Big Hunger

January 25, 2018

Recently I attended, “Rooting out Hunger: Strategies and Perspectives in the Anti-Hunger Movement“, held at Colorado College and featuring Andy Fisher, author of the new book Big Hunger.

Mr. Fisher seemed to present an open-and-shut case. Chronic hunger is a direct result of poverty, and poverty is the result of concentrated power and wealth. Companies like Walmart use unchecked monopoly power to drive down wages, while their employees, as a group, are the largest recipients of SNAP and other government welfare dollars. Mr. Fisher also described what he called a “hunger-industrial complex,” made up of numerous companies and organizations who are thouroughly invested in maintaining rather than eliminating hunger, as doing so is good for business.

His presentation was logical and persuasive. So, what was the community response?

Following his presentation, Mr. Fisher joined a panel of people representing local non-profit charitable organizations, and one for-profit reseller of food waste (Food Maven). Their discussion seemed to me a lost opportunity to look hard at some tough and critical issues.

One of our city leaders asked the obvious question, “What do we do about hunger?” The obvious answer — “stop feeding the root problem” — didn’t come. No one pointed out that the city of Colorado Springs seems to advantage Wall Street-based businesses over locally owned enterprises. No one asked why the city will build new intersections with stop lights, arrows and double turn lanes into Walmart stores, big box shopping centers, national chain fast food joints and gas stations. Or why so much of our population eats at restaurants that send local dollars out of town everyday on the Sysco truck. Or pointed out how ridiculous is it to hold fundraisers for Care and Share, the regional food bank, at the Broadmoor, which is not only the most expensive venue in town but also a major point of wealth extraction (it has not been locally owned for many years and buys very little locally.) Why is Venetucci Farm, the last working farm within 50 miles of Colorado Springs, being allowed to fail, despite the fact that it was gifted by Bambi Venetucci to the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, no doubt hoping it would remain an asset to the community?

Until we address the root problems that cause lack of opportunity for workers and business owners and a lack of self-reliance for our community, hunger will continue to be one of the few growth industries in our region and around the country.

Mike Callicrate
Ranch Foods Direct
Peak to Plains Food Distribution – “Building community around local food!”

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Shedding Light on Fast Food’s Dark Side

February 1, 2018

All American Meal Even Less American Now

It’s been nearly twenty years since Rolling Stone magazine serialized Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser’s story about how franchise food chains and their fake food were taking over Colorado Springs. From appearances, not much has changed: there is more fast food here than ever; farmers, ranchers and food workers are worse off; animal cruelty and valuable soil loss continues.

A stunning number of once private brands, like Colorado’s Coleman Natural Beef, Maverick, and Niman, have either failed or are now owned by big food companies, which are simply slapping these iconic names on the same old production practices. More large chain grocery stores are closing, due to predatory competition from Walmart. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market promises more consolidation and centralization, offering even less market access for producers and fewer choices for consumers.

Forty years ago, it was inconceivable to most that small farmers, ranchers, and other independent food producers would vanish, but that’s what has been happening in every sector of agriculture and our food system. Despite Schlosser’s warnings, not only has our food system continued to deteriorate, but our nation’s food security is increasingly at stake.

As corporate controlled industrial farming and food production takes over, a small but committed community struggles to support the values of a local food system. What is fresher, healthier, better for people, animals, and the environment is becoming more expensive and increasingly harder to find.

It’s not just happening at fast food joints. Restaurants, food retailers, purveyors, and institutions of all sizes are getting away with slick and misleading marketing, claiming to provide local products when they don’t. Few people know enough to question what they see and hear. There’s a need to verify that what’s on the menu or on the shelf really is “local,” rather than an imposter. For example, JBS, the criminal Brazilian meatpacker, wraps its product in the local-sounding name, “Aspen Ridge.”

Powerful global food companies, from slaughter to food service to retail, are positioned between the world’s farmers and ranchers, and the consumers. They continue to pay less and charge more, leaving bankrupted farms, worn out soils, and dead rural communities behind. Individuals and independent small businesses are no match for the monopoly forces consolidating food and agriculture. A recent report shows farmer suicides at nearly five times the national average, and twice the number of our returning war veterans.

