Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Joel Salatin by James4 Comments

I’m not sure where to begin. Unlike the first two Joel Salatin books I read this one turned out to be less than inspiring. It evoked sadness, anger, and has made me take a serious look at the true possibility of becoming a small farmer in America. The sadness and anger come from a feeling of helplessness. When you think of all the obstacles a small business has to overcome to be successful most people never think that the biggest obstacles are going to come from government regulations and licensing. The average person rightly believes government implements regulation to help and protect the people. That’s what they tell us after all, surely they wouldn’t lie… In fact in most cases it does the exact opposite when the unintended consequences are closely examined. Many of the people (bureaucrats) enforcing these regulations truly believe they’re doing the right thing. I think for these “enforcers” cognitive dissonance must play a big role in allowing them to do what they do. Instead of facing the reality of their role, they create illogical justifications, and distance themselves from their actions and the results of those actions. The most popular answer these individuals give when backed into a corner is, “I’m just following orders.” The same response the Nazis gave at the Nuremberg Trials. But to compare them to Nazis is over the top! You must be some right-wing fringe lunatic screwball!
Far from it. Unfortunately when people hear the word “Nazi” they shut off their critical thinking because the average person thinks about the genocide committed by the Nazis, and doesn’t consider what lead them to the point of being able to actually carry out the orders they were given and everything they did to take away liberty leading up to their “final solution.” It didn’t happen overnight. Examining the cause of past atrocities is what’s important to prevent future ones. Looking at the cause of the deed, not the deed itself is what is important. The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is all too often ignored, and history repeats itself. So when people compare these bureaucrats to Nazis it is in a very real sense an accurate comparison. Sure they are not literally killing people, but they are operating with the same mentality as those obeying Nazis did, and they are killing family businesses, and local economies in the process. They are ending lively hoods. They are taking soul crushing actions that amount to death in every aspect of people’s lives minus actual physical death. Just today as I type this book review another family farm was destroyed by the all protective eye of Modor, I mean government. Morningland Dairy had been operating and producing cheese for over 30 years without a single complaint or report of food illness. After a two year battle with the food police the small family farm had to close its doors for good. I won’t get into the details of their story in this post, but you can read all about it here. Sadly Morningland Dairy is just one casualty among many. Small farmers are being threatened and raided every day in America. A great film that documents several of these cases is called Farmageddon. You can watch the trailer in the movie section of this blog. I highly recommend it for anybody who still believes tyranny doesn’t exist in America.

Lets take a look at some of the details Salatin’s important book lays out for the reader to help really grasp what’s going on. Joel has separated the book into three sections:

The Past, The Present, and The Future.

This books spans 350 pages so I cannot get into all of the details, but I would like to go through each section detailing a few of these stories. Most of the stories Mr. Salatin tells in the book happened to him, although he does talk about obstacles other farmers have faced as well.


Chapter one starts out with the original essay Joel wrote for ACRES USA magazine with the same title of this book, “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.” In this article he highlights some points that I’ll summarize here. The first thing he addresses is: On-Farm Processing – Joel points out that he’d like to dress (slaughter and prepare) the animals he raises on his farm. However zoning laws prohibit him from doing this. Instead he must ship his animals off to “massive centralized facilities visited daily by a steady stream of tractor trailers and illegal alien workers.” Nothing against the workers but the point is there is much less accountability at these massive facilities. It’s much harder to guarantee cleanliness at a massive abattoir (slaughterhouse) rather than a small one operated by the farmer whose very lively hood depends on producing clean product. Every small business person lives and dies on their reputation, and the same goes for the small farmer. To top it off after he goes to the facility to pick up his processed meat and returns home to sell the product the county zoning ordinance says the the meat is a manufactured product because it exited the farm and was re-imported as a value-added product, throwing the small farm into the same category as Wal-Mart, which is also illegal in agricultural zones. Whaaat? Yeah, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was when you first read that. I’ll say it in another way: He’s forced to export his meat because it’s illegal to slaughter it on his farm, but after he does that it becomes illegal to bring it back on the farm to sell because of another law. I could see how this makes sense for large factory farms where workers have to wear Hazmat suits to access the animals safely, but for a small farm it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s the case of one size fits all, but in reality it ends up cutting out the little guys who are in reality much more clean than the big guys. Talk about food safety priorities gone astray. Joel could slaughter his own animal on site for his family’s consumption, but if his neighbor wants to pay him for some spare ribs that is illegal. That’s just too dangerous!



