Michael Pollan: Consumer Boycotts Are ‘Achilles Heel of American Capitalism’
Trump has dumped family farmers.
That’s right, President Trump, who once claimed he’s “fighting for our farmers,” is passing policies that mostly benefit the big agribusiness corporations—not small farmers, and certainly not rural communities.
Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, recently sat down with [see video above] Michael Pollan to discuss food and agriculture policy and inequality under the Trump administration. He also talked about how far food corporations will go to protect their brands’ images.
Pollan, a food policy expert and author of several books including The Omnivore’s Dilemma, didn’t mince words when it comes to Trump’s impact on food and ag policy, or where the president’s loyalties lie. Pollan explained how Trump is rolling back anything initiated under the Obama administration, including Michelle Obama’s standards for school lunch. So instead of nutritionists deciding what kids should eat, we’re back to allowing the food companies to decide.
So basically, we’re back to anything industry wants, Pollan said.
Pollan pointed out the irony in Trump’s agricultural initiatives, noting that the rural vote helped get him elected, but now he’s taking steps that will be a disaster for American farmers. He talked at length about NAFTA and how if Trump pulls out of this trade agreement it will greatly impact the industrial farming industry.
Pollan didn’t discuss the impact NAFTA has on small, independent and/or organic farmers or workers, but dairy farmer Jim Goodman from Wonewoc, Wisconsin, sure did in this recent blog post. He sums it up this way:
“Anyone who supports the continuation of NAFTA without questioning who actually benefits really has no concern for the best interests of farmers or workers in the U.S., Canada or Mexico.”
After talking a lot about what’s gone wrong with our food system, Reich shifted the conversation in a more positive direction, asking Pollan what gives him hope. Pollan said he’s “taking a lot of encouragement from some new developments in the labor movement around food.” He spoke about the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food Program that has helped Florida tomato growers obtain humane wages and safe working conditions.
In explaining how the program got started, Pollan said:
“They tried negotiating with the growers, they got nowhere. They marched across Florida, they got nowhere. They had a hunger strike, they got nowhere.”
Finally, Lucas Benitez, a farmworker who helped start the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said, as Pollan related:
“Then we found the door in the castle wall. That door was the brand of the big companies, the consumer-facing big companies, that bought the tomatoes from the growers, everybody from Whole Foods to McDonalds and Burger King, and they went after the brands with boycotts and threats of boycotts. What they did was they created a pledge, called the Fair Food Pledge and they basically said you will sign this or we will shame you. One by one all the big brands in food signed it. And it’s working.”
Reich and Pollan agreed that big companies are spending a fortune on brand image and, now more than ever, if you organize or threaten a consumer boycott you can have a real impact. Pollan said:
“It’s the Achilles heel of American capitalism. They are not afraid of the government anymore, but they are afraid of their consumers attacking their brand.”