Thanks to Sarah for sending on this article. Apparently, New York State is telling farmers market cheese vendors that they can no longer cut cheese to order or cut samples at farmers markets. To do so would require, as stores require, a license to process food as well as industrial kitchen infrastructure on premises (under that little tent…).
This isn’t a WA issue yet for cheese. But it’s worth discussing.
First, as someone in the field of public health, I understand where these kinds of policies come from. Public safety matters. Public safety involves avoiding contamination, something that happens best when we have strong policies in place so consumers can see how their food is being produced or processed and trust how it’s being handled when they can’t see it.
But sometimes, in an effort to carry out the letter of the law and avoid exceptions, we end up with policies that make it harder for small producers to operate, or for customers to buy healthy food. We also end up applying policies in places they don’t really fit. We see this with regulations on carefully-produced, small-farm raw dairy, with vending at farmers markets, and with a lot of small-scale farming and food selling.
When small producers give up their farms and dairies, or customers buy fewer products at farmers markets, there are consequences for health, more definite (if less visible) than someone, say, getting sick and attributing their illness to mis-sliced cheese at a store. Less small-farm cheese sold at markets means less consumption of high-vitamin dairy, often from grass-fed cows.
Not all cheese at markets has to be cut. The picture above is for one of my favorite cheese makers, in Oregon (that one with a stalk of wheat sticking through it is basically Debs-crack). But a lot of the less-expensive cheeses are sold by the weight. If you only want to buy a little bit of cheese, or can only afford a little, or want some of a hard cheese but don’t want, say, your own ten-pound wheel of cheddar, you need it cut. And it should be cut to order, so it stays fresh and so the customer can choose the amount.
So, what to do? Advocate for exceptions to industrial rules that shouldn’t affect small producers or farmers markets. Get legislators and public health officials out to farmers markets, over to dinners. Communicate, connect, listen and explain. Make an emotional connection to markets, to healthy food. With emotional connections, common ground, and expression of understanding for where over-applied public health policies are coming from, we can start to make some gains instead of losing ground.