Heed Wenonah Hauter’s Warnings about Food Monopolies

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.

Food Monopolies Audio Blog

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Water, Water, Nowhere, and How to Get Enough to Drink in the Andes

water system in a yard

Cochabamba   We met Marcela Olivera of Food and Water Watch  and squeezed into a taxi to go to the south of the city, where living is hardscrabble.  There are over a 100 different water “communities” that have formed in the south to collectively finance, supervise, and deliver, as best they can within their own resources and hydrology, potable water to their communities.

The community we visited at length has about 1200 families in the sector and 600 users, who pay for water and the services.  We met with the administrator of the system.  There are five total employees and two wells that they own and have dug.  The problem is that their existing wells are “over the hills” so to speak and run about 7 kilometers from their area.  They lose more than half of the water they pump out of the wells over that distance to theft, leaks, and low pressure.  Another problem they shared is that the demand for water has tripled over the last 20 years or so.  They are well organized and provide water so cheaply relatively that others were getting their water and selling it, so now they have limited it to domestic use only.

They are just barely able to keep up with their system largely because the road paving in this new area keeps forcing them to re-dig the pipes over and over at $40000 grand a shot.  They are also starting to lay some sewer pipes, but in asking questions, this was secondary, if on the list at all, according to Marcela, for many communities that are so focused on getting water to live that sewage has become an afterthought and a huge, looming problem.

The administrator reported good news was coming.  Some Korean hydrologists had found that they had water on their own property which would solve many problems.  It would cost some $25000 and take 3 months.  Then they said they were going to Potosi to see a similar well that the Koreans had dug, and it became clear that the Koreans were selling wells, rather than being dispassionate or objective advisers to the community.  Gulp!

One of the Organizers’ Forum delegation mentioned as we left how depressing this meeting had been.  These were great people doing a vital and important job, but they didn’t have the resources or the help to adequately deal with all of the challenges they were confronting.

We had debriefed from our week in Bolivia the night before.  We were exhilarated at the power of social movements and humble to their tasks.

the hydrological problem faced by the community
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