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Day 142 – Screw Your Freedom of Speech! (On Food Oppression)

July 23, 2010

Dateline: Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand – Friday, July 23, 2010

The freedom of speech is totally overrated. When was the last time you exercised it? Wrote your congressman? Participated in a protest? Published an article that would have landed you in jail if you were in communist China or Vietnam? Even been so fired up from an anti-establishment editorial that you took any action against your government? I’m guessing never, if ever.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that you’ve been hungry. You might have also wished you could find a nearby food hawker or neighbor selling good home cooked food out of their garage. Actually, you probably didn’t even think those were options. “A food hawker or neighbor eatery, what’s that?”

And that’s my point. What happened so that we no longer can buy food from someone we trust but have the freedom to march around the block (at reasonably restricted times and in reasonably restricted ways) to protest that fact? Is the West really free when it comes to the freedoms we’d use?

Every day I get hungry. Every day I could use some tasty food provided to me by a man on a bicycle or shellfish lady cooking at a cart on the side of the road. I don’t give a hoot whether they’re licensed by the nanny state or approved by some idiot with a clipboard and a badge. I can police them myself. I can look my street vendor in the eye and see whether he’s someone I can trust. I can see into her workspace and determine if she’s hygienic. The last thing I want is my food vendor to be driven out of business because she can’t afford license fees or because some pencil pusher wouldn’t eat her food. I can figure out for myself what’s good to eat.

Food oppression is all around us. In communist San Francisco, street cart vendors have taken to the underground, only publicizing their locations on Twitter right before they show up to sell their wares. The licenses, bureaucracy, red tape, fees, regulations, inspections, all discourage people from providing a service that people want. Really, San Francisco. If you want to do some good, quit spending money on chasing these guys down and spend it on stopping that homeless guy from pooping on our sidewalks. Nobody’s lining up to pay him to do that.

Health regs also hamper small time farmers who want to grow food, raise cattle, and slaughter meat in less industrial, more humane ways. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan describes how one small-time farmer has to sell non-factory butchered meat on the sly because he doesn’t have a facility that meets (pun, hah!) FDA rules, which only contemplated large factory operations. This despite the fact that this small-time farmer allows any visitor to inspect his plant while no industrial meat producer would ever allow a civilian to tour its slaughterhouse. Tell me something isn’t broken, here.

What do I care about whether I can protest before 7 p.m. on Wednesdays in the local park or whether I can write a persuasive letter to the editor? The politicians are all coin operated anyway; they only listen when we bribe. . .errr, donate money to their campaigns, Obama included. (If you don’t think so, just read the financial reform bill and decide whether it really has the teeth to bite the banker hand that feeds the Dems. What chance does your freedom of speech have against the almighty dollar which, ironically, the Supreme Court has ruled is a form of speech.)

On the other hand, I’m hungry every day. The freedom to eat is a freedom I can use.

Here in Asia, ask a Vietnamese or Chinese living under a totalitarian government about freedom of speech and they’ll shrug. “What do I care, so long as the government doesn’t mess with me and keeps the peace?” When they say that, what I hear instead is, “Freedom of speech might be nice, but they do let me eat street food.” Asian freedoms are freedoms people use every day.

I bet if they took away your freedom of speech, the thing that’d piss you off the most is the disappearance of Facebook. Not the lack of news. Not the hampered editorialists. Not the inability to rally. We’re talkin’ Facebook.  Facebook. Man, I think that says something.

Chuck Klosterman wrote an essay wondering what it would take to get Americans to overthrow their government. His conclusion: nothing. We’re too comfortable. Too dispersed. Too disorganized. Too fragmented. Too lazy to ever get up and march on Washington, D.C. with rifles and burn the motha’ down. His best example: we couldn’t be bothered even if we found out the New Orleans Katrina debacle hadn’t been a mistake but instead was a deliberate effort by our government to kill poor people. He hypothesizes that’d we’d be upset, but not know where to focus our rage, much less perpetrate a coup.

I disagree. I’m ready to start a revolution. Let’s get a convoy together and storm Health and Human Services. Let’s pound down the doors of government and demand emancipation from the food police state. Let’s fight for our right to buy food from whomever we want. To have the right to take responsibility for how things come out in the end (in a manner of speaking).

Who’s with me? Viva la revolucion! Let’s leverage our rarely used freedom of speech into a right we can actually use: the freedom to eat.

GALLERY: Click through to see more pictures of street food and people eating on the street.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. JAS permalink
    July 31, 2010 9:06 pm


  2. August 3, 2010 7:26 am

    “To have the right to take responsibility for how things come out in the end (in a manner of speaking).”

    Of course, this is the problem, isn’t it? Most Americans seem to want someone to pay them if anything (at all) turns out badly! Look at the Toyota recall for the most recent highly-publicized example……

    Take responsibility? How 20th Century of you!

    • August 16, 2010 4:28 pm

      I really am getting crotchety and libertarian in my old age. Really. People need to learn to handle things themselves.

      For the restaurant thing, I think we should just drop government regulations except for the following: “Any restaurant patron has the right to walk through a restaurant’s kitchen and fridge once prior to being seated.” Tell me that wouldn’t get restaurant owners to whip their places into hygienic shape.

      Power to the people, man.

  3. August 16, 2010 4:32 pm

    I submitted your post to the Instapundit – it’s right down his line, and if he plugs it, you’re going to need a lot more bandwidth!!

    You’re welcome.


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