It’s no wonder that the average age of a farmer is approaching 60. It’s no wonder why young people cannot make a living income from farming. Since 1980, we’ve lost nearly half our nation’s ranchers, over 90 percent of our pig farmers, and over 85 percent of our dairy farmers, with the numbers continuing to worsen. Rural poverty rates are currently 30 percent higher than urban, with a 55 percent drop in net farm income since 2013. We’re now a net importer of food on a value basis and fully dependent on big corporations and their foreign food.

In the Colorado Springs community, a 25% shift to local food would increase local income by $100 million per year, and tax collection by $25 million per year, on top of reducing social costs. Industrially produced, highly processed food is making us sick. Our youngest are less healthy than previous generations. Additionally, the threat of antibiotic resistance is real and serious due to the overuse of drugs in industrial livestock production.

In today’s food economy, captured government agencies, like USDA and FDA, work for the global food monopolies and against local food. Anti-monopoly antitrust laws, designed to control market predators, are ignored. It’s up to consumers to support local through conscientious spending and by advocating for better local food policies.

Remember that every dollar spent on food is a vote for the kind of food system you want. When you shop or eat out, ask where the food comes from, don’t be fooled. Hold the restaurant or retailer accountable. Consider calling the farmer to express your appreciation.

Eric Schlosser sounded the alarm; it’s well past time we listen.

Mike Callicrate
Ranch Foods Direct
Peak to Plains Food Distribution – “Building community around local food!”

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Why would the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association trust their life savings with these crooks?

Farm and Food File: Fifth Avenue cowboys

by Alan Guebert

Maybe it’s a sign of our fast-changing times, but paradox and irony seem as common today as lunch and supper. For example, the world’s largest taxi company, Uber, owns no taxis and the world’s second largest air force is the U.S. Navy.

The same is true of the American beef sector. As of mid-January, the owner of the world’s largest cattle feedlot operation—a 980,000-head behemoth with 11 feedyards from Texas to Idaho—isn’t a rancher, a feedlot operator or even a meatpacker.

Instead, it’s Pinnacle Asset Management, L.P., “a private… alternative asset management firm,” based at 712 Fifth Ave. in New York, just catty-corner from Trump Tower and only three blocks south of Central Park. It became the nation’s largest cattle feeder Jan. 18 when it purchased JBS USA’s massive operation, known as Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, for “approximately $200 million.”

JBS USA is the American arm of Brazilian meatpacker JBS S.A., a global meat company whose majority owners, Wesley and Joesely Batista, are eyeball-deep in scandals in their home country. (JBS also owns the majority of Pilgrim’s Pride, North America’s largest poultry company.)

As previously reported here, the scandals gained traction last summer. Last fall, JBS S.A. announced a “divestment program” to finance a $3.2 billion fine levied against the brothers for an alleged bribery scheme in Brazil. Shortly thereafter, JBS sold the Canadian branch of Five Rivers, a 75,000-head feeding operation, for US$40 million. The most recent Five Rivers sale to Pinnacle marks JBS’s exit from all North American cattle feeding.

In fact, the JBS-Pinnacle deal marks the first time in decades that no major U.S. meatpacker—including today’s three major players: JBS, Cargill, and Tyson—own any cattle, a one-time hallmark of the old boys’ meatpacking club.

That’s a big deal because for decades cowboys and feedlot owners not “aligned”—or under some form of contract with a packer—complained bitterly to federal authorities that packer-controlled cattle allowed Big Meat to manipulate cash cattle prices. Those complaints led to successful efforts in Congress to require federal Mandatory Price Reporting by meatpackers and to unsuccessful cattlemen efforts in federal court to sue packers for collusion and price manipulation.

The current wave of divestitures, however, won’t prevent packers from having access to cattle in their once-owned feedlots. As part of their $200-million deal with Pinnacle, JBS noted that Pinnacle “will continue delivering fed cattle to JBS USA packing plants.”

