The Chicago Tribune recently did a story on local ice cream makers being shutdown by the Illinois Department of Public health for not having a dairy license. The article noted that the artisan ice cream makers in Chicago had followed the City of Chicago’s regulations and been certified by the state, initially, but that later, the IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) determined that in order to make ice cream safe for distribution to the public, it either has to be pasteurized (in a $40,000 machine), or made from a pre-made mix (akin to the mixes that Dairy Queen uses). The IDPH also noted that the artisan makers needed to use pre-packaged fruit syrups instead of real fresh fruit in order to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. For the moment, the artisan makers either have to fight or be shut down until the situation is resolved.
This story highlights the urgent need for discussion about our food, where it comes from, how we prepare it, and why so much of the food marketed to Americans is loaded with chemicals, high fructose corn syrup, and other non-food additives. Part of the reason I decided to make my own ice cream was my dismay at the long list of ingredients in store bought ice creams (and other foods, too).
After reading the Tribune story, I couldn’t help but think that big business is behind the IDPH’s desire to force artisan food makers out of the business. The big companies make fortunes for upper executives and shareholders. Those who make money are not actually engaged in the process of making the food, rather they idle and reap the monetary rewards. This food debate is like the health debate — debates in which the power is held by large corporations and the lobbyists and congressional puppets who continue to make the rich richer while denying basic rights (safe, healthy food and health care) to the public. It is ironic that the IDPH is more concerned about food safety in artisan ice creams than they are in the dangerous chemicals in snack foods stocked piled high in grocery stores. I suppose that is the turf of the FDA, but what if state agencies made some noise about the health of their populations?
I did toy with the notion of marketing my home-made ice cream to a local deli, and perhaps one day, I will do that. For now, even as I attempt to reduce the chemical intake of my family, I will be aware of how much we are all affected by the inclusion of hidden costs in the cheaply produced food that Americans demand.
My step-daughter is working hard to eat local, and it must come at some financial cost. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs, and her healthy eating habits, insistence upon sustainable food production, and DIY gardening make my own attempts pale in comparison. The number of people who are committed to eating local and fresh is on the rise, and they inspire me to grow food in my garden next summer, to eat meat that is locally produced and chemical free, and to share with neighbors who pickle and can with foods fresh from their gardens (and to learn from them, too).