In this chapter Joel tells the story of his neighbors who own an orchard and make an incredible cold-pressed apple juice. On Joel’s farm they have a small on-farm sales building. The neighbors do not get the kind of traffic that Joel’s farm does and he would be happy to sell the neighbors juice in his farm store for them. But that would be illegal because Joel’s farm did not produce it. In order for them to sell it this would require a business license. What would getting a business license entail?
Joel details it in the book:
– Commercial entrance. We live on a dirt road. The lane has to be widened to accommodate both entering and exiting traffic at the same time. A single lane won’t do. Site distance must be maintained onto the public road, along with gravel and grading that is up to highway department standards. For crying out loud, it’s not like we have 50 cars an hour coming out to the farm. If we have 20 in a day, its’ a windfall.
-Handicapped parking and access. Designated areas and up to-code everything — handrails and the works. Nobody enjoys seeing handicapped folks gain mobility more than I do, but this is my farm and my business. If I want to serve only homosexual bowlegged Vietnamese patrons, I should be able to do that. I’m not asking for government grants, taxpayer subsidies, or tax-free bonds. If I want to serve an exclusive clientele, what business is it of the government’s to define who I can and can’t serve and what kind of facility I want to do it in?
– Public bathrooms. Now we’re into septic systems, drainage fields, hot and cold running water – thousands and thousands of dollars. Never mind that our house is 50 feet form the sales building and mom’s house is 50 feet from the sales building; each one containing two bathrooms. Our personal houses don’t qualify for customer restrooms.
-Up-to-code parking area. The license defines the number of parking spaces required, amount of turnaround, etc. Now we’re into major excavation, graveling, and maybe even asphalting, including proper curbing, drainage, and parking barriers.
-The building must meet code. After all, we can’t have a customer walking into a building that might cave in. Suddenly our home-generated lumber is suspect, because it’s ungraded. For several thousand dollars, we can have a professional lumber grader come in and grade it in order to use it. If we do that, I figure we might as well just buy the outsourced stuff from Lowe’s. Why complicate our life? And then we must have approved fire extinguishers, lighted exit signs. All for a building 16ft. X 40ft. And I’m sure our grandmother’s 100-year-old wood cookstove that graces the corner and offers cozy heat would never meet code for a heating system. What if a customer’s child accidentally fell against it?
-Tax on each dollar of sales. More monthly reports, higher prices. All for what? What benefit do we get out of this? For the privilege of meeting all these regulations, we get to pay thousands of dollars a year for this paperwork and regulatory oversight. What a crock.

Remember, all of this nonsense is what’s required for Joel to sell his neighbors’ apple juice in his farm store.


Mad Cow

“Your steer had abnormal teeth, so is assumed to be 30 months old, so we will charge you an extra $500 to butcher it,” said the secretary of the local federal inspected slaughter house we use. That meant that the steer would cost $1,000 to process rather than the customary $500. She had called me on the phone to tell me.

The above passage is from the Mad Cow chapter. Joel later goes onto explain the different between the incoming teeth of cows that eat forage (grass) as nature designed them to, and cows that eat, well, that eat chicken poop, dead chickens, cow guts, and corn. Yeah, that’s what factory farmed cattle are eating. So the point of mentioning this phone call is to point out that Joel’s cows which are much healthier and cleaner than any cow you’d ever find on a feed lot are growing differently, but as a result of the one size fits all model that favors the industrial big guys Joel is penalized and has to find other ways to get his cows butchered. Because after all he can’t do it himself, that’s illegal. And even if his customers signed some kind of waiver saying they realize Joel slaughters his own cows and they will not sue anybody if they get sick from the meat, that doesn’t matter either. It’s simply too dangerous.

Lets return to the chicken manure for a moment. If you’re not eating grass feed beef, your cow has likely been fed chicken manure along with chicken carcases and beef guts. But they mix it in corn and silage and even pour molasses on it so the cows don’t mind… And if you think it doesn’t effect the meat you’re mistaken. Joel tells the story of one small slaughterhouse that quit buying his neighbors beef because the owner said he was tired of walking into a cooling room that smelled like chicken manure. The meat actually smelled like chicken manure.

