The unbearable baring of baristas

Forget Slutbucks. Cowgirls Espresso, the Washington chain of coffee shacks that features attractive young female baristas in skimpy clothing (previously mentioned here), is *ahem* under scrutiny of the Bonney Lake City Council:

The City Council has set aside 30 minutes at a workshop tonight to discuss concerns that the employees at the coffee stands “offend the public decency.”

At the council’s May 13 meeting, 18 citizens complained about the display of skin at the two coffee stands.

“This Saturday I was pumping gas across the street when my children looked over and said, ‘Mom, I see a naked girl,'” said Tawnya McLavey. “Here we have it right in our city and our community people barely wearing clothes that are serving coffee. I was so disturbed by that.”

Councilman Mark Hamilton said the council has asked the city attorney to review the law to see if anything can be done, but he’s not sure whether the city can regulate coffee stands. That’s what the council will be discussing tonight.

“It seems to be the crux of the problem, that these ladies can be viewed from a public street,” Hamilton said. “We know we can’t regulate the establishment or what the girls are wearing, but we’re hoping something can be done about them being visible from the drive thru. We know it’s a stretch.”

I don’t have a strong opinion on this, but with me likely going back on the job market soon I hate to see any work possibilities closed off…


War on Raw

Lancaster Farming has run an article examining the prosecution of Mark Nolt and another Pennsylvania farmer who sold raw milk without a permit. The tactics used to bust these guys are more reminiscent of the War on Drugs than routine dairy regulation:

Chris Ryder, [Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture] spokesman, said additional citations are pending in relation to the two most recent incidents in which Nolt sold raw milk and cheese to undercover PDA agents this year.

Meanwhile, a Lancaster County farmer was found guilty on May 6 on one count of selling raw milk without the state required permit after he was initially charged with three counts.

Glenn Wise, a Mennonite minister who farms 23 acres just outside of Elizabethtown, Pa., was ordered to pay a fine of $50 in his case.

Wise, who spoke by phone on Tuesday, said he sold raw milk to an undercover PDA agent on three separate occasions after the agent signed a contract to become a member of Communities Alliance for Responsible Eco-Farming (CARE), an organization of which Wise is a member.

Two things are worth emphasizing here. The first is that Nolt could have slipped under the radar by maintaining his raw milk permit and selling his other raw milk products on the down low. His refusal to do so is an honest, principled protest of the state’s restrictive laws. The second is that these farmers’ customers were clearly informed, going so far as to sign contracts agreeing to the sale outside of the regulated system. This is not a case of consumers being manipulated; it’s a case of state officials interfering with the business of consenting adults.

The raw milk movement raises eyebrows with its eccentricity, but the people on the front lines are among the country’s most ardent defenders of economic freedom. I’d gladly raise a glass of unpasteurized milk to them — if I could.


Libertarians and labeling

Ezra Klein has a weird post up today accusing libertarians of being hypocritical in their opposition to laws requiring restaurants to post calorie information:

It’s a bit rich to watch libertarians and associated anti-government types oppose a regulation that gives consumers more useful information. This, after all, is how markets are supposed to work best. Consumers have better information, can pursue their preferences in a more coherent manner, and the market can provide, adapt, and innovate in response. Take trans fats, which have disappeared from just about every food save margarine now that they need to be listed on the package. If caloric information was posted, a lot of currently popular items would become unpopular (the awesome blossom, say), and restaurants would innovate towards lower calorie, but still filling, foods. In the absence of that information, the incentives to do so are weak. It’s one of those soft ways of making the market work better towards a social end: We agree that people should be healthier, people agree that they want to be healthier, and all this would do is give them the information to make healthy decisions. It would not actually bar any foods from production or sale. But because there’s some odd desire among some on the right to lionize unhealthy decisions (smoking!) and defend existing business models, whatever they may be, to the death, this regulation faces a steep uphill climb.

