NewsNational PoliticsThe Race

Could a 'right to food' be coming to your state's constitution? Those behind the first-ever believe it should

right to food
Posted at 11:40 AM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 11:40:26-05

WINTHROP, Maine — Spend a little time on Craig Hickman’s farm in central Maine and it’s clear he has a passion for growing his own food, something that for him that started early.

"My dad who was a Tuskegee airman on the ground, who probably would have been a farmer in another life, decided to turn our backyard in the inner city, the segregated inner city of Milwaukee into food," said Hickman, who is a Maine state senator.

"If you were dirt poor, but you could grow your food for yourself, then nobody could push you around and tell you what," he said.

Growing up how he did, his farm is not just a means for food, it’s his equal parts church and political ideology

"I feel like food is a ministry. Feeding oneself is a spiritual activity. It's a political activity. It's resistance, it's power," said Hickman.

It’s his strong, almost poetic views of food that are the fuel behind the state of Maine’s newest addition to its constitution: the right to food.

"If you have a right to life and liberty, if you have a right to obtain safety and happiness, which our Constitution says, then how can you not have a right to food?" he asked.

With 61% of the vote, Mainers passed the first in the nation right to food, which states that the people of Maine have the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment.

"More and more, we see if we don't write our rights down and explicitly protect them in constitutions, they can be infringed upon it anytime," said Hickman.

When you first hear of the concept it may sound like a no-brainer. However, according to research done by the University of Southern Maine, the state imports about 90% of the food Mainers consume, making it the state most dependent on outside sourcing of food.

With the pandemic tying up supply chains and stores baring empty shelves when demand shifted, Hickman sees the new amendment as giving people the power to opt-out of the commercial food chain.

"We take our food system for granted. We take our food supply for granted, but the pandemic proved to us we can't do that."

There is some opposition to the idea, including The Humane Society, which has expressed concerns about the legislation opening the door to animal welfare abuses. Hickman believes the existing language prevents that.

"We regulate, how you treat your cats and dogs, where we regulate humane and inhumane slaughter. Those things will not go away because of rights to food. There's language in the amendment that explicitly doesn't allow for the abuse of anything in the production of food, which would include animals," he explained.

The idea is picking up in other states with Washington and West Virginia working on right to food amendments of their own.

While the idea may catch on in other parts of the country, Hickman hopes more of his neighbors take steps to reclaim their power through food.

"Structures change. They don't change overnight. We have definitely thought put a different foundation under our food system. So, now, we'll see what we can build from it," he said.