Just four companies control the beef industry in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During a recent event, national radio commentator, writer, and former Commissioner of Agriculture of Texas Jim Hightower discussed the effects of monopolies on the food system and the importance of organizing. The conversation took place as part of the Future of Food @ SXSW co-hosted by The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation, Little Herds, The Cook’s Nook, and Food Tank.
“We’re battling enormous corporate power,” Hightower says. “And in food it has become the dominant power.”
Hightower explains that when farmers and ranchers go to market, this lack of competition puts the producers at the mercy of the buyer. He provides an example of a farmer he met who had no choice but to sell his cattle for less than it took to raise them.
“Farmers are being displaced, farm workers are being displaced,” he says.
Hightower explains that corporations are also shaping the food system through their financing of research institutions. “A handful of giants saw a way to invest in research done at land grant colleges.” Hightower argues that this has shut out many stakeholders, preventing them from having a say in the future of agricultural research.
In response, Hightower calls on everyone to join together and push back against corporate influence. “We should be showing up, saying here’s our agenda, here’s what we want the land grant college to work on and counter the corporations.”
And while those advocating for local, resilient, and equitable have the power to change the future of food systems, Hightower maintains that there is no alternative to showing up and collaborating with other sectors. “Power is us,” he says. “We have to organize and there’s really no shortcut to that.”
Hightower also advocates for young people just digging into food systems issues to get involved. “Start where you are in whatever way you can,” he says. “Whatever talent you have, put that to work.”
Watch the full conversation below: