Piece of the Pie
A couple of weeks ago, I was given the bull horn and
asked to address a group of local food agtivists at the annual
March Against Monsanto here in Dallas. How exciting!
I try to bash something or endlessly complain,
without at least offering up some kind of resolution. I like to see
progress and the only way that's going to happen is if we take real action
steps, not just protest marches. Although, they can bring attention to
issues, unless folks go home with something to do - not much seems to
So, I offered up some facts about the current
national and local food scenes. I tossed out some statistics and very
large monetary amounts regarding the market share of the organic food
industry that I had read in a
current article from Fortune Magazine. And I gave some suggestions on
what we, the folks who don't want to eat unnatural food, can do to be
I’ll try to summarize what I said and offer it up to
you, the reader, in the same way.
The issue – No more GMO’s in our food.
My suggestion for a possible solution; Support
small local businesses.
packaged-food companies lost $4 billion in market share last
food sales more than tripled over the past decade and increased
11% last year to $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade
Those are some pretty impressive numbers!
Now, I don’t know how much small, local producers and
retailers get of that very nice sized pie. Yet, there are 9 national
supermarket chains who would like to have that $35.9 billion to
Nor am I sure how much of a percentage of the total
food sales that figure represents. I suspect, it’s a miniscule amount over
all. I think I remember reading somewhere that organic foods represent
less than 10% of the total food market, but don't hold me to that.
However, I am sure, due to recent changes in
the national supermarket and large industrial food industry - their
attempt at the reinvention of themselves - that they would rather not
share any of it.
So, in order to garner more sales of this market
share, they’ve begun to carry the very items people have been flocking to
farms, farmer’s markets and new little specialty grocers to buy. The
number of famer’s markets in the DFW area has exploded just since
2007 when I put up a shingle here in Balch Springs. Supply and demand. I’m
pretty glad there’s more demand, because it hopefully means, a shift in
our country’s food choices – for the better.
Unfortunately, the fact that big box stores are
getting into the game, is a bit of a double edged sword.
In many communities, there is no place except
a national supermarket to purchase organic goods, unless one grows it
themselves. Not every neighborhood has an Eden’s Market Day, or other
local market, where they can pop in and get the freshest and in-season,
organic, non-gmo foods. They’re kind of stuck shopping at whatever’s
available. So for them, that’s great to have the access now. Everyone
should be able to have access to real foods without all of the
additives and preservatives, etc.
But for the others who do have a local, mom and pop
indie type option, they often overlook them and opt for the one-stop
shopping convenience of the former.
I’m here to tell you that industry organic is not the
same, as locally raised, harvested and delivered within hours (not weeks)
organic. Nor is industry processed on a mass scale the same as small batch
processed artisanal food.
I don’t have to tell you that – I have CSA members
and Market Day customers who will. Whenever we have a dry spell of weekly
distributions, or off-market season, inevitably, I’ll get a call or email
from someone who is “jonesing” for fresh, farm food. “It’s just not the
same as what I can get at the store!” – they’ve said.
Yet, apparently, convenience, price and various other
factors I imagine, sometimes trumps flavor and quality. And when this
happens too often, the family owned operations suffer the losses, along
with the eater suffering through less than the best food.
The other issue that comes along with large, powerful
national food chains garnering control of the organic market share, is
they are powerful in government decision making as well. Those who started
out following the organic standards game can tell you of the
many, many changes they’ve seen in what can and can’t be used or done
in order to legally call their products organic.
You see, organic farming is, by nature, not really
designed for industrial sized mass production. So, in order to play the
game by the bigger contestants – the rules need to be modified.
Do you see where this is going? How long before GMO’s
become part of organic standards? Lobbyists can be very persuasive.
The other issue I see, is that if for some reason,
the allure to the public wears off of the organic, less processed foods
and people begin to return to their former shopping habits, suddenly the
large chains will follow suit – again – and jump ship, dropping these
lines. Because we all know they're mostly interested in their profit
And if they’ve put all of the small, local, mom and
pop shops out of business while they were lining their own pockets with
the profits of the masses – where then, will those who have remained loyal
in their principals to eat well, get their food?
You want GMO free food and to be able to access it?
Then I suggest we support the pioneers of the anti-GMO movement!
Otherwise, as big ag takes control and changes standards, gmo will
creep into “organic”
will be voluntary and confusing – instead of clear and mandated
won’t mean what it does today – it already doesn’t mean what it did 10
Buy farmer direct – first;
CSA all the way – this helps sustain small farms during bad times as
well as celebrating with them during good times. It was not intended
to be a “pre-pay for your groceries” direct from the farm program. It
was mean to establish a relationship between farmers and community
because once there’s a relationship, both are more inclined to be
loyal to the other.
Shop a local farmer’s market next;
Many farms are too out of the way for CSA programs or choose to bring
all of their produce to markets instead. But this way also ensures the
farmer is getting 100% of your food dollar.
Shop at a small, local retailer next;
They are most likely giving the local, smaller farmer the best
possible price for their goods, and, will stick around and support
those farmers, long as you support them by shopping at their stores.
They can’t afford to offer the big, snazzy deals that the big
supermarkets can, because in large part, they’re not buying an entire
huge harvest from someone who can then accommodate their profit margin
with mass quantity. Edible DFW has a great resource guide
Supermarkets have their place;
For those things we all need that are not specialties,
that we will buy whether organic or not – for nostalgic reasons
sometimes, say during a holiday season – and those out of season items
we just HAVE to have, there’s large national chains. Little by little,
they’ve inched in on just about every artisanal market there is. From
butcher shops to bakeries, pharmacies to seasonal hard goods – they
want to be our one-stop shop.
But if you can just shop in the order
above, and save the big guys for last, I don’t imagine their bottom line
will miss it, nearly as much as the small guys will appreciate it.
It’s really the same story that holds true for many
small, indie businesses in other trades, too. We have seen the erosion of
small towns due to large big box, one-stop shopping supermarkets.
And not everyone wants to run their own shop, and
that’s great. There are large corporations full of employees all over the
globe for those who would rather not own their own businesses. And many
are doing great things, even giving back to their local communities in
But most are shareholder owned and they are
most interested in what brings them the best ROI. In some cases, sadly,
regardless of whether it is what is best for the public or their
employees. Government has been, in some ways, letting loose with
regulations in areas that would protect us, and in other ways, infringing
upon our personal liberties. It's an interesting situation, to say the
The larger chains generally lose a lot of the charm
that small, family owned and operated businesses bring to the community.
And there are endless lists of how small,
locally owned and operated businesses are great for the local communities
where they exist.
How many of you know the owner of a supermarket
But a lot of you reading this probably know your
mechanic, doctor, lawyer and dentist.
Why would you not want to know at least some
of the people who grow and bring you - your food?
Please, support those who have supported you
and your health, your non-GMO wishes,
since the very beginning.
Eat your food, naturally!