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Big Food Must Go: Why We Need to Radically Change the Way We Eat

This is not a problem we can solve by going vegetarian or vegan, or buying organic and fair trade.
 
 
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Editor's note: Find Christopher D. Cook's book, Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis , here.

It is no longer news that a few powerful corporations have literally occupied the vast majority of human sustenance. The situation is perilous: nearly all of human food production, seeds, food processing and sales, is run by a handful of for-profit firms which, like any capitalist enterprise, function to maximize profit and gain ever-greater market share and control. The question has become: What do we do about this disastrous alignment of pure profit in something so basic and fundamental to human survival?

It is time -- now, not next year -- to de-occupy Walmart. And Archer Daniels Midland. And Tyson Foods. And Monsanto. And Cargill. And Kraft Foods. And the other large corporations that decide what ends up on our plates. Take all our money out, public and personal, from our shopping dollars to school district lunch contracts to the corporate subsidies that uphold these firms' grip on our food supply, and invest it in a new system that's economically diverse and ecologically sustainable.

These corporations' stranglehold over food has wreaked havoc on the environment, our health, farmers, workers, and our very future. It is time for an end to Big Food, and a societal shift to something radically different. We all deserve a future where what we eat feeds community and land, instead of eroding soils, polluting water and air, and tossing away small farmers and immigrant workers as if they were balance sheet losers.

"Occupying the food system" has emerged as a rallying cry as activists and movements across the country, from Willie Nelson to more than 60 Occupy groups are turning up the heat on "big food" in nationwide actions today. Across the US, online and offline, thousands will be protesting icons of corporate control over food such as Monsanto and Cargill, and literally occupying vacant lots and tilling long-ignored soils in a mass-scale rejuvenation of community-led food production. (Find out more about the day of action  here.) 

"We want to ignite a robust conversation about corporate control of our food supply," says Laurel Sutherlin, communications manager for Rainforest Action Network, a lead organizer in this growing coalition of food system occupiers. "Occupy has opened a national dialogue about inequality and the dangers of surrendering our basic life-support systems over to corporate control."

The idea that food ought to be spared from the all-consuming machinery of corporate control has gained wide currency, but what does it mean to "occupy" and revamp our food system? Apart from our desire for local heirloom produce and artisanal cheeses, or to save the family farm, what's wrong with a few corporations controlling our food supply?

"Occupying the food system is about taking it back from the corporations for the communities and for the people," says Erin Middleton of the California Food and Justice Coalition. "Access to good, healthy, affordable food is a basic human right that has been interfered with in the current capitalistic food system."

Beyond any aesthetic concerns about local versus multinational, or slow food versus fast food, the well-documented reality is that Big Food has attained phenomenal and destructive power over what we eat -- our diets, our health and the planet.

Consider a few quick facts:

  • Four corporations, led by Walmart, control more than half of grocery sales. Walmart alone gets more than one quarter of every grocery dollar spent in the U.S.
  • Three companies -- Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta -- own 47 percent of the world's seeds. And they own 65 percent of the global proprietary maize market.
  • Nearly every major commodity -- wheat, corn, soy -- is controlled by just four corporations.
  • Just four corporations control more than 80 percent of all our meat supply.
  • According to USDA statistics, America loses more than 17,000 farmers a year -- one every half an hour.

This corporate occupation of our food isn't just unfair and wrong; it's impractical and destructive. It's ruining farmers, the land and our future food supply.

 
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