From Farms to Firms: The Folly of American Food Corporations

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Well, it’s been a while since I blogged! I don’t know what happened. Life got so busy, that the blog took a back seat for a bit. I have lots of final papers coming in and I’m trying to keep myself from being buried in grading! In my upper division class I have twenty, ten-page-papers to grade and in my entry-level history course, I have forty-nine, five-page-papers to plow through. So far, I’ve had genuinely great papers. I really love my students!

Today I’m posting an excerpt from my recently minted thesis. I write how the transformation of the American landscape from small farms to corporate firms has been detrimental to the landscape and the health of Americans.

Moving food and meat production off of small farms and to huge conglomerate holdings, and into factories, instigated the demise of the bucolic farm and family businesses. For example, currently only a few corporations dominate much of the United State’s food production. In 1900 approximately forty percent of Americans lived on farms. However, today that number has fallen to two percent. Between 1960 and 2000, the total number of U.S. farms decreased from 3.2 million to 1.9 million; yet, the average size of the farm increased by forty percent and productivity rose by an astronomical eighty percent. Furthermore, the diversity of crops has radically decreased, with most farms raising a single commodity crop.

This radical change of the landscape resulted in deleterious consequences for the community. Historian William Cronon writes in his book Natures’ Metropolis: “The traditional butcher shop had [once] very much belonged to its particular place, bound to customers in the immediate neighborhood and farmers in the surrounding countryside. The [food coporations] had none of these ties, not even to the place that had nurtured their own birth.” It no longer mattered where animals were raised or food was grown. The idea of the community revolving around food production became arcane.

Further, the commercial trade in livestock rendered nature and geography moot. As Cronon states, “Time had conspired with capital to annihilate space.” Geography, space and place no longer mattered in industrial farming or ranching. Producers and sellers, in a consumption duet, carved up the landscape in America in a manner that best suited their needs

This paradigm transpired all across the United States, transforming the countryside from small farms to urban spaces surrounded by giant agri-business corporations. These conglomerates enjoyed free rein in mass-producing food at the expense of the environment and nutritional quality of the food, as well as causing a host of other ills. When cities broke free of the geographical limitations imposed on them by food production represents the beginning of many of the food issues that the United States faces today. The distinct separation of city from countryside, combined with the transformation of agriculture from small farms to corporate firms reshaped social and economic spaces in an unprecedented manner.

J.R.R. Tokien once wrote: “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” It’s time that we heed Tolkien’s wise words. If we all began to place a greater value on food and started denying giant food conglomerates profit, the world would indeed be a merrier place for the land, for communities and most importantly for people everywhere.

I’ll post a recipe later in the week for some phabulous pho that my son and I made a few weeks ago. It’s easy, healthy and delicious. Until then: Don’t buy corporate food. Keep Shining. Peace Out!

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