Do you ever think about where your food comes from? When you shop in the grocery store, or buy a meal out: either at a fast-food restaurant or a sit-down establishment: do you think about the industry behind what you’re eating? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Most Americans don’t realize food is a major industry; such a major industry, in fact, that the largest corporations involved in it have come to be known as Big Food.
In the not too distant past, America had an agrarian economy; the vast majority of us were raised on working farms. We grew our own food, raised cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and horses. We also butchered said cows, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep when we needed meat. We grew up learning how to fish, in local streams and rivers, and the streams and rivers were not polluted from industrial waste.
This all changed, beginning with the industrialization necessary to fuel a war machine. World War I and then World War II: especially World War II: changed our nation from a farm economy to an industrial one. The vast majority of us now have no idea what a farm is, let alone how to grow our own food. This all gave rise to farming as an industry; local farmers went under, and the ones who survived did so because of corporations. Food is produced in the country in massive quantities, and for the most part, from corporate farms. The largest of these corporations are now known as Big Food. They carry a lot of clout, because they have a lot of money, and they also carry a lot of bad habits.
With the food production squarely in the hands of Big Food, you would think the small entrepreneur doesn’t stand a chance; after all, there’s a lot of money at stake, and Big Food is quick to address any challenge. However, Big Food opens the door for the small entrepreneur far more often than they realize, and they do so unwittingly.
For example: how much do you pay for a carton of soda at the grocery store? Far more than it’s worth, I assure you. Many consumers felt like they could mix their own sodas, if they had the means to do so; enter the small entrepreneur with the Soda Stream: a device for mixing your own soda at home. You purchase the syrup and CO2, and make your own sodas, to your own tastes. You can even buy syrup from Big Soda, if you get it from a warehouse club; not everyone with a membership has a small business, and you don’t have to have a business to buy the product. Big Soda has opened the opportunity, and then provides the materials!
Another example is the rise of the local market concept: locally grown on a small farm, and sold at local farmers’ markets. The concept also includes local restaurants purchasing in-season foods from these local farmers – the farm-to-table concept – ensuring they have fresh food, and food not overburdened with pesticides or fertilizers. The local farmer has become the small entrepreneur: Big Food has raised its prices, and adopted unsafe, inhumane farming methods, so local farmers are on the rise again.
Food Preserving At Home Is A Growing Sector
We will never go back to an agrarian economy in this country without a disaster of global proportions fueling the move, but we can go back to locally grown, organically (mostly) produced foods in season, and we can learn to preserve our own foods again.
Preserving local or home grown produce gives rise to yet another group of small entrepreneurs: makers of jars, lids, paraffin wax, pectin, and sugar, and yet another group who have the knowledge of how to use them. Back when we all lived on a farm, we all knew how to can, preserve and freeze our food, but the knowledge has died out as we moved away from the necessity of feeding ourselves. There are cooks and home economists and nutritionists who still have the know-how, and a cottage industry has arisen, where these folks teach us how to preserve our foods safely. Big Food had no intention of opening the doors to these markets; it did so out of its own arrogance and ignorance.
Are Big Food and Big Soda aware of what they’re doing? Probably not; the small entrepreneurs making inroads into their businesses are still small enough to stay under the radar. Whether this continues is open to speculation, but Big Food and Big Soda will never eliminate the small food industry entrepreneur. There is always somebody who sees a chance, and takes it, and that is what makes capitalism and free markets so great.