When Wenonah Hauter visits a grocery store, she doesn’t see a wonderland of food options. Instead, Hauter, author of "Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America" (The New Press 2013; $26.95) looks beyond shelves stocked with endless offerings of edibles and into the corporate consolidation controlling our food system and its impact on farmers and consumers.
“Food companies have become so large that they have the political and economic power to dictate all of the rules around food policy, whether it is labeling or whether we eat genetically engineered food,” says Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a non-governmental organization working to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. “About 20 companies own most of the brands we see in the grocery stores. Wal-Mart gets 1 out of 3 grocery dollars so they have a lot of power over the food processors. All this consolidation gives these companies a tremendous amount of political power as well economic power.”
Hauter, who has worked extensively on food, water, energy, and environmental issues at the national, state and local level, believes that Community Supported Agriculture programs and direct farmer to consumer sales are great, they’re not ultimately the answer to fighting the megalithic food industry. The explosion of obesity and the resulting rise in diabetes and heart disease are due to the processed food we consume often without knowing how ladened with fat, sugar and salt these items are.
“What I learned in researching and writing 'Foodopoly' was that there has been a long term plan in creating this kind of food system,” says Hauter. “There were business leaders after World War II who saw what they believed was an opportunity to substitute chemicals and capital for labor on the farm and so they formed a business association that was became extremely powerful and began to chip away at policies that allowed farmers to make a living and for real food to be grown.”
As an example, Hauter notes that growing the organic ingredients going into the foods made by big corporations are offshored to countries like China.
“We really can’t ensure what kind of production methods are being used for organics in China,” she says. “That means we have to go on faith in that verification is working.”
And ultimately consumers have to act.
“We need to stop these mergers and acquisitions because the bigger these companies get, the more power they have,” says Hauter. “It’s important to start talking about how we want real competition and we want a marketplace that works for farmers and consumers.”