I was researching Cargill when I found this interesting who-owns-who graphic. It was done by Dr. Philip H. Howard, Assistant Professor in the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies at Michigan State University. He seems like he would be an interesting person to talk to; he did his pre-doctoral research at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California.

Dr. Howard has a lot of these graphics – most of them current as of July 2007 – on his website. I couldn’t find any poster-sized versions for sale, but if I run across them I may just have to purchase them… I wonder how well they would be received posted at the Food Co-op.

One of the biggest issues I struggle with at the food co-op is the whole Corporate Organics structure. Cargill, the largest privately owned corporation in the United States and also in the top four factory-farmed meat producers (others include Sara Lee, Hormel, and one more I can’t recall offhand because my Vegan Sourcebook isn’t with me… ConAgra?) is one of the primary suppliers to Hain Celestial, which owns/produces many, many, many of the products on our shelves. But, our store is here to serve our customers and most people simply don’t care who makes their food or who gets paid for it.

I’d like to do more consumer education (or at least volunteer and member education), but it seems – at least in our small town – people just aren’t interested in learning. We post signs and newspaper clippings that nobody ever reads. I printed some information on our chocolate in our recent newsletter, and nobody cares that Wilbur Buds are owned by Cargill. I even posted a Who-owns-who article on the bulliten board behind the counter (for volunteers to read), and someone threw it away.

The Wilbur Buds, especially, push my buttons. It’s a pain in the ass to order from the company, the food co-op pays retail price (no wholesale deals) for the chocolate – plus shipping/handling, the chocolate isn’t farmer-friendly, they won’t ship in the summer, they won’t accept checks (actually, I got a credit card for the co-op just for these stupid chocolates – better than using my personal credit card!), and the co-op whose principles are to “promote sustainable and locally grown foods” is giving money directly to Cargill with the purchase. Our volunteers and members know that Cargill owns Wilbur… but they all keep buying the chocolate and shrug, “What can you do about it?”

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