Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Floor Speech: Food Sovereignty

Mr. Speaker, women and men of the House. I rise in opposition to the pending motion on LD 475, An Act To Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities.

Concerning the most important bill that I have presented to the first regular session of the 126th Legislature, I find myself in the minority report. I guess you could call that poetry.

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 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.

“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. . . . "

An imperative principle of action.

Food sovereignty equals self-determination.

Who gets to decide the rules and regulations about our local food supply? Who do you trust? The multinational biotech companies that so desperately want to control our food supply by genetically engineering seeds and patenting those same seeds and then influencing the FDA and the USDA to create policies that serve to drive small food producers out of business?

Do you trust a food system that allows chickens to be slaughtered at a rate of 175 per minute, with minimal human oversight, the carcasses dipped in bleach and chemical brines in order to make them fit for human consumption? A food system that allows for hamburger filler to be washed in ammonia, also known as pink slime, in order to kill E. coli and make that meat fit for human consumption?

Or, do you trust the person in your neighborhood or community who produces food with wholesome ingredients and a heaping bowl of love?

If you control food, you control the people.

I’m a farmer who still works the land by hand. Mr. Speaker, I've never been more committed to anything in my life. Never been happier. There is simply nothing like living off the land and nothing simpler. Knowing exactly where your food comes from because you produce it yourself. I am truly blessed. My customers appreciate every bag of spinach, jar of granola, or crown of broccoli they get from the farm. And I appreciate them. Their concerns and requests, their own gardening triumphs and failures. Our exchange of ideas and recipes and tricks. I never would have imagined I would become such an integral part of a local food chain. Never would have imagined I could sell thousands of dollars of organic produce and homemade foods in a single season directly to patrons without vending at a farmer’s market or supplying a restaurant. Never would have imagined folks would stop by simply to thank me for doing what I do even though they buy their produce at another local farm. I think now of Michael Pollan's words from his must-read book In Defense Of Food, “In a short food chain… [f]ood reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you.”

Think about that.

I’m going to say it again: In a short food chain food reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you.

Mr. Speaker, in 2009 the people of Maine demanded an expanded medical marijuana law, even though marijuana is illegal at the federal level. Have the feds shut it down?

If the people of the Maine, through their representatives, make a firm stand on who has the right to make the rules for their own food, then how can we go wrong? The threat of the FDA or the USDA coming in and taking over everything or shutting down all Maine food producers is a fear-based argument that simply doesn’t hold water.

Food sovereignty is Home Rule for food.

Food sovereignty means local control.

Food sovereignty is rural economic development.

Food sovereignty means farmers and fishers have first rights to local and regional markets.

Food sovereignty means empowered communities all over the State working together to advance local food systems that ensure health and dignity for all Maine people.

Food sovereignty means that all people will have access to healthy, wholesome, locally produced and delicious food.

Food sovereignty means that farmers, farm workers, ranchers, and fishers will have control over their lands, water, seeds, and livelihoods.

The people in 9 towns in the state of Maine voted to enact Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinances. What the Legislature can do today is uphold these ordinances, grant them a bit of teeth, if you will, and relieve the state of Maine from using taxpayer dollars to file suit against a one-cow farmer who feeds the people in his community the food they want to eat

LD 475 as amended states, “Pursuant to the home rule authority granted to municipalities by Title 30 and by the Constitution of Maine, Article VIII, Part Second, and notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, local government may regulate food systems by local ordinance.”

Do we really want to turn that down because we’re afraid of the federal government?

We invoke Home Rule frequently when discussing local education systems. Why can’t we apply that same principle to local food systems?

Think about that.

Think about that.

If you control food, you control the people.

Food is life. Food is life.

We the People must have control over our own lives.

We the People insist.

Food is life.

I humbly ask that you vote against the pending motion and affirm the right of local communities to govern their own food systems as they see fit.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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