Question 3 is an amendment to enshrine a right to food in our Constitution.

If passed, the following language (emphasis mine) will be added to the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of Maine: “Right to food. All individuals have a natural, inherent, and alienable 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.”

As someone who cares deeply about food self-sufficiency, individual rights and civil liberties, this issue is near and dear to my heart. Which is why I’ve advocated for this amendment for six years, sponsoring the first two iterations of the resolution when I served in the House as a two-term House chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

In other words, we the people of Maine, through our representatives and senators, are “behind” this referendum question, not some ballot-question committee funded by foreign governments or foreign-owned multinational corporations.

State and federal agencies and courts in the U.S. have yet to recognize the right to food as a fundamental liberty right. In fact, as recently as 2010, the Food and Drug Administration argued in federal court that we have no “right to consume or feed children any particular food,” that there is “no ‘deeply rooted’ historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds” and that people have “no right to their own bodily and physical health” and therefore cannot obtain any food they wish.

Our ancestors ate wild turtle soup, steamed snails, fried grasshoppers, fire-roasted grubs, and raw fish eggs, and lived to tell about it. Our ancestors figured out how to make hog intestines, pig feet, beef tongue and brains, chicken hearts, thymus glands and pork belly taste good. And lived to tell about it.

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Fast forward several centuries, and the government agencies that are supposed to ensure food safety didn’t seem to care much about the quality of the meats available in the neighborhood grocery stores during my childhood in Milwaukee. For the exchange of our food stamps and our hard-earned money, the only chicken available would be so yellow with age and degradation, my mother would soak it overnight in vinegar and lemon water to kill whatever might live on it, then stew it for hours in a pressure cooker to kill anything else. Twenty minutes before dinner, she would drop dumplings in the savory pot liquor and build a part of heaven smack dab in the middle of our kitchen. We lived to tell about it.

The only beef steaks and pork chops available at the same store were so gray we felt safe to eat them only after they were charred past well-done in the oven’s bottom broiler and then smothered in homemade gravy and sautéed wild mushrooms our neighbors harvested on weekend camping trips. We lived to tell about it.

When yellow chicken and gray beef steaks were among the only animal protein choices available to us at the store, it was no surprise, then, that my father would go hunting, legally, with the other fathers in our neighborhood to score opossum, raccoon, squirrel and rabbit, all of which went into the pressure cooker with his garden-grown carrots, potatoes, celery and onions to create a wild game stew so good I could never eat enough. Or, he would fish, legally, for perch or trout in Wisconsin’s pristine lakes and slow cure the fish, sometimes whole, sometimes filleted, in his backyard, hand-built smoker for longer keeping. We lived to tell about it.

No deeply rooted historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds? That’s an argument in favor of a failed paternalistic food policy served up with a steaming pile of revisionist history. Back in 1888, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field argued: “I have always supposed that the gift of life was accompanied with the right to seek and produce food, by which life can be preserved and enjoyed, in all ways not encroaching upon the equal rights of others … [The] right to procure healthy and nutritious food and to manufacture it, is among those inalienable rights, which no state can give, and no state can take away … It is involved in the right to pursue one’s happiness.”

More than 75 percent of the people’s representatives and senators in the Legislature concurred – and came together – to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of Maine to vote to explicitly enumerate and enshrine the right to food, the most fundamental of our natural rights, in our Constitution. Right alongside our rights to defend life and liberty, acquire, possess and protect property, pursue and obtain safety and happiness, and alter, reform, or totally change the government when our safety and happiness require it.

Nothing sinister in that. No hidden agenda. No explicit or implicit, intended or unintended promotion of animal cruelty and abuse.

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No constitutional right is absolute and does not pre-empt statutory laws. The testimony submitted by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry was in error on the matter of pre-emption. To the contrary, constitutional rights are relative to other rights and considerations, including animal welfare, and are always subject to reasonable limitations by law, rule, regulation or ordinance.

For example, we have a right to acquire and possess property, but we can’t set fire to our own house without being convicted of arson, or fail to pay our property taxes and keep possession of it.

We have a right to free speech, but we can’t shout fire in a crowded theater or speak to promote violence that ends up in violence lest we be charged with a crime.

We have a right to keep and bear arms, but we cannot carry a gun, open or concealed, into a school or a polling station.

We have a right to the free exercise of our religion, but we cannot partake in a ritual of human sacrifice without being convicted of murder.

And these rights are already explicitly enumerated in our Constitution, with no reference to a statutory law or ordinance in their language. Right to food will be no different if ratified by the voters. And finally, perhaps most importantly, the Maine Constitution explicitly states that “the enumeration of certain rights shall neither impair nor deny others retained by the people.”

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Therefore, the proposed right to food amendment in Question 3 carefully constructs a human rights framework that secures the individual rights of the people while cautiously guarding against the abuse of one another other, our private property, our public lands, our natural resources, and, yes, our animals, domesticated livestock and wildlife alike.

Maine’s Animal Welfare Program is authorized by statute and funded in the biennial budget. It can only be eliminated by an act of the Legislature, not the enumeration of a right in the Declaration of Rights. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review makes crystal clear on page 19 of the 2021 Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election that Question 3 will have no fiscal impact on state or local units of government. In other words, it anticipates no program cuts and no litigation at the state or municipal level.

That is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So please don’t be afraid, confused or misled by the baseless and specious arguments that more than three-quarters of the Legislature vetted and rejected out of hand. On Nov. 2, the voters should do the same at the ballot box. Only good can come from the enumeration of an individual right to food in the Constitution of Maine. The 175th amendment of a document that has been amended 174 times in 200 years. Not exactly “drastic” or even rare.

Maine is at the end of the line. We import 92 percent of the food we consume. This makes our food supply vulnerable to disruptions of all kinds beyond our control, including extreme weather events and a pandemic, whether or not you are one of the too-many families in Maine struggling with hunger. Or one of the 20 percent of our children who go to bed hungry every night. Our grocery stores only have enough food to last four days if the trucks stop coming. The prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs that have risen nearly 16 percent from before the pandemic. Maine is the most food insecure state in New England. Clear and present danger.

We are at the end of the line. For the Maine people to rely solely on government programs, tax credits and public assistance to ensure that we all have access to nourishing food is to surrender to a dangerous dependence on the government to protect and defend our right to nourish ourselves in self-determination and dignity. It is to surrender our greatest power over our own lives.

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As Henry Kissinger knew, if you control the food, you control the people. As Fannie Lou Hamer told us, if you can feed yourself, nobody can push you around or tell you what to do.

Food is life. There is nothing more intimate than eating. Do we have a right to obtain the food we wish, or don’t we? It’s really that simple. Let’s put it in black and white. Let’s put it in writing.

Food is life. The time is now. Let the people of Maine say yes on Question 3 and reaffirm that all power is inherent in the people.

 

 


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