While I often devote column inches to depressing food-policy news—be it crackdowns on small food producers, the spread of bad regulations, or the publication of yet another questionable food research study—this year had its share of good news for supporters of food freedom. With that in mind, here are 10 morsels of food-policy news I'll look back on as having brightened my 2012.
1. Best Rallying Cry
Cheers in this (and only this) regard to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban, which is currently being challenged in court by a diverse group of local and national opponents: The mayor's plan has united all sorts of strange bedfellows in opposition to its inane restrictions like no other food law before it.
In addition to restaurant, soda, and movie theater groups, other lawsuit plaintiffs include a local chapter of the Teamsters union and Latino and Korean-American business groups. This diverse group of plaintiffs isn't the creation of some law firm. Rather, it's further actualization of the already broad opposition to the ban—including writer and healthy-food advocate Bettina Siegel, Daily Show host Jon Stewart, Today Show anchor Matt Lauer, and the editors of The New York Times.
As someone who started a nonprofit, Keep Food Legal (along with the new Keep Food Legal Foundation), in order to unite people across party and ideological lines in the struggle for food freedom, Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban has been a particularly evocative example of how bad food regulations can galvanize and unite all types of people who may not agree on a host of other issues.
2. Best Lawsuit
While lawsuits over foie gras and soda bans elsewhere in the country are important and captured much attention, the best food-related lawsuit anywhere in the country this year is one launched by the ACLU of Pennsylvania against the city of Philadelphia over the City of Brotherly Love's unconscionable ban on serving food to the homeless and less fortunate. This ban is but one of many similar bans around the country.
Those who chafe at bans on feeding the homeless and less fortunate echo the diverse and loose coalition that opposes Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban. Maybe that's because Mayor Bloomberg's own ban on feeding the homeless in New York City is essential, in his words, "because the city can't assess the salt, fat and fiber content" of donated food.
3. Best Political Victory
Electoral victories by opponents of soda taxes in two California cities separated by hundreds of miles may—like other examples here—be a sign that a true food movement built on mutual respect for the right to make one's own food choices may be coalescing across the country.
4. Best Local News
The continuing spread of state cottage food laws is a fantastic development for food freedom. California and Texas are two of the most recent of more than three-dozen states to adopt such laws, which help small startup food ventures operated out of the home opt out of the crushing regulations faced by restaurants and other food sellers.
And while cottage food laws aren't perfect, they can provide a limited pathway for small entrepreneurs to build their presence in the marketplace and a safe way for new entrepreneurs to test out the market for their products.
5. Best National News
While raw milk is still under attack from the FDA and various state governments, 2012 was a banner year for those who support increasing the regulatory acceptance of raw milk. While there have been some weird setbacks for the movement, there are reasons to be optimistic. A California dairy owner sued the FDA last week. The agency, meanwhile, claims it won't enforce its ban against individual buyers. And more and more states appear at least to be considering bills like this one that would legalize the sale of raw milk within their own borders.
6. Best Bet for Victory in 2013
Based on my reading of California's foie gras ban, the lawsuit challenging the ban should be a slam dunk for supporters of food freedom. And, depending on how the case is argued and won, victory in the foie gras case could resonate across the country.
7. Best Column
James King of the Village Voice deserves credit for penning a great column in which he lays waste to the offensive and idiotic name-calling of a Gawker blogger who rants against opponents of Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban.
8. Best Conference
The Institute for Justice Clinic for Entrepreneurship at University of Chicago School of Law hosted a fantastic conference earlier this year in support of the rights of food truck operators in the city. The My Streets My Eats conference, held in a city with some of the nation's worst food truck laws, featured some of the most knowledgeable speakers on food truck issues from around the country, along with great food provided by the city's food trucks. I was fortunate to take part in the conference. In a welcome sign of the conference's importance and impact, IJ eventually sued the city of Chicago over its lousy food truck rules in a lawsuit that is still ongoing.
9. Best Use of Social Media
Within days of the USDA's new school lunch rules debuting in August, students around the country were in open revolt. They challenged the quality, cost, and—particularly—the quantity of food they were being served under the new rules. One group of students in Kansas captured the problems with new rules in a viral YouTube video, We Are Hungry. More than a million views later, the video had helped to change the USDA's policy, which has been modified and will now permit students to eat more food.
10. My Greatest Flub
While other readers might be quick to point out a mistake I made in one of my columns this year, looking over my own columns I think the most obvious occurs where I direct readers in a piece on California's foie gras ban to read "the 'Bird Feeding Law' (the official name of the 'foie gras ban')." That would be nice and useful were it not for the fact the law is actually titled "Force Fed Birds."