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Hate Eating Corporate Food? Democracy Is the Best Recipe

Wenonah Hauter discusses her new book "Foodopoly," a deep dive into our country’s history and our relationships with farmers.

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We may be able to agree that much of our food system is broken, but how we begin to fix it is much harder to understand. Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch, takes on this challenge in her new book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America.

Hauter, who grew up and lives on a farm in Virginia, uses Foodopoly to take readers on a deep dive into our country’s history and our relationships with farmers. Through her book, readers learn about farmers as the heart of the Populist movement, whose organization and alliance with labor leaders made them a political threat. She writes about the systems that were put in place to move men off of farms for cheap labor in cities, to lower prices for crops, and to whittle away at the fabric of rural America — for the sake of corporate profit. 

“The food system is in a crisis because of the way that food is produced and the consolidation and organization of the industry itself. Solving it means we must move beyond the focus on consumer choice to examine the corporate, scientific, industrial, and political structures that support an unhealthy system,” she writes in the Introduction. “Combating this is going to take more than personal choice and voting with our forks -- it's going to take old-fashioned political activism. This book aims to show what the problem is and why we must do much more than create food hubs or find more opportunities for farmers to sell directly to consumers. We must address head-on the ‘foodopoly’ -- the handful of corporations that control our food system from seeds to dinner plates.”

Hauter sat down with AlterNet to discuss her new book and talk about the contentious issue of subsidies, why solving our democracy issues are paramount to fixing our food system, and the biggest challenges to creating a sustainable and just food system. (You can read the Introduction to the book here.)

Tara Lohan: There's no doubt we have a big problem with junk food and a lot of the issue comes down to marketing to kids, which you’ve written about in the book in great detail. But it seems like a much larger cultural problem then that.

Wenonah Hauter: I think it’s part of the dysfunction of society as people have forgotten how to cook. We want everyone to enjoy healthy food, not just small segments of society. We have to fix the policy things and then we have to fix the things in society that make it impossible for people to actually cook. That's why we can't fix our food system without fixing our democracy. People don't have time to cook because they work two jobs. They are not paid enough to purchase the healthy ingredients and the food system is not going to solve these problems. We have to have a political system ask why there is an ever increasing stratification and why they allow the media to set the agenda through advertising and the culture that we created today.  

It's complex. There's no magic bullet. I'm dealing in Foodopoly with the food policy piece but that's just a slice of the pie. We also have to do something about these corporations benefitting from really the wrong values around food and the fact that 90% of the food budget of most Americans goes towards processed foods. We need to take away the economic incentive. 

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