Sunday, April 21, 2013

Visiting author on America's food crisis


Virginia-based Wenonah Hauter owns a family farm run by her husband as a "community supported agriculture program." The longtime activist is Executive Director of Food and Water Watch and recently was invited to Chico for a book signing at Lyon Books, with her appearance sponsored by the Northern California Regional Land Trust ( and their "Buy Fresh, Buy Local, North Valley" program.

For Hauter, the U.S. "food system is in a crisis because of the way that food is produced and the consolidation and organization of the industry itself. ... Today, twenty food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans, even organic brands. Four large chains, including Walmart, control more than half of all grocery store sales."

The implications are detailed in "Foodopoly: The Battle Over The Future Of Food And Farming In America" ($26.95 in hardcover from The New Press; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats). Hauter explores how political clout from the big food companies has undermined safety standards, promoted factory farming and inhumane treatment of animals, and has unleashed genetic experimentation with inadequate safeguards. "The biotechnology industry," she maintains, "has become so powerful that it can literally buy public policy."

It's impossible, she says, to counter these influences by just buying local or ending farm subsidies (as if such subsidies were propping up only the biggest farming operations). Because USDA statistics inflate the number of small farms (counting operations where most of the income is non-farm), it appears that relatively few farms benefit from subsidies. The truth, Haunter says, is that "82 percent of midsize farmers depend on some support to stay afloat." End subsidies, and full-time family farms collapse, consolidating the food system even more.

Her solution is a "new paradigm" of political activism, based on seeing "the world as a global commons with collectively shared assets, from air, water, soil, and genetics to taxpayer-funded research, libraries, roads, and all of the other resources we share." The bottom line: "Our movement must deepen and expand the strategy for moving people to political action. It must join the broader progressive movement to organize across the country. ... There are no shortcuts to building the long-term political power to reclaim our food system, our democracy, our commons."

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