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Betsy Garrold of Knox is the president of the board of directors of Food for Maine’s Future.
Over the last 10 years, I have worked with a dedicated group of volunteers — farmers, eaters, value-added food producers and many others — in an attempt to come up with sensible policies that work to support our local food system. This work has culminated in Question 3 on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Relocalizing our food system and building our communities is the greatest insurance policy we can have against disruptions of every kind, be they economic, political, environmental or a global pandemic. Resilience is built into the DNA of the people of Maine. This constitutional amendment allows us to manifest that resilience by taking back local control of our food system.
On Nov. 2, the people of Maine have an opportunity to once again lead the nation by passing a Right to Food Constitutional Amendment. When over 90 percent of the food consumed in the state is shipped in “from away”, that leaves us vulnerable to the smallest disruption to our food infrastructure. This is something that is playing out right now as this second wave of COVID-19 frays the already tattered edges of our corporate food system.
I recently saw a tweet asking folks who don’t have WIC to please think twice before purchasing certain foods that are the only things allowed for purchase by WIC recipients. How sad is that? The shelves of our neighborhood grocery stores are so bare of some foods that we have to truly consider if we are taking food out of the mouths of vulnerable women and children.
This referendum comes from the Legislature because that is the only way to amend our constitution. A resolution goes to the Legislature, gets passed by at least 2/3 of both houses (in the case of this bill it passed by 75 percent) and then goes to the people as a ballot question. The people get the final say in amending this vital and foundational document.
A grassroots group, what I like to call “muddy boots in the halls of power,” conceived of this legislation, wrote it and worked to get it passed. No Astro-turf here. The opponents have backing from large national animal welfare groups.
But be absolutely clear about this: this amendment in no way intends to negate or overturn any current statutes. Our laws on hunting, fishing, animal welfare, food safety, etc. will all continue to be on the books. The opponents to this bill want you to think that people will be slaughtering chickens on the sidewalk or keeping cows in closets in Portland. Don’t buy the hype.
This is a common sense amendment, brought to you by hardworking, hard-headed Mainers who see the shape of things to come if we continue down the road of increasing consolidation in the corporate food system.
And this is what the constitution will say if we pass this referendum: “Right to food. All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds, and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being, as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.”
I have to agree with Rep. Justin Fecteau, a sponsor of the legislation: “While most bills are simple text written in statute in order to convey a message, this resolution, to establish a right to food, is pure poetry. Whether it is the theory of Evolution or of Creationism, the Right to Food is the Original Right of all living beings. … This isn’t a bill, it isn’t a resolution, it’s a manifesto of our Original Right. It’s a public health statement, it’s an affirmation of our relationship with Mother Earth, and it speaks to the spirit of Maine.”
All of this and so much more is why a yes vote on Question 3 is the right and decent thing to do.