A story from the Chicago Tribune tells of an enterprising mother named Kris Swanberg, who runs a wildly successful ice cream business. Of course, where food is concerned, the State will sooner or later insert itself because you could get sick eating fresh cream and fresh strawberries. According to Ms. Swanberg,

a couple of weeks ago a representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health came to Logan Square Kitchen and informed her she’d have to shut down if she did not get something called  “a dairy license.”

To get this license Swanberg wrote, in an email, she would have to:

  1. “Work out of our own space. Currently we work out of the Logan Square Kitchen.”
  2. “Have our product tested once a month for bacterial levels.”
  3. “Change all of our packaging and labels to meet state standards.”
  4. “Purchase a pasteurizer, which from what the state tells me will be about $40,000 or use a pre-made ice cream mix.”

Swanberg says that the IDPH officer who visited told her that her ice cream probably wouldn’t pass the bacteria tests if she continued to use fresh strawberries. Instead the officer suggested she use “strawberry syrup,” Swanberg said.

Strawberry syrup. This sums up the matter quite nicely: stop making the “risky” stuff that tastes great and that customers love and start using strawberry syrup made with copious amounts of high fructose corn syrup and other “safe” unpronounceable “food stuffs” that no doubt serve as the primary ingredient in pre-made ice cream mix. In the name of safety forgo food in exchange for chemically enriched pseudo food.

Or purchase a $40,000 pasteurizer which in effect prices the boutique maker out of business in favor of the corporate big dogs who can afford such things and who are no doubt are happy that these presumptuous upstarts are stifled.

Will Ms. Swanberg’s “Nice Cream” live to see another Chicago summer?

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Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell teaches political theory at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. He is the author Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing and The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place, and Community in a Global Age (Potomac Books, 2012). He is co-editor of another book titled, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry. Currently he is writing a book on private property. In 2008-9, while on sabbatical at Princeton University, he and Jeremy Beer hatched a plan to start a website dedicated to political decentralism, economic localism, and cultural regionalism. A group of like-minded people quickly formed around these ideas, and in March 2009, FPR was launched. Although he was raised in Montana and still occasionally longs for the west, he lives in Virginia with his wife, three sons and one daughter where they are in the process of turning a few acres into a small farm. See books written by Mark Mitchell.

9 COMMENTS

  1. “Will Ms. Swanberg’s “Nice Cream” live to see another Chicago summer?”

    Probably not. But it would survive another Colorado summer where there are a number of similar operations in various forms.

    Sometimes such requirements are corporate closing shop, but mostly its the government protecting us from private business.

  2. Well, I feel better about California now… they are no more intrusive than Illinois!

    “In the name of safety forgo food in exchange for chemically enriched pseudo food.”

    It’s interesting how we weigh acute (but low probability) risk against chronic risks.

  3. And yet… there was just a massive recall of ground turkey that was contaminated with salmonella, which can be fatal… and there have been e.coli contaminations which were fatal… contaminations which occurred hundreds of miles away from the end consumer, without their knowledge, or any way to check.

    Common sense suggests that the longer the supply chain, the larger the enterprise, the more we need regulation. Likewise, the more powerful and wealthy the purveyor of the food, the more we need something the size of government to look over their shoulder, because the management can blithely ignore the rest of us.

    So, sensible regulation would allow for an enterprise on Ms. Swanberg’s scale to sell without a license, perhaps on condition that a notice be posted “This enterprise is not inspected by the Dept. of Health because it has one proprietor, less than five employees, sells from one location, and has less than 5000 individuals sales per year.” Or maybe, we shouldn’t bother with the notice.

    The exception needs to be tight enough so that large enterprises can’t, by any contortions, squeeze themselves into the unregulated space. If they make enough to hire a lawyer, they will find a way if one is left open. Remember the e.coli contaminating Odwalla some years ago? That was because an operation started in a kitchen in Santa Cruz, California tried to go regional, even national, and you can’t operate on that scale without regulation, procedure, and inspection, even, for interstate shipment, pasteurization.

    Yeah, I’m all for fresh strawberries and individual enterprise, with a minimum of government regulation. But I want Tyson to have inspectors all over the place, and no loopholes.

  4. Siarlys Jenkins writes : “The exception needs to be tight enough so that large enterprises can’t, by any contortions, squeeze themselves into the unregulated space. ”

    Or just don’t let them in. Steamboat Springs forbid Walmart from setting up shop in their town. Similarly, don’t let Tyson’s and Odwalla sold unless the product is produced locally at a human scale which would as you propose not require regulation, or at least would require less regulation. And even then, only let them into the market in a manner that protects the local producers.

  5. Yes! Nice Cream will live to see another summer.

    They’re selling at our fabulous local Logan Square Farmers Market and our fabulous neighborhood Dill Pickle Food Co-op. They’re organizing a fundraiser at our also fabulous local brewery, Revolution Brewing, to help them stay in business while they work to alter state regulations.

    If you can’t come to enjoy our neighborhood’s fabulousness, you can help with Nice Cream’s Kickstarter campaign:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/832317133/nice-cream-chicago

  6. Here’s another example, this one involving rabbits: http://in.news.yahoo.com/usda-fines-missouri-family-90k-selling-few-rabbits-170245918.html

    Read carefully, one finds that some laws were broken in this case. Even so, the couple involved was also subjected to merely arbitrary judgments. I am no libertarian purest, but if there are so many laws regulating commerce that one cannot engage in harmless buying and selling without running afoul of some penalty, then the are too many laws.

  7. Keeping Wal-Mart out is a matter of zoning regulations — GOOD regulations! But keeping specific brands, like Tyson’s and Odwalla out, would mean dictating to local retailers what they can and cannot stock their shelves with. That is a bit too intrusive. So, anything on the scale of Tyson’s or (now) Odwalla, has to meet sanitation regulations and inspections. Nice Cream shouldn’t be bothered.

    If Nice Cream becomes REALLY popular, the lady may be tempted to go to a larger scale of production… and THEN she’ll need the $40,000 pasteurization machine, so that the product is still safe to eat when it arrives in Cincinatti. Hopefully she’ll find a way to flash treat the fresh strawberries so she doesn’t have to resort to syrup.

    Anyone notice how disappointing the taste of a packaged Mrs. Field’s cookie is these days, at least to those of us who remember the originals?

  8. Siarlys Jenkins writes : “But keeping specific brands, like Tyson’s and Odwalla out, would mean dictating to local retailers what they can and cannot stock their shelves with. That is a bit too intrusive.”

    Yes and no. It would dictate that food products must be manufactured at a human scale. And any company, would have the same requirement.

    Or course I likewise am very much in favor of tariffs used to protect local manufactures and other local businesses, of which my suggestion is part of.

    Societies have a duty to protect their own against strangers. And in relation to local manufacturers, Tysons and Odwalla are strangers.

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