Author and activist Wenonah Hauter visited New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville on February 13 for a discussion and signing of her new book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America. Ms. Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, comes from a farming family, and is a long-time strategist and organizer for sustainable energy and food production.
Foodopoly reveals the behind-the-scenes lobbying, politics, and corporate power directing our food systems, and argues that consumers and farmers alone cannot fix the problem; a fundamental shift in food politics is required, as well. From the Foodopoly site:
In Foodopoly, she takes aim at the real culprit: the control of food production by a handful of large corporations—backed by political clout—that prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store.
What I learned from Wenonah Hauter
- The Reagan administration changed antitrust laws, made it easier for monopolies to form
- In 1996 US joined WTO and NAFTA; those partnerships lead to pressure to deregulate farm policy
- The 1996 farm bill led to drop in corn and soy prices, saving the big food producers billions
- ’98 price collapse
- Congress began subsidies for commodity crops to support farmers
- Half of small/medium farmer income is from subsidies, so if we get rid of them, we need to fix antitrust policies that keep prices low
- Subsidies are a symptom of a dysfunctional system, not a cause of it
- About 20 food production companies control most of the grocery store brands
- They need cheap ingredients, so lobby strongly for reducing and maintaining the low price of inputs
- Big 4 groceries: Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger, Target
- 1/3 of our grocery money goes to Wal-Mart. They may be making an effort to work with smaller, local producers, but logistically, it’s difficult for any suppliers but the very large ones to work them
- United Natural Foods, Inc is largest US distributor of organic foods
- Since corp went public, it has focused mostly on Whole Foods and no longer delivers to small buying clubs and co-ops
- Possibly colluding w/ Whole Foods to drive consumers there?
- We need to vote with our forks, but also with our votes: keep elected officials accountable
- Need to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement
- US would “harmonize” laws with other (less-regulated) countries, like the EU did when the US and the EU made trade agreement, and the EU’s laws were weakened to harmonize w/ the US’s
- Tyson and Perdue are trying to change the rules: to raise poultry in Asia, and increase speed of slaughter to 200 birds/min
- Can’t fix food system without fixing our democracy
- Need to undo Citizens United (Read more about that here: Overturning Citizens United)
- Need to be citizens, not consumers
Ms. Hauter was an excellent speaker (even with laryngitis); passionate, knowledgeable, and fluent in the topics discussed. If she comes to your area, I highly recommend you see her. I look forward to reading Foodopoly, and will surely post lessons learned from it on this blog.
For more information, visit the sites below:
Buy the book (or better, go to your local bookstore and buy it):