“Reforming our food system is a Herculean task; one that might intimidate Hercules himself. Willie Nelson and Anna Lappe summed up the challenge recently in the Huffington Post:
Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold byjust one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.
Meanwhile, author Eric Schlosser and urban agriculture pioneer Will Allen put the consequences of all this in sharp perspective in their afterword to the recently published book based on a 2011 Prince of Wales speech on the importance of sustainable agriculture. The essay reads:
Young children and people of color are being hurt the most. During the past 40 years, the obesity rate among American preschoolers has doubled. Among children aged six to 11, it has tripled. Obesity has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…As upper-middle-class consumers increasingly seek out healthier foods, the fast food chains are targeting low-income, minority communities — much like the tobacco companies did, when wealthy and well-educated people began to quit smoking.
…Access to good, healthy food shouldn’t be reserved for a privileged few. It should be a basic right.
And they’re right, of course. We need a solution that applies to everyone — not just to those who can afford to opt out of the industrialized food system.
There are those working on this issue, including many in the Obama administration, who believe the key to turning back the tide is getting companies like Walmart to provide access to healthy foods in areas that lack it. And, as Grist reported recently, the Arkansas-based behemoth is well on its way to taking over the food system even without government encouragement. In 2011, Walmart pocketed at least a quarter of all U.S. spending on groceries and accounted for over 50 percent of grocery sales in 29 metropolitan markets.
Meanwhile, a new report from Food and Water Watch argues that, not only is Walmart’s dominance problematic in general, but the company’s recent projection of itself as a food system savior is misleading. As the report concludes:…”