Foodopoly: Too Big to Eat
Why have we come to understand that?
We've been told it by a mega media cartel that has itself been deemed too big to fail, too big not to subsidize with our airwaves, too big not to reward with political ads buying back our airwaves in little bits and pieces.
Speaking of which, the buying of elections is moving rapidly in the direction of monopoly ownership itself.
The concentration of wealth and power in the United States over the past half century is not a story of ineluctable forces of technology or progress. It's a story of orchestrated corruption. Some of its key players were born after it had begun. One of them, the man who was president when some of the worst of the deregulatory legislation was passed, was of course Bill Clinton -- who ended welfare as we knew it and recreated it as we wish no one had ever imagined it. Giant corporations and banks are feeding at the public trough.
A big chunk of what they're feeding on is the feeding of the rest of us. This is the topic of Wenonah Hauter's new book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. And she argues against simply cutting off the subsidies to agribusiness. The problem, Hauter explains, is that we do need to eat something, and if we're going to have a chance of eating something grown democratically, sustainably, and healthfully, we're going to have to take into account the fewer than a million small and medium farms left standing. Most of them barely survive each year. Lots of them don't survive each year. And most of them survive only with the help of public subsidies, subsidies they didn't need prior to an onslaught of federal legislation aimed intentionally at destroying farmers' livelihood. Midsize family farmers have an average income of $19,277 including subsidies. If we turn them into corporate serfs or their land into McMansions and shopping malls and fracking areas, we'll have nothing to eat but what we can grow in the front yard or the flower box and what already makes up 90% of what we eat: processed corporate junk.
Geoge Naylor, an Iowa farmer and former president of the National Family Farm Coalition who pushed back against President Ronald Reagan's assault on antitrust powers, remarked in 2012:
"No betrayal was more galling, or the effects more devastating for farmers and eaters, than Bill Clinton's single-minded pursuit of free trade and his support for the 1996 'Freedom to Farm' bill."
Among the lies pushed since the 1940s to tear apart family farms has been the lie that exporting grain would be the way of the future. In 1980 the United States exported 45% of its corn, wheat, and soybeans. By 2009 that was down to 25%. Production has soared. Prices have plummeted. And the mega-farms that created the mess, just like the mega banks (and in fact the two share a lot of interchangable human parts at the highest levels), have been bailed out, and bailed out, and bailed out, every year, just like the war machine only not so expensive and specializing more in sickness than in death. In fact, processed food has been linked convincingly to cancer.
Here in the greatest -- WE'RE NUMBER ONE! -- nation on earth we work longer hours than anybody else in wealthy countries, and we eat half our meals away from home, much of it sickening earth-poisoning carcinogenic crap. That's an accurate description of most of what we buy to cook at home too. Wal-Mart started selling food along with its other products in 1988, apparently by putting some of its other products through a blender and packaging the results in bright advertisements. Twelve years later Wal-Mart was the biggest food seller. It now sucks down one-third of all U.S. dollars spent on groceries in the land of the obese, home of the heart attack.
Organic food is an area of monopoly, manipulation, deception, and deceit. Meat and dairy are areas of the worst extremes: the greatest monopolization, the greatest health risks, the greatest certain health damage, the severest environmental destruction, and the most grotesque waste of resources that could have fed people.
Hauter's book, like most books with a title about the future, is monopolized by the damage of the past. We have to know the history in order to deal with the present. The last 30 pages, however, turn directly to the question of what to do. Here's my summary:
Think globally and act globally. Our own private efforts won't do it. We won't shop our way to a brighter future through "consumer activism." We won't build a local alternative that will take us off the corporate food grid -- although we should certainly attempt it as part of what needs doing.
We have to be political. We have to end corporate personhood and money as speech. We have to take over power for democratic demands. We have to enact major legislation and regulations. We have to restore a safety net for small farmers before undoing their subsidies.
We have to not only undo the subsidies of the big farms, but we have to break them apart. We need antitrust enforcement and fair trade policies. President Obama is pushing to out-NAFTA Clinton with a Trans-Pacific Partnership and something like it for Europe. He has to be stopped.*
Congress needs to open a serious investigation into the state of competition, or the lack thereof, in agriculture markets.
Enforcement by the DOJ, FTC, and USDA needs to begin existing and then needs to be reorganized.
Farm bills need to level the playing field for independent farmers and ranchers and food processors, and redirect rural development funding to rebuild infrastructure for regional food systems, as well as investing more seriously in organic farming.
Genetic engineering needs to be banned from our food supply.
We need to educate, inspire, mobilize, file law suits, propose legislation, and nonviolently take over the levers of power from the elephants and donkeys that are standing on our breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
*That bit's not in the book but from conversation with the author.