Let’s Topple the Foodopoly

Lobbyists have purchased agricultural policy. Changing our food system is a political act—one that will require a massive grassroots mobilization to challenge multi-national corporations—and one we must support.

| April 2013

As one of the nation’s leading healthy food advocates, Wenonah Hauter believes that the local food movement is not enough to solve America’s food crisis and the public health debacle it has created. In Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (New Press, 2012), she takes aim at the real culprit: the massive consolidation and corporate control of food production, which prevents farmers from raising healthy crops and limits the choices that people can make in the grocery store. In the following excerpt, Hauter introduces how she came to advocate against driving out independent farmers and food processors in favor of the likes of Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, and ConAgra. She demonstrates how the impacts ripple far and wide, from economic stagnation in rural communities at home, to famines in poor countries overseas. In the end, Hauter illustrates how solving this crisis will require a complete structural shift, a grassroots movement to reshape our food system from seed to table—a change that is about politics, not just personal choice. 

In 1963 my dad bought a ramshackle farm with rich but extremely rocky soil in the rural Bull Run Mountains of Virginia, forty miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Today it is on the verge of suburbia.

He grew up in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, rode the rails, and eventually, in his late fifties, found his way “back to the land.” So we moved to what was then a very rural landscape—a place culturally a world away from the nation’s capital and physically linked only indirectly by two-lane roads.

Our old farmhouse, with a mile-long rutted driveway accessible only by fourwheel drive, was off another dirt road and had no electricity or plumbing. Eventually my dad did manage to get the local rural electricity co-op to put in poles and hook up power, but he never did get around to installing indoor plumbing.

He was an unusual man—a religious iconoclast and an organic gardener at a time when few people knew the term. He was considered a crank and a hobby farmer, if you can call it that, growing a few vegetables and keeping bees. His wild-blossom honey was the only vaguely successful part of his farming venture. My dad, who died in 1991 at the age of eighty-one, would be shocked now to see both his farm and the massive development around it.

Today the hundred acres of mostly wooded land is bordered by a megamansion subdivision on one side and an expensive “gated community” a mile away as the crow flies. Thousands of town houses and new subdivisions have cropped up where once there were fields dotted with cows. This has brought on the box stores, including Walmart and fast-food joints—blights on the once bucolic rural landscape. A major highway, I-66, recently engineered to be either six or eight lanes depending on the location, means we can zip into the nation’s capital during the rare times that commuters are not clogging the road.