Here’s the moral of this story. The FDA encouraged farmers to feed their cows animal byproducts (chicken manure, dead chickens, beef guts, etc.) Their science later determined that is was the feeding of these animal byproducts that lead to mad-cow disease. These conclusions are actually disputed and Joel mentions this in the chapter. So after they determined their recommendation caused the problem what did they do? They started making regulations that targeted specific parts of the animal byproducts not to be used as feed, such as spinal cords, brains, and parts of the nervous system. You would have thought they would just ban the use of animal byproducts all together, considering cows are herbivores, but that would make too much sense. So here’s the kicker. Joel is raising his beef in such a way that it is virtually impossible for his beef to contract mad-cow according to the USDA’s own science. Yet, his cows are still put into the same category as the industry cows. This is where the 30 month window comes into play.
Here is the conversation Joel recounts in his book on this issue when talking to the federal inspector:

The federal inspector was in the abattoir the other day when I brought some animals in and I asked her about this. “Why can’t I sign an affidavit saying I’ve never fed animal byproducts to these steers? According to your own research, that makes them immune to the disease and I should be exempt from the 30 month prohibition.”
“They don’t recognize any production difference. It’s the teeth.”
“But these teeth come in at different times. Why should I be denied that extra four months of growth time? Sometimes I can’t get them finished in that amount of time.”
“I know they come in at different times, but that’s the rule. I’m just doing what they say.”
“Well why don’t you tell them this is unfair? Why don’t you go to bat for farmers like us?”
“I’m just doing my job.”

And there it is. The same old story. I’m just doing my job. I’m going to wrap this book review up here, although there are hundreds of other stories likes these, many even more absurd. Joel’s book is filled with many others that will leave you scratching your head.

Final Thoughts of a Wanna Be Farmer

Like I mentioned in my opening paragraph after reading this book I was left feeling less than inspired. I think one of the biggest problems in this fight for food freedom is that the majority of Americans don’t even know this is going on. I didn’t realize how out of control is was until I watched Farmageddon and read Joel’s book. This fight for food freedom has been going on for a long time, and now it’s perhaps as heated as it’s ever been. And the food police are going to bring more heat with the increasing numbers of people becoming interested in nutrient dense foods. The “why?” of this problem is quite simple. The government does not represent the people. The government represents the people who give them money (although tax payers give them the most money). But if you don’t pay your taxes they throw you in a cage or gun you down if you resist. They don’t point guns at the corporations, that exchange is actually a voluntary one. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I won’t get into the psychology of sociopaths, but if you want to understand how these people do the things they do and sleep at night it’s a good place to start. It’s inevitable that sociopaths are drawn to public positions of power. I have no desire to tell anybody how they should live their life – I wouldn’t make it in Washington. Aside from everything I’ve mentioned all of this comes down to choice. Do humans have the right to choose what they put into their bodies? If you say “no” to this, then you don’t believe in self ownership and you don’t believe in autonomy. You are in essence a slave. And there’s nothing more the government loves than slave on slave violence. When a government creates an environment of infighting between its people they will always be the savior of the disenfranchised. Yet in reality everyone is being disenfranchised by buying into the myth that government can solve their problems. Government is power, and as the saying goes, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And if you don’t think so, just ask the folks at Morningland Dairy and all the other small farms across America that have been harassed, raided, and shut down what they think about it.

I’ll end this post with a quote Joel ends his book with. Attributed to Ghandi:

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.

We’re one step away from the final outcome: Winning.
Fight the good fight for freedom of choice.
If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything worth having.

Buy the book via Amazon by clicking HERE (It’s an affiliate link so I get a little kickback if you buy. Thanks!)



  1. Dad

    Interesting review. Doesn’t look encouraging for the small farmer. Keep up the good fight.

  2. Pingback: Folks, This Ain’t Normal – A Book Review | I Wanna Farm

  3. Pingback: Holy Cows & Hog Heaven – A Book Review | I Wanna Farm

  4. Pingback: The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer – A Book Review | I Wanna Farm

Leave a Reply