The Politics of Healthy Food & Green Waffles

14 May 2014 6:27 AM |Alison Buehler

Good Morning,

Most people know I really hate politics. I don't find them helpful most of the time. Democrat, Republican, Independent - it seems it really doesn't matter once elected officials join the "machine." I vote out of an obligation to the women who fought hard to win that right for me, but usually I write in a name. I prefer local action. I prefer working to improve my home, my neighborhood, and my community. These are efforts where I can see real results.

But once in a while, politics come knocking on your door. This week they sidled up to my dinner table and made themselves comfortable. When an uninvited guest comes to dinner, its hard to ignore them.

We buy our chicken from a couple who grows them naturally. This means no antibiotics, hormones, and they are raised on pasture. We also buy our pork from them and our beef from a farmer they partner with who raises it the same way. Why is this important?

1. Chicken, pigs, and beef are supposed to be raised on pasture. When they are, there are high levels of things in their meat like Omega 3s, Amino Acids, and Vitamins. When they are raised on corn in feed lots, all those good things are absent from the meat. I believe this is the primary concern for a health crisis. We simply aren't getting the nutrition we used to get from food.

2. Antibiotic resistance is huge and it is real. My husband is a physician and he is the last person to prescribe our kids antibiotics. He wants to make sure that if they ever really need them, they will work. Our food system is so full of antibiotics and hormones, they are contributing to this epidemic.

3. I like to know where my food comes from. I like that I can go out to Beaverdam Farms and High Hope farms and see my future dinner. I know most people don't like to look into the eyes of an animal they will eat, but I believe it is a more honest way to live. I want my children to know that the decisions they make have real implications. I am much more comfortable watching chickens roam around fresh grass than I am ignoring the fact that my dinner never left a 2 ft. cage. 

4. Supporting a local economy is important. Mississippians spend 85% of our food money out of state. That is crazy for a state who has lots of land and can grow year-round. We should have a thriving economy that supports physical and fiscal health. Local farmers do this.

So, when I went to make my order for my chickens from Beaverdam last week, they told me they had to shut down the bird operation. Why? Two reasons. 

a. They have reached the 1000 bird mark. Once your business does well enough to reach over 1000 birds, you have to build a certified 20,000 bird processing facility. Under federal law, if you process under 20,000 birds a year, you can operate out of this facility.

b. They are no longer allowed to sell off the farm. This means they can't sell at farmers markets or through their buying club. The buying club is so stinking convenient. You order what food you want from them on Monday online. The next week, you go to a centrally located meeting spot and pick it up. 

For some reason, the same birds that are "safe" enough to sell on the farm, are no longer safe once they leave the farm, even if they are transported in a "legal" refrigerated trailer. 

I have had long conversations with the Department of Agriculture this week, and lots of emails in order to understand all this. For example, I asked the head meat inspector for Mississippi, "Well, is there an inspection facility they can take their birds to since only inspected birds can be sold at off-farm retail facilities?" No, one does not exist in Mississippi. "Do you provide an inspector at no charge to come our to the farm to meet these requirements?" Inspectors are provided at no charge only at large facilities like Tyson.

The good news. The people I talked to at the Department of Agriculture will listen to us. They will entertain any petition we make to change the regulations so that they mirror federal regulations and practices of other states. Providing enough information and support should move this change forward.

We have started a two-pronged approach to bring sensibilities back to the table, back to my kitchen table. First, help Beaverdam raise money they need to build the 20,000 bird processing facility. This should be around $40,000. They have over 1400 people on their customer list. If everyone kicked in 50 bucks, done!

Second, petition the Department of Agriculture to change one little line of regulation that prohibits small farmers from bringing food to their customer. Beaverdam Farm is way off the beaten path. Most farms are. Requiring them to only sell to customer who visit the farm is an entrepreneurial death sentence.

Today we meet with the MDA - MS Development Authority out of Governor Phil Bryant's office. We are asking for their help in changing regulations that inhibit business growth in our largest enterprise - agriculture. The petition to change the law drafted by our lawyer will be presented to the Department of Agriculture. And then we begin 20 Calls for 20 Days to thank the Department for making these important changes. Sign up here. 

I am the mom who puts spirulina in our waffles. My kids beg for white waffles like everyone else. I tell them I only serve them green waffles because I love them. I tell them if they ever get a white waffle from me, they better worry. So instead of working in the garden today, I'm going to Jackson. In my house, Beaverdam chicken is like the green waffles.