Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Occupied Plate

Dan and I took a trip to New York City this week to partake in some of their abundant Christmas spirit. One item on our agenda: Occupy Wall Street. Sure, the movement has fallen off the radar of most news outlets, but a few OWSers meet daily at Zuccotti Park to continue to protest Big Everything. I wanted to see the movement for myself and consider what I would protest, if I were one for protesting: Big Agriculture. What is Big Ag, you might ask?

The idea of economic inequality is fine - people who work more or have unique skills probably should also earn more than the rest of us. The problem (and the OWS movement) arises when the majority of Americans (say, 99%) begin to feel like the riches of the wealthiest have not been earned. It gets even worse when those wealthy people and corporations are the ones that end up making the rules the rest of us abide by but don't apply those rules to themselves.


Relating this to agriculture and the food system: decades ago, the companies that figured out how to produce foods most cheaply end up with the most profit. They made animals grow faster in less space and with less disease, they didn't worry what effects their actions might have on the environment, and the treatment of employees was sacrificed all to maximize profit. Producing and selling food for so little has baked the idea of "cheap food" (cheap in every sense of the word) into our economy and society. Americans spend only about 7% of their income on food; by comparison, Chinese spend 33%, the French spend 13.5%, and Japanese people spend 14.2%.

Those most successful agricultural companies are the ones that make the rules today thanks to digging their financial fingernails into politicians and lobbyists. Their rules govern most of us (say, 99%), but the companies themselves are exempt. Would it be okay if I made an antibiotic resistant strain of salmonella? I think not, but Big Ag has been allowed to.
  • As of 2007, six companies owned 75 percent of the global pesticide market, and just four companies sold half of the world's seeds. Three companies happen to be on both lists.
  • Four companies - Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Louis Dreyfus - control 90% of the global trade in grain.
  • Just three companies process upwards of 70% of all beef.
  • Four companies create 75% of all breakfast cereal, 75% of snacks, 60% of cookies, and 50% of ice cream.
  • Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller produce 80% of the beer consumed in the U.S. For the arithmetically challenged, that means 4 out of every 5 beers Americans drink sucks.
  • Altogether, the U.S. meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics each year. To put that in perspective: all humans in the United States use just over 7 million pounds per year - that's for all of our prescriptions and hospital stays combined.
As part of the 100% of us that eat food, I am glad we got to see the OWS movement for ourselves.

The Christmas tree in Zuccotti Park - some might say a tree for the 99%.
And the lovely evergreen specimen on Wall Street in front of the NYSE.  


Sources And Recommended Reading:
http://motherjones.com/environment/2011/10/food-industry-monopoly-occupy-wall-street?page=1
http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/08/beer-charts
http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2011/07/what-usda-doesnt-want-you-know-about-antibiotics-and-factory-farms
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/legal-system-favors-one-percent
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/all-we-can-eat/post/michael-pollan-on-the-steve-jobs-of-agriculture/2011/11/03/gIQAjU4smM_blog.html?tid=ts_lifeent

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I am grateful for those Occupy peeps!

    ReplyDelete

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