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Foodopoly, or the Corporatization of Food

February 18, 2013


“I want everyone to have a healthy, affordable food system. And if we’re really going to have that kind of system, we need to vote with more than our fork. We need to vote with our vote.”

Wenonah HauterVisiting the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on Tuesday, February 12, from Food and Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter seized many opportunities to underscore the need for policy reform to create resilient food systems in this country. “We need to take long-lasting political action,” she said. Hauter spoke at the School about her new book, Foodopoly, in which she tackles many myths about food systems, including the ones about farm subsidies, and illustrates how everything we eat has come to be dominated by the interests of mega-corporations.

Her insipration for the book, she says, was a “heartbreak story” of conventional, three-generation commodities farmers who couldn’t afford to continue farming. “We hear so much about subsidies, so why do commodities farmers find it so hard to make any money?” she asked.

Hauter took the audience on a quick tour of U.S. agricultural policy, starting with the first World War, after which we found ourselves with a surplus of crops, and the Roosevelt administration’s response, which was to help farmers stay above water financially. During the Eisenhower administration when Ezra Benson was the Secretary of Agriculture, the goal was for farmers to be paid on par with the urban population, but by the Nixon era, when Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz infamously told farmers to “get big or get out,” the farmer’s lot has become more difficult.

In the 1980s and 90s, Hauter pointed out, it was the obliteration of antitrust laws and the acceleration of consolidation that took an even greater toll on America’s farmers. The 1996 farm bill put into place massive deregulation and destroyed much of the farmers’ safety nets. “No president has been brave enough to take on antitrust law since it was eviscerated in the Reagan administration,” said Hauter. “It seems like a perfect time to politicize people and talk about deeper issues that put our food system in terrible shape.”

A proponent of organizing at the grassroots level, Hauter mentioned activities at the local and state levels that give her hope. One such activity is the campaigning in 30 states, Maryland included, to demand labeling of genetically engineered foods. “In Maryland, we’ll see a lot of activity around the poultry industry, because of its devastating effect on the Chesapeake Bay. No other part of food system is as abusive as poultry industry, and it’s operating right here in Maryland,” she said.

Holding decision-makers responsible is the key to change, said Hauter. “There’s no silver bullet. We have to pay attention to the details. The devil’s in the details.”