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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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Beyond that, we need to break up the food oligopoly. Reform anti-trust law so these companies can't control entire food and seed markets. Cargill, for instance, the world's largest privately held corporation, not only controls a huge portion of the global grain business, but it also has a near monopoly over entire regions of American grain elevators, where farmers sell their crops. For the future of the environment and local economies, we must also redistribute land from corporations and agribusiness to small sustainable farms, and reverse the long trend of huge subsidized landholders buying out the family farm.

A few more ideas: Tax fast food corporations at the point of production (not sale, where it just hurts low-income consumers) and use the money to create sustainable urban farms. Create a federal New Deal for Food that invests in a truly sustainable healthy food system that makes good food accessible to all -- reinvesting the dollars we currently throw at agribusiness, into community-driven food production and marketing.

Ultimately, we need to understand that this isn't just a few bad corporations -- this is capitalism doing what it naturally does, exploiting people and land for profit. Even Adam Smith warned of the inherent tendency of capitalism toward ceaseless growth and monopoly power. Whether you're for revolution or reform, let's be honest about the system we're dealing with. Capitalism is unraveling, undermining even its own interests with its tireless demand for more growth, more profits, endless new markets with no protections for local industry, more corporate consolidation and monopoly power over both economics and politics.

Increasingly, activists are making these deeper connections between sustenance and a larger economy. "One of the most important aspects of Occupy the Food System, especially during this time of high unemployment and economic crisis, is rebuilding local economies and creating quality jobs," Tanya Kerssen of Food First wrote in an email to me. "In many communities where unemployment is high and access to healthy food is limited or nonexistent, the food system is an obvious place to start."

Kerssen argues that community-based food production can rebuild and sustain more than just food:, "By localizing the production and consumption of food, we can generate employment along the entire value chain (from production to distribution to retail). We can also rebuild our social fabric, address our health crisis, and significantly reduce our carbon footprint."

Michele Simon, a food policy expert and author of Appetite for Profit, sees the Occupy Big Food actions as "a great opportunity to bring together a rather fragmented good food movement. I'd like to see more connections being made to the industry's massive marketing machine, especially when it comes to children and the impact on public health, which too often gets left out of the food justice critique."

But, Simon adds, "I also think we need much more long-term action. Single-day actions here and there won't cut it when powerful food industry lobbyists are roaming the halls of Congress and state legislatures all over the nation every day of the year. We need to Occupy our political system!"

Indeed, we need to occupy politics, and the economy. Capitalism's endless need for new markets, new products and new lands and people to exploit is putting our entire planet and future in peril. We must re-socialize food and other life essentials. Food is already socialized, but it's corporate socialism: the huge subsidies we all pay, directly and indirectly, to uphold agribusiness.

Reclaiming our food system, says Aaron Lehmer of Bay Localize, "must mean reclaiming control of our land, our labor, and our economy from corporate monopolies. Anything less will leave our communities enslaved by special interests, whose primary goal is extracting more and more value from the common good."

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