Information is a market good, too. It’s not a perfect market and one can reasonably argue that in some cases mandating label inclusions is for the public good, but more information isn’t always an improvement. Nor is government always better than the market at deciding what information ought to be provided; recall the mandated GM labels that were roundly ignored in the Netherlands. Corruption by lobbying is also an issue, as with Diageo’s manipulation of low-carb wine labeling and its current push to force nutritional labeling on the entire alcohol industry.

Requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts might indeed have the effects that Ezra hopes it would by making people think twice about what they eat and the social benefits might be worthwhile, but there’s nothing unlibertarian in being skeptical of mandates for information that we’re not sure customers are demanding in the first place.

Update: See Megan McArdle, too.

Guess what? Burgers make you fat!
Do people know what they want to know?


Counter Culture unveils Direct Trade

Today Counter Culture Coffee unveiled it’s new Direct Trade program, which they say is the first third-party certified direct trade seal. Counter Culture will partner with Quality Certification Services to guarantee that the company’s selected coffees meet the following standards:

1. Personal & Direct Communiction:
Counter Culture has visited grower partners on a biennial basis, at minimum.

2. Fair & Sustainable Prices:
Counter Culture has paid at least $1.60/lb. for green coffee. This exceeds the Fair Trade Certified floor price by at least 19%, not including quality-based financial incentives paid to growers.

3. Exceptional Quality:
Coffees have scored at least 85 on a 100-pt. cup quality scale.

4. 100% Transparency:
We take a transparent approach to everything we do and are committed to sharing our financial information with everyone from growers to consumers. Counter Culture maintains direct communication between buyers, sellers, and any intermediaries. All relevant financial information is available to all parties, always.

As Fair Trade certification, while well-intentioned, is limited by lack of incentives for quality and its requirement that participating farmers work in co-ops. CCC’s Direct Trade is more flexible, rewards quality, builds long-term relationships, and pays higher prices. CCC and other top roasters have been working along these lines for a while, but without outside certification. Hopefully this step will help promote the direct trade model to consumers and other roasters.


Raw milk vs. consolidation

Andrew Martin has an interesting article in The New York Times today about consolidation in the dairy industry:

In the last decade, the number of dairy farmers has declined sharply — from about 99,000 in 1997 to about 59,000 last year, according to the Agriculture Department. At the same time, there has been a major shift in where milk is produced.

Small dairy farmers east of the Mississippi River and in the Upper Midwest are increasingly being replaced by huge dairy farms in the West, in places like New Mexico and western Texas. Few dairy farms are even left in the Southeast.

These days, more milk is trucked halfway across the country because the local dairy farmer and milk bottler are out of business.

One of the points I didn’t have space to address in my raw milk article is that raw milk, because of its premium price, shorter shelf life, and the need to trust one’s supplier, can be a valuable product for local dairies. I’m not opposed to consolidation per se, but if you value small-scale farming, legalizing raw milk should be among your priorities.


The man ain’t got no cultures

Got milk?

Last week, Pennsylvania Mennonite farmer Mark Nolt was found guilty of selling raw milk without a permit. In California, dairy farmers are fighting strict new regulations that would require raw milk to be as biologically sterile as its pasteurized counterpart, and at least one dairy has faced a federal investigation into allegedly selling raw milk for human consumption across state lines. Why are consumers so eager to buy raw milk, and why are authorities cracking down on the people who sell it to them? That’s the topic of my new article at Reason Online.

As part of my research, I visited farmer Kitty Hockman-Nicholas at Hedgebrook Farm in Winchester, VA. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in Virginia, but dedicated dairy drinkers buy into cow shares to get their supply. By becoming part-owners of cows and paying Hedgebrook to care for them, they ensure a steady supply of the raw milk they crave.

Kitty couldn’t sell me any of her milk, of course, but she was nice enough to provide me a sample jar. After several enjoyable hours spent wandering around her farm on a spring day, watching the animals, learning about her milking process, and being introduced to her cows by name, my friends and I couldn’t were eager to get home and try the stuff for ourselves. One of us was a bit nervous, though. “I don’t know if I can drink this. It came out of a cow.”

“All milk comes from cows,” I said.