So JBS USA, like Uber, and Cargill and Tyson, too, for that matter, has figured out it doesn’t need inventory in order to sell inventory. It only needs unlimited, no-compete access to inventory.

But it’s even more paradoxical than that. In its purchase announcement, Pinnacle explained that it was “excited to work closely with our operating partner, Arcadia Asset Management, and our strategic partner, Ospraie Management, to support… Five Rivers’ talented management team.”

So three new firms are now the functional equivalent of the former one and none have explained what their exact roles in America’s biggest cattle feeding company will be other than to supply cattle to its former owner.

In a presentation “prepared exclusively for San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association” last Aug. 8, Pinnacle described itself as an “alternative asset management firm with a singular focus on global commodities market.” Its “AUM,” or assets under management, it explained, “is $2.4 billion, with a global investor base that includes public and corporate pension funds, insurance companies, endowments, foundations, and family offices.”

Does even one of Pinnacle’s “global investor base” know that their asset manager just bet $200 million on a business where, according to Iowa State University data, cattle feeders lost an average $51.57 per head per year from 2008 through 2017?

Now that’s a paradox. Despite the irrefutable, long-term unprofitability of cattle feeding, cattle continue to be fed and packers continue to make money. In fact, there seems to be so much money in cattle feeding now that even Fifth Avenue cowboys are getting in the game. How are they doing it?

Facts can’t explain it and it’s almost certain the federal government won’t question it. So it’s a rather safe bet something other than an actual paradox is at work here.

An even safer bet is that you and I are going to pay for it.

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ROTTEN exposes a deeply corrupt and broken food system

Just finished the last episode of ROTTEN. This is the best documentary on food yet. ROTTEN exposes a deeply broken and corrupt food system serving only the powerful global food companies. Unlike most food documentaries, it brings out the dark side of human nature, even the farmers themselves, and the impossible difficulty farmers, catchers, etc. have in dealing with and surviving concentrated and abusive power. The reality of how we are so vulnerable to compromise, and how we have been impacted by the abject failure of justice really hurts, as it should.

As we go through our daily work of producing food, I often say in regards to the current industrialized food system, “If only people knew!” Now they can know, and hopefully will have the opportunity to know a lot more in viewing this series. Hope it continues; there’s a lot more to cover.

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The Price of Being a Radical, 1930

Courtesy of Tom Giessel

From the January, 1930 edition of The Farmers Union Herald

Often we hear expressions of fear concerning the work of someone whom the world deems a radical.

Very little use to worry. The greater percent of the human race do not want to think. The only thinking they do is when compelled to by the turbulence of some radical. The ripple soon passes from the surface and the majority settle back. We are especially fortunate in that we have a few who, when someone with independence enough to think for themselves steps out of the beaten track, will follow.

Very little progress would we make if we were not fortunate enough to have these radicals to take conventionalities in hand and shake the dust from them and expose their rotten vanities.

Whenever a person comes forth with stability, courage, and character enough to voice a new principle, the world looks aghast. A hue and cry is put forth that we are degenerating. We are becoming impious and sacrilegious. The change may appear at first to be retrogression, but it is only the step backward for the long running-jump ahead.

The triumph of the new truth which declared that the sun is our central orb, that the earth and the planets are a family of worlds, must be attributed to Galileo. He was a radical. What price did he pay? He was assailed from all sides with malice, ignorance, and ridicule.

He was imprisoned in a cell in the Inquisition. He was compelled to go down on his knees and renounce his teachings. Upon rising, he is said to have uttered in an undertone, “The sun moves, for all that.”

It is easy enough to trail along with the noted. It takes energy, and nobility of purpose to oppose. The battle of the radical, shaking up conventionalities has lasted through centuries in the past, so it will last through other centuries in the future. These radicals, breakers of idols, have done more for the world’s progress than all the hereditary or self-appointed rulers that have ever lived on the earth.

We, in our own time have never given full credit to our greatest benefactors.

Thomas Paine was belittled, even called “a filthy little atheist”. He was neither an atheist, agnos, nor infidel. He attacked theology, but was a firm believer in God. He said, “the world is my country; to do good is my religion.”

In January, 1776 when Paine published his first political argument, “Common Sense”, it fell on the divided, undecided colonist like a bomb. But it, and it alone was given full credit by Washington, Jefferson, and Adams for having decided the issue. If any on person is entitled to credit for the Declaration of Independence, it is Thomas Paine. He it was who had courage and nerve to mold public opinion to that end.

When Washington’s army had dwindled from eighteen thousand to a scant one thousand men, it was Thomas Paine who seized a drum and using the head for a desk, with his pen dripping fire, wrote “The Crisis”. All that winter Washington ordered Paine’s Crisis and other papers to be read at the head of each regiment.

As a nation we owe more to Thomas Paine than to any other human being. Every man who reads history knows we could not have won without Washington, and Washington could not have won without an organized public opinion back of him, and Paine is the one who organized it.

He, like other rebels and “breakers of idols,” have their place–they have made men think and have spurred them to action. He too, paid the price.

People who are fearful of new ideas are always advocating suppression of the radical. Whenever we suppress, it is simply because the views expressed are not in accord with the views of the majority.

Look back to war times. The majority, we say, were in favor of war. Were they? (We had just elected Woodrow Wilson President because, “he kept us out of war”.) Well, the dictating power was in favor of war. Numerous men and women were tried, convicted and imprisoned because they dared speak or write against war. Did they speak or write anything more bitter, more opposing, more radical than the pacifist writes today? No–but then they were opposing–were Radicals. Now the pacifist writes the same propaganda. Now, it is safe and sane, because the majority are talking peace and the Peace Pacts must be advocated.

In the presidential campaign of 1896 W. J. Bryan was one of those ranting radicals. Where will we find a more strenuous speech than his “Cross of Gold”? The conservatives said that if Bryan’s principles were put in force in the United States, the nation was doomed. But lo, before a decade had passed over our heads, we had accepted all of those direful principles except the ratio of sixteen to one.

In Los Angeles Max Rosenstein has been denied his diploma from high school because he is a communist. Think of it! In the twentieth century, asking a student concerning his politics or religion, when attending a public school, supported by public tax. As well as whether his grandparents ate light or dark bread, or whether his mother does the family wash or sends it to the laundry.

If communist ideas are wrong, if they are base and vile, worry not. Give all the communist students diplomas, for by so doing you have given them an opportunity to learn other theories by attending high school. If wrong, their theories will die. Trying to oppress will only antagonize and make the communist spirit rise higher and spread farther. If their theories and dogmas are bad, they need not be feared. They will burn by their own fuel, die their own death, and bury themselves in an ignominious grave.

For the time being it is a sin and a crime to have certain ideas. Tomorrow they may be in popular favor. The crime of our age has more than once become the glory of the ages which followed.

Thirty-five years ago what is organized labor today were the radicals. Now they are organized. Now farmers are radicals because they are organizing.

Coming home from the Convention at Bismarck, I heard an elevator man tell a farmer that wheat might just as well keep on going down in price because the farmers are never satisfied anyway. Well, being a mere woman, I didn’t offer any information, but I think he may soon learn, when we are going to be satisfied.

As a class we are showing our radical views, and we are blessed with enough so called radical leaders to put the program across. We are in disfavor today, asking too much, but when the equilibrium has been reached, and we are given a market that isn’t less than cost, our preposterous ideas accepted, someone else will have to be the goat. We will cease to be radical.

Often times the theories which may benefit the future, unsettle the present. There must be an upheaval to liberate and free the minds; get them out of their groove so they may expand.

Look not for praise and glory for any ideas and principles put forth unless you are walking closely, very closely with the crowd. Rather listen for a wail of horror and prepare to be cast out with the cry of Radical hurled at you.

Where in the history of the world do you find the gratitude of a people given to their great reformers while those radicals are living? Men and women who have taught the world to think have gone down to defeat, as far as they knew of the world accepting their views. The monuments and statues we raise after they are dead.

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