You hit the farmers market most Saturdays and bring home a couple pounds of grass-fed beef from an Eastern plains rancher. You grab Colorado-grown greens from the organic section at the (locally owned) grocery store. Or maybe you just pick up pizza on Friday night from the neighborhood shop where you've known the owners for 15 years.
Great job. Here's your pat on the back for using your fork and your dollars to make your preferences known. Keep doing it. And take some time to read up on all the reasons you need to do more in Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch, who'll be at Colorado College on Thursday.
According to Sam Schabacker, Food & Water Watch's Mountain West regional director, "The point that Wenonah is really trying hard to make in her book is that there has been a series of political decisions made over the last five or six decades that have skewed our food system so far in the direction of the Monsantos and the Wal-Marts and the Cargills of the world, that we're not gonna be able to shop our way out of this problem."
Those decisions have ranged from the erosion of New Deal farm programs that started in the 1930s to the past decade's allowance of big-money food-and-beverage-sector mergers. And they've gotten us to a place where much of our food system is no longer in the hands of the farmers or the consumers.
"It's not OK that we have four companies that control over 85 percent of all the beef that is sold in this country, and what does that do in terms of prices for consumers, in terms of food safety, in terms of driving family farmers and ranchers off the land," Schabacker says. "... It's not gonna be solved overnight, but I think that there is an important political piece to solving this food crisis that we have in this country."
As a result, he says, we need to start asking hard questions, get involved in sustained political engagement, and hold our elected officials accountable. Which in some ways, he notes, is actually easier in Colorado right now since U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet sits on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which sets federal food policy.
And, Schabacker adds, Bennet's been responsive, especially when coalitions of various interested constituents — from consumers to ranchers to farmers to environmentalists — have spoken as one through the organizing work of groups like Food & Water Watch. So if you don't know what to do, find an organization that has a vision you support and volunteer some time, or donate some money.
"We're gonna have to un-build block by block, but it's something that — there's nothing more powerful than when people wake up and understand what has really happened, and then speak out with a unified voice."