Willie Nelson: Occupy the Food System


Richard Moore

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Occupy the Food System

Singer, songwriter, American poet Willie Nelson, 05/08/08. (photo: Unknown)
By Willie Nelson, Reader Supported News
17 December 11

hanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there’s a deeper understanding about the power that corporations wield over the great majority of us. It’s not just in the financial sector, but in all facets of our lives. The disparity between the top 1 percent and everyone else has been laid bare – there’s no more denying that those at the top get their share at the expense of the 99 percent. Lobbyists, loopholes, tax breaks… how can ordinary folks expect a fair shake?

No one knows this better than family farmers, whose struggle to make a living on the land has gotten far more difficult since corporations came to dominate our farm and food system. We saw signs of it when Farm Aid started in 1985, but corporate control of our food system has since exploded.

From seed to plate, our food system is now even more concentrated than our banking system. Most economic sectors have concentration ratios hovering around 40 percent, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40 percent of the market. Anything beyond this level is considered “highly concentrated,” where experts believe competition is severely threatened and market abuses are likely to occur.

Many key agricultural markets like soybