Wenonah Hauter / The New Press / 368 pages

Wenonah Hauter’s Foodopoly: The Battle over the Future of Food and Farming in America weaves nearly every aspect of the food system—from retail and fast food to the indentured nature of farming contracts—into a unique and highly accessible analysis of not just America’s food systems, but how they fit into what is now a global corporate food web.

The author shows how the interconnectivity of today’s food industry not only influences but often dictates the way farmers interact with the land and how they raise animals for food. With vivid charts and diagrams, Hauter illustrates how the food industry is able to effectively move as one. She explains how increasing centralization of control and profit had led to decreasing control and profit for farmers and ranchers.

As animals raised for food are driven deeper into confinement systems, the animal welfare costs are enormous. The human costs are as well: Foodopoly notes how America has become the dominant global user of sub-therapeutic antibiotics to increase growth and stifle illness caused by crowded conditions and poor system design—heedless of the disastrous consequences this has to overall antibiotic effectiveness.

Food industry lobbyists, in Hauter’s account, are shown to be ever more potent drivers of agricultural policy—and outcomes in the world at large. The consequences of the political clout wielded by Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, ConAgra, and the like, she says, range from animal welfare atrocities, economic stagnation in rural communities, and famine overseas, to pronounced limitations on consumer choice and the undermining of antitrust, food safety, and labeling laws.

Hauter, who is executive director of the non-profit Food and Water Watch, grew up on a family farm that her husband now runs as a Community Supported Agriculture project. In Foodopoly, she captures the very essence of the challenges consumers face as we struggle to make sense of the barrage of information we receive about our food. She explores the misleading claims that some food manufacturers make, and how the companies exploit regulatory loopholes to deceive and take advantage of consumers’ growing concern over the health ramifications of food choices.

Though Hauter is a strong advocate for healthy, ethically raised food, in the end she argues that solving this crisis will require more than consumers making informed choices and supporting local, high-welfare farms. She calls for a complete structural shift—a change grounded in politics, not merely consumer choice. Foodopoly will certainly give you a thorough understanding of the mess that has been created, and illuminate what is needed to rein in a system that neglects the very source of its wealth: the animals, the land, the farmers, food workers, and us.

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