If The Government Says That It's Not About Freedom, Then It's Just NOT

In the wake of government raids on organic food collectives for the crime of selling raw milk, it would be easy to follow the lead of the Los Angeles Times and seize the opportunity to make lighthearted fun of the hippies, and foodies, and hippie foodies:

With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.

The "hemp-clad workers" is a masterful touch; I wish I'd written that.

Or, you know, you could examine whether we should be thrilled about the government raiding stores where willing participants sell, and knowing participants buy, exotic food items that satisfy their beliefs about "organic" and "natural" food. Let's be clear: this isn't the Atherton Safeway carelessly putting out raw milk where innocent, unaware Susie Soccermom from the burbs is going to pick it up by accident and give it to little Dakota and Logan. This is an organic collective selling overpriced specialty goods to informed (kind of) consumers who for philosophical reasons want their produce and dairy goods to be as organically filthy and free of corporate taint as humanly possible without them wresting it non-exploitatively from the ground and the empowered cow's teat themselves. Should we really applaud the government stopping them?

The tricks, in discussing limits on government authority to micromanage our lives, are to (1) be wary of the government's categorical frames, and (2) recognize that safety and freedom often exist on a continuum.

The government likes nice, neat frames. The government likes to create categorical exceptions to rights, then cram as much as possible into those categorical exceptions to increase its power. The government likes to get you to accept these big categories first — like "safety" and "homeland security" — and then tell you that what it's doing fits entirely into those categories, with nothing left to go in the category marked "freedom." The government's rationale for pestering hippies is no different:

"This is not about restricting the public's rights," said Nicole Neeser, program manager for dairy, meat and poultry inspection at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "This is about making sure people are safe."

The government would prefer you believe that its actions are all about one thing or the other, like a light switch. The government doesn't want you to contemplate how safety and freedom are incremental trade-offs on a sliding scale — because then you might start questioning how far the scale has slid in one direction, or maybe even question whether the government, in light of widespread dishonesty and incompetence, really improves safety with its meddling.

But the L.A. Times — ostensibly the government's critic, in longtime practice its compliant lapdog — is unlikely to raise those questions.

Hat tip.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    This makes me think of Zero Hedge's comment about the complete irrelevance of traditional media (http://www.zerohedge.com/article/irrelevance-traditional-media-reporting).

    The thrust of their message is that large, traditional media companies are so ingrained and have so much invested in maintaining the status quo (access, influence, etc.) that they are completely worthless when it comes to providing real news. There's a reason we're hearing about the Afghan was from WikiLeaks and not the NYT. Expecting a large newspaper to act like the 4th Estate instead of the 4th Branch is a bit of a stretch nowadays I think.

  2. Imaginary Lawyer says

    So large commercial groceries should be subject to onerous regulations that we don't imposed on those nice hemp-wearing organic collectives because, dude, they're like for the people? Or are we just trusting the LA Times's reporting skills for some unusual reason?

  3. Imaginary Lawyer says

    Fair enough.

    While it's wise to be cautious of government, I suspect Neeser's quote was less about "we're the government, trust us" *Jedi hand wave* than about responding to the charge that it's The Man picking on the hippies at the behest of Big Milk. That meme was used very profitably by unscrupulous "dietary supplement" companies to avoid any oversight of their industry.

    As for applauding the government, this is not about the government forbidding people from drinking raw milk; it's perfectly legal to buy and sell raw milk in California, provided you have the appropriate permits. Later in the LA Times article it's noted that the owners of Rawesome apparently thought they had a cute way to get around all those silly rules about running a "store".

    Interestingly, it appears that other groceries catering to the faux-hippies stopped selling raw milk not because of The Man, but because of The Money. Specifically, because liability insurance was too expensive; in other words, the market decided that the potential costs from harm caused by drinking raw milk outweighed the profit of selling it.

  4. mojo says

    “This is about making sure people are safe.”

    Whether they want to be or not. Safety Uber Alles!

  5. says

    I'd be opposed to the raw milk ban but for the fact that parents may end up killing their children. This isn't a "what about the children" lament so much as a feeling that parents who give their kids raw milk are committing the same gross crime against science, common sense and the actual well-being of their own kids as the folks that won't vaccinate their kids are committing.

  6. Patrick says

    Parents can give their children cigarettes and beer Charles, with the government none the wiser. Yet they're allowed to purchase cigarettes and beer, even though these products are far more dangerous than raw milk from a farm that observes proper sanitation.

    For that matter, we don't force parents to vaccinate their children, for reasons that are no doubt stupid.

  7. Imaginary Lawyer says

    Patrick, are parents who give their children cigarettes and beer doing so legally, or merely escaping the government's notice? It's also, as far as I can tell from the article, not illegal to purchase raw milk; the problem is selling raw milk without the appropriate permits. Likely children are part of the rationale because it's legal to give your kids milk (not so much giving them Jack Daniels) and kids tend to consume a lot of milk.

    Which is a long way of saying I'm not really following your rhetoric.

  8. says

    They mention that there was a raid in Minnesota, but they don't mention that it was after several people got sick in an e. coli outbreak traced to a single farm, run by a guy with a long history of serious food safety violations. After they found massive e. coli contamination on his farm, the guy still denied the possibility that his products were contaminated, and loudly proclaimed how good for you they were.

  9. says

    Raw milk is a bad idea for adults and a worse one for kids. There is no nutritional benefit to it, and it's dangerous. "Nuff said.

  10. Fnord says

    I'm fond of the government's action, either, but be fair to the LA times.

    The opening is flippant, true. But it's making fun of the police at least as much as the hippies (probably more).

    Then you quote the possibly the most pro-government line in the whole piece, ignoring:
    "But raw milk in particular has drawn a lot of regulatory scrutiny, largely because the politically powerful dairy industry has pressed the government to act."
    ""This is about control and profit, not our health," said Aajonus Vonderplanitz, co-founder of Rawesome Foods. "How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?""

    As for the actual players, neither really comes out looking clean. The Rawsome owners appear to be trying to do an end-run around a licensing system:
    "It is legal for licensed dairies to sell raw milk at retail outlets in California and 10 other states, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures. "
    Licensing isn't exactly free-market niceness, but it's not a ban, either.

    As for the government, you have police doing guns-drawn raids over licensing issues. Next thing we know, they'll need a SWAT team to issue parking tickets.

  11. Mary says

    Shay – "Raw milk is a bad idea for adults and a worse one for kids. There is no nutritional benefit to it, and it’s dangerous. “Nuff said." It's not so much that your statements are completely wrong & obviously uneducated, but the sheer carelessness & confidence with which you so self-righteously spout your ignorance as some sort of authoritative opinion. You are, in however small a manner, a shining example here of the complete ignorance of this country's population when it comes to nutrition. No surprise that we are the fattest & sickest country on the face of the planet. Thanks so much for sharing.

  12. CIA says

    Ha these fools are stupid ! GOVERNMENT SUCKS ! guess ppl will be reading books on the scum bags who screwed over the country in 2010 ! RAW IS BETTER !