Ben Parzybok


Neighborhood secession & novel research

Researching a novel is tremendous good fun. A lot of the time I have no idea where I’m going to end up. Today’s adventure led me, among other places, to this post on neighborhood secession by Matthew Mullenix.

It’s a quick read and not very in-depth, but has some sound ideas. Essentially that by focussing your consumption, trade and energy in your own neighborhood, you can largely opt-out of the system. And if a whole neighborhood does it, it can be a quiet sort of secession. I was particularly moved by his April 1st follow-up comment:

Who will regulate the safety of the food and our health? I think that’s an interesting question and prompts us to ask if regulation of food safety is the same thing asĀ ensuring food safety? It also begs the question: From what does federal regulation protect us?

Today’s case of pastacio contamination, much like the recent peanut scare, offers an important role for federal regulation; but it only becomes so important because our food system is based on interstate commerce and the industrial-scale blending of basic ingredients (like nuts, or corn) into thousands of other food products that will be sold around the world.

Such a system entails tremendous risk, chief among them the fact that once a contaminant is found to have sickened one person, hundreds of thousands have been exposed. It is a huge corporate system that requires a huge layer of government oversight, both at odds against each other and neither capable of managing the inherent risks.

Compare this to a local food system, the smallest being the production line that extends from my garden to my kitchen. That supply chain is short and secure. The producer (me) and consumers (my family and friends) are a limited group who know each other well. We insure food quality by tending personally to its production and preparation, and we share whatever risks that entails. Worst case scenario (a soft tomato?) is that only a few will ever suffer from a system failure.

Thus, my garden is in the best interests of national security. Albeit, the nation that is our family.

Author: Benjamin Parzybok

My name is Ben Parzybok and I'm a novelist and programmer living in Portland, OR. @sparkwatson



  1. Opting out of the broader economy has huge risks though. Put all your money into your local gardens but them comes a drought… or even just the mere fact that tening local gardens is a lot more labor intensive than larger mechanized farms. Fine if you like to garden, but could be devastating for the woman with a family to watch over. Where does she get the time? There are trade offs. Some may prefer to go local like that but it’s not a clear cut win.

  2. I don’t think succession needs to be the goal. If everyone bought more local more often it can create a happy medium. If you succeed do your friends who live outside the zone need a security check? Is it like Marshall law or just kicking out city services of all kinds? What will it be in the novel?

  3. Benjamin, ,many thanks for the nice mention! How goes the secession in your neighborhood?

  4. Hi Matt – secession coming along quite well, thanks. Our neighborhood is an unusual one in the city (Portland, OR), in that the lot-size varies tremendously in this part of the city with some lots as large as an acre. For that reason there’s a big urban farming movement here. On our street in particular, a tremendous amount of canning/bartering/trading happens, and most families have chicken coops.

    Ourtright secession is not a terribly realistic goal, of course, as @kingrat mentions above, but I liked your ideas of a quiet opting-out of the larger system by focussing on the neighborhood for as much as possible.

    The reason I originally searched though is because the book I’m working on has a neighborhood (or about a dozen neighborhoods, really) secede. It becomes a country within the city. And that, too, seems to be progressing along.

  5. Benjamin,
    I’d love to hear more about your neighborhood and your book. I think “opting out” (aka hiding in plain sight) may become the last practical choice for those wishing to escape some of the worst effects of our current economy. At least, it can do no harm.

    I wonder, however, about the viability of any larger “movement” in this direction. It seems possible that reaching a certain size may trigger a response from the minders of the dominant economy. What if, as I asked over at our blog, all Americans began producing (growing, gathering, hunting) just 10% of their food? Performed 20% of their own services?

    Could our economy survive that? How long would it be before we heard about action necessary to prohibit a larger movement toward self-sufficiency? It’s a strange time.

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