“No, it comes from plastic jugs!” she replied. And that’s the way most consumers think about milk these days, living their lives completely disconnected from its origin. Having watched the care Kitty took in milking, however, we tried her product feeling confident that the cows were as sanitary as they get for being, well, cows — a far cry from the many bulk milk operations that feed into pasteurized dairies.

Once we tasted the milk, we were all converts to its superior flavor. Having it side-by-side with ordinary store bought milk made the difference even clearer: the mass-market milk has a processed aftertaste that I’d never picked up on before, but that stands out terribly next to fresh, pasture-fed, unpasteurized milk.

A blind tasting with different friends a few days later brought similar results. One person preferred the standard milk, but the rest of us liked the fresh stuff better. (It helps that Kitty’s milk is unskimmed and therefore has a higher fat content, but that’s not the only factor going into its appeal.)

Visiting the farm was one of the most enjoyable weekend outings I’ve had in a long time. Hedgebrook is occasionally open to the public, and I recommend checking it out if you get the opportunity. Unfortunately, the experience of trying Hedgebrook’s milk is harder to come by. Part of the madness of our current dairy laws is that if Kitty were to sell her product, she would be shut down by the state of the Virginia. Unless the law changes, you’ll have to commit to owning a cow for all its days on Earth or take your chances on the underground black market for raw milk products.

Below the break, more photos from our trip to Hedgebrook…
Continue reading “The man ain’t got no cultures”


A simple point

My op/ed yesterday generated nearly 200 comments on the Free Press website and brought a lot of email my way. Reading over the feedback, I’m struck by how many people fail to grasp a simple point: the fact that long-term exposure to secondhand smoke is risky does not lead automatically to the conclusion that we ought to ban smoking. Instead we could let the market take its course or we could provide other incentives such as tax breaks to increase the number of smokefree businesses. Unfortunately, even suggesting moderate measures that respect the rights of smokers brings in hate mail like this:


It is unfortunate that you and your fellow “butt” heads find tobacco “aromatic and enjoyable.” You represent the selfish and smelly “ash” holes that pollute the air that we all inhale. We non-smokers are tired of self centered, miscreant pigs blowing carcinogens in our faces. You better get accustomed to having your habit extinguished in more and more states, as science, and civilization advances forward. Through the rule of law, and attrition from cancer, rude and foul smelling puffers, such as your self are gradually becoming extinct. Why don’t you move to where smoking is on the increase, like to a third world country, and smoke your black and nasty lungs out. Since you cannot support your position with any solid research, may I suggest you keep your biased and antiquated opinions to yourself. By the way, you are a poor writer, you might wish to take a remedial writing course or two.

Enjoy your bouts with emphysema, heart disease, and eventually cancer.

Not all of the opposing writers have been that hateful in tone, but they almost all miss this simple point. Thankfully, a few people get it:

Dear Mr. Grier,

Not long ago, Holland, which is where we live, appeared at the top of a list of Michigan cities in the number of smoke-free dining and entertainment options available. We’ve been here for all the sorting-out involved and it’s been handled admirably without the force of law. In virtually every case, bars and restaurants have come down in a place that makes sense for their function, clientele, owners, and location. No anti-smoking legislation could have made it work better.

Then there’s this: tobacco use is still legal. And we are still adults! Thanks so much for your column, and for writing it so well that it actually got into print.


A Washington ban loophole?

It’s not uncommon for business owners to look for creative ways to get around smoking bans. Remember Minnesota’s theater nights? What is unusual is a judge advising an offender on how to find a loophole:

That’s what put [bar owner Frank] Schnarrs in court last Friday. Thurston County said he was breaking the state law which bars smoking in public places. But judge Richard Hicks surprised everyone by suggesting there was a way to get around the smoking ban.

“Maybe if you had a membership, private club, and charged something more than the cost of food and drink to be a member, you could get around it that way,” Hicks said from the bench.

So Frankie’s second floor bar turned private with a yearly membership fee.

It’s unclear yet if the plan will work and Schnarrs faces jail time if it doesn’t. Here’s hoping he pulls it off.

[Via Cigar Jack.]