Hickman, representing Winthrop and Readfield. I stand before you today to present LD 475, An Act to Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities. The first bill I present before my own committee. I guess you can call it serendipity.
As former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, once said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”
Her name was Mrs. Meeks. Well, that was the only name I ever heard her called. I was in her kitchen only once. She, like us, lived on the North Side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, smack dab in the middle of factories that made big things and paid good wages. I couldn’t tell you if Mrs. Meeks worked in one of them or not, or even if she worked outside her home at all. All I knew is that she hailed from rural Alabama and she made a mean coconut cake. So mean it was the only cake my parents ever bought for a special occasion.
We didn’t have much. We were on food stamps, in fact.
But when we splurged, for a special occasion, we turned to our neighbor. And Mrs. Meeks made the best cakes you’d ever want to buy. She made them all in her kitchen, a place that felt like the hearth in her home that it was. Her reputation preceded her. So much so that when I began teaching myself how to bake a good cake, way back in the fourth grade, Mrs. Meeks was the cake maker I wanted to emulate. Why?
Because in every single bite of Mrs. Meeks cakes, you could taste the love.
Just as you could taste the love in Aunt Fannie’s famous seafood gumbo. Originally from rural Louisiana, Aunt Fannie migrated to Milwaukee after World War II, her expertise in creole cuisine in tow. Nobody we knew who wanted gumbo for Christmas ever made their own. They bought some of hers. Or, if they were really lucky, she invited them over to her house, sat them down right at her kitchen table, and served that spectacular ambrosia fresh out of that giant pot. We were among the lucky ones. Still, if we took any of her gumbo home with us, my father reached into his wallet and gave her a little something. She needed it to help her family make ends meet while caring for a son, challenged in so many ways.
Now what on earth do Mrs. Meeks and Aunt Fannie have to do with food sovereignty?
Well, everything—pretty much.
And even though they both lived in cities by the time I was able to partake of their culinary wizardry, their values were shaped in the rural communities from which they hailed. So were my parents’ values. Which is why my father shared some of his hunt with our neighbors whenever they needed it. Why my mother fed and bathed countless throwaway girls who knocked on our door, no questions asked.
Now, I live in a rural community. A community of people who share my values. After all, they sent me here.
I believe locally produced food is national security. I believe that access to wholesome food is a right for every citizen. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we can do better. We must. We cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single day. Maine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited people to grow, catch, trap, forage, process, prepare, and distribute enough food to feed our people and strengthen our local economies. Let us stop importing more food per capita than any other state in the contiguous 48.
I believe the best way to achieve more food self-sufficiency and security in Maine is to allow our neighbors—many of whom are small-scale farmers and/or small-scale food producers, like Aunt Fannie and Mrs. Meeks—to advertise, sell, and feed us the food we want to eat.
If you control the food, you control the people. We the people need real competition, not corporatist state control.
“People,” said Woodrow Wilson, “may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action. . . . "
Food sovereignty equals self-determination. Let us act unanimously.
I humbly ask that you vote ought to pass to codify the principles of food sovereignty into law, affirming the right of local communities to govern their food systems as they see fit.