New Orleans The other day I interviewed Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, on KABF at 88.3 FM about her work and her new book, Foodopoly. We have worked with Wenonah over the years all over the world. Her organization was crucial in getting us help in our winning fight more than a dozen years ago to stop the privatization of water and sewer services in New Orleans. She was always there with help and advice when ACORN International and ACORN Peru were working to stop privatization of water services there over the last decade. When the Organizers’ Forum went to Bolivia she connected us to the organizers in Cochabamba during the great water wars there. So I know Wenonah and her work, but she still had some surprises for me and all of us in her passionate arguments about the adverse impacts of corporate concentration in our food industry.
Increasingly many of us are hoping that the trend towards organic and healthy food augurs well for future citizen health. Talking to Wenonah it becomes clear that the smaller organic operations are being gulped down by the big food production and grocery operations. Asking her about the impact of Whole Foods with its elite pricing structure and market presentations was a little like hearing about Darth Vadar and the Empire striking back. Without going into chapter and verse on-the-air, Wenonah and her large team of researchers and staff, stretched over 18 offices in the United States now, seem skeptical of whether or not some of the organic claims of these companies are even true.
And, if we might have hoped that the alternative was to increasingly go local as we are doing at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, Wenonah had a cold splash of water in our faces for us to experience there as well. Personally, she lives on some acreage that her father originally bought some years ago 45 minutes out of Washington DC and that her husband now farms organically and sells in DC and along the beltway, so she has already been there and is doing that. She salutes the loca-vore movement with one hand while waving the other in caution at the same time. She didn’t say that it was all simply “precious,” but she was crystal clear that there was no way that any of these efforts were going to get to scale so that they could be realistic consumer alternatives. Stepping back from our dreams, there is no doubt that she is correct.
The solution? Wenonah argues that we have to have a mass movement of consumers ready to demand change and to do so politically from City Hall to the halls of Congress, and that is the real message behind her book and her relentless travel around the country to spread this message. Whether we want to hear this or not, we need to heed her call. Food is too important for it to be simply a profit center for corporations and conglomerates.