(City Journal) — Mariza Ruelas currently faces up to two years in jail in California for the crime of selling ceviche through a Facebook food group. Welcome to the mad world of American food regulation. In Biting the Hands That Feed Us, Baylen Linnekin looks closely at a system that can take pride in a historically safe food supply but that also imposes too many rules that defy common sense.
Linnekin traces the system’s origins to The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s exposé of the appalling conditions in Chicago’s slaughterhouses, and to the New Deal’s hyper-regulation of agriculture. Such intrusiveness culminated in the case of Wickard v. Filburn, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Americans don’t even have the right to consume food they grow themselves, on their own land. Food regulation has marched steadily onward ever since.
While working conditions and food safety improved dramatically thanks to these efforts, the move to regulate all food products according to uniform standards also produced a system with a host of strange rules—such as requiring organic skim milk that is free of additives to be labeled “Non-Grade ‘A’ Milk Product–Natural Milk Vitamins Removed.”