Photo credit: Supreme Court Pediment by user Kevin Harber

Six Ways Today’s Food Rules Hurt Sustainability

Food lawyer and scholar Baylen Linnekin shares six ways that today's food rules hurt sustainable food producers and consumers. For more on food rules like these, check out his book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us, available now.

1. Focusing on processes rather than results. Today, federal, state, and local food-safety rules hurt sustainable food producers by mandating processes that often don’t make sense, don’t make food safer, and are too expensive. Instead, we need to mandate good outcomes, which means, for example, requiring food sellers of all sizes to keep fresh meats chilled below the 40 degree Fahrenheit danger zone. What it doesn’t mean is requiring expensive cooling equipment to chill food, since many smaller sellers can achieve good outcomes with an inexpensive ice chest. 

2. Prohibiting you from growing your own food. Zoning rules in cities and towns across America have caused homeowners and renters alike to face fines, arrest, and the destruction of their fruit and vegetable gardens. If that sounds outrageous, that’s because it is.

3. Turning school lunch into food waste. We waste nearly 40% of our food, meaning there are more than enough leftovers to feed everyone in this country. More people are realizing this to be true and devising thoughtful ways to combat food waste, yet the USDA’s National School Lunch Program actually contributes to this problem. Instead, school lunch could—and should—be a healthy way to help eliminate food waste from restaurants and at home.

Lunch at DC Public Schools on 2012-10-09
A school lunch in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: DC Central Kitchen via Wikimedia Commons

4. Favoring large producers. During the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Time magazine reported that the USDA was “skeptical of amateur farmers.” Unfortunately—given the agency’s billions in subsidies for large producers and food safety rules that push out small producers—not much about the USDA’s attitude has changed in the last 80 years. “Big” doesn’t mean “bad.” Rules should ensure food producers of all sizes can thrive. 

5. Outlawing food donations to the homeless and less fortunate. Cities across the country—including Houston, New York City, Orlando, and others—have banned or severely curtailed our right to share food with the less fortunate. That’s awful for those in need, not to mention that it encourages us to turn healthy food into food waste that clogs up our landfills. 

6. Wasting tens of thousands of tons of edible seafood. Certain restrictions on fishing make sense—including those that ban the cruel and species-endangering practice of shark finning. But others are a waste. Literally. Rules that require fishermen to throw edible “bycatch” back into the ocean in the misguided effort to depress demand is one example of a rule that’s creating tons of waste while harming—rather than helping—stocks of threatened fish.