The Gov’t Doesn’t Like This Fix for Food Shortages

|September 20, 2022
Many empty shelves

Editor’s Note: Joel’s essay today hits on one of the most sensitive issues our society faces… food access. Take a look to see how Joel believes progress could be made… if only the government would get out of the way.

It happened again this weekend.

A discussion about food shortages and food access ended up becoming a philosophically charged argument about the vulnerable inner-city poor.

It’s a tough spot.

Those of us who plant gardens, work hard and save enough money to buy a bit of land with a house on it are dismissed as elitists who don’t care about the plight of the single mom of four in the inner city. She’s the queen of “food insecurity” and epitomizes lack of privilege and lack of access in our mega-business-dominated food system.

What is a libertarian-minded person to do for this lady?

Accused of being uncharitable and downright mean-spirited, I’ve come up with an answer that befuddles those who say they care.

I care too… and here’s how I care.

Imagine This

Let’s say one of these tough-spot moms reads Manward and drinks the entrepreneurial, bootstrapping Kool-Aid.

She realizes she could do something for herself. Most impoverished inner-city areas have vacant lots. Suppose she goes over to one of them and grows a garden with carrots, potatoes, onions and celery – all fairly easy crops to grow anywhere in the U.S.

In addition, she gets some rabbits off Craigslist and starts a small rabbitry. About the time the first rabbit fryers are ready to butcher, she has her first produce coming in.

She’s done some experimenting in her kitchen and sampling with friends and family. They say she’s a culinary wizard and tell her she could sell the pot pies she makes.

(Of course, in order to start her garden, she got rid of her Netflix subscription and sold the TV. And she doesn’t buy coffee, soft drinks, alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. She’s not on drugs and expects her children to clean up the apartment, help in the garden and feed the rabbits.)

In about four months, she’s ready for her debut.

She picks her veggies, kills a couple of rabbits and cooks up some dynamite rabbit pot pies to sell to others in her apartment complex.

The aroma attracts her neighbors, and they all come running, cash in hand, to partake in the fruits of her mastery.

In a couple of months, she is feeding most of the folks in her neighborhood. She adds a commercial oven to her apartment, has her kids making deliveries all over the community and lifts herself out of poverty.

What a delightful story.

But that’s not how it actually goes.

Cease and Desist

No. Within a day, bureaucrats start knocking on her door. One is from the health department and demands a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point compliance report.

Another is from the zoning administrator and charges her for creating a business in a residential zone.

Another is from the building inspection office and tells her that building codes are much more stringent for a business – the building’s rafters are not up to commercial code.

The workplace inspector declares her toilet substandard and her fire escape inadequate.

The fire code commissioner looks at her extension cords and says they aren’t up to code and she needs a commercially certified $1,000 smoke alarm.

Finally, the local commissioner of revenue demands a business license because economic activity can’t exist without being taxed, after all.

She buries her head in her hands, turns her newly found good-food-addicted neighbors away, and sinks back into poverty and despair.

End of story.

Critically Opposed

Caring people – including me – tend to give up on humanity too early. We tend to think everyone in a bad place must want to be there. That’s rarely the case. Getting out of a bad spot requires access to opportunity, and opportunity requires liberty.

You can’t have a bootstrap culture with suffocating bureaucracy. Indeed, you can’t have thriving small businesses when you have big government.

The two can’t coexist. They oppose each other.

The answer to both the lack of inner-city opportunities and the current food supply chain debacle is not government agencies or transfer payments. It is the freedom to create commerce with our neighbors.

I need income, and you need food. It’s that simple.

And what about food safety? Those who are fearful can continue going to the supermarket. Those who want to proceed in faith can patronize a neighbor and friend.

The answer to both food supply issues and poverty is duplicating production and entrepreneurship. Centralization in both government and food production does not yield the benefits nor efficacy of individual initiative spread across a broad spectrum of people and places.

Cornell University studied the food system a decade ago. It concluded that every U.S. metropolitan area except New York City had enough unpaved land to grow all of its own produce and fruit (not meat and milk) within the city boundaries. And even NYC could do it by using a 10-mile circle around the city.

Folks, we don’t have a food security problem. We have a freedom and imagination problem.

The solutions to empty store shelves and the vulnerability of single moms in the inner city are one and the same…

Liberty to access the market and bring personal resources into commerce.

It’s really that simple.

This kind of thinking may not immediately solve every problem. But if enacted even partially, it would so change the fabric of the food and poverty tapestry that we could hardly imagine what tomorrow’s threads might weave.

Joel Salatin
Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer. Others who like him call him the most famous farmer in the world, the high priest of the pasture, and the most eclectic thinker from Virginia since Thomas Jefferson. Those who don’t like him call him a bioterrorist, Typhoid Mary, a charlatan, and a starvation advocate. With a room full of debate trophies from high school and college days, 12 published books, and a thriving multigenerational family farm, he draws on a lifetime of food, farming and fantasy to entertain and inspire audiences around the world.