As the director of the Washington-based activist group Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter seeks antibiotic free meats for her table, shops at nearby farmers markets and works with her husband on their small-scale, diversified family farm in Virginia. But, as she points out in her new book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, so much of the dysfunction in our food system—from childhood obesity to the climate-change-inducing pollution generated by farms themselves—goes back to the fact that a small number of large food companies control most of what we eat. We must change the rules those companies play by, and Hauter is coming to both East Hampton and Sag Harbor this weekend to tell us how.
The level of concentration at every link of our food chain will surprise even the most conscientious Edible reader. “Today, twenty food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans, even organic brands,” Hauter writes in her meticulously researched book with dazzling infographics showing exactly which companies are feeding us. “Four large chains, including Walmart, control more than half of all grocery store sales. One company dominates the organic grocery industry and one distribution company has a stranglehold on getting organic products into communities around the country.”
Food & Water Watch, founded in 2005 by several staff from the group Public Citizen, has since helped influence Starbucks to discontinue using milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones, provided guidance to communities trying to halt the construction of factory farms in their area, and raised awareness nationwide about the problems with the bottled water industry through its Take Back the Tap campaign. Recently, its work has focused on banning fracking (particularly in watersheds and food-producing regions like Upstate New York), mandating labeling of genetically modified foods, and also pushing federal regulators to enforce antitrust laws that apply to massive agribusiness brands.
As such, Food & Water Watch has local chapters around the nation and offers advice we can all use in our communities to protect our common edible—and drinkable—resources: everything we put in our mouths. Still, Hauter believes that local action may not always be enough, a point lost on some food movement commentators. “The local-food movement is uplifting and inspiring and represents positive steps in the right direction. But now it’s time for us to marshal our forces and do more than vote with our forks. Changing the food system is a political act. We must build the power to do so. It is a matter of survival.”
Come see Hauter read from Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor at 5 p.m. on Saturday August 17, and will read at BookHampton in East Hampton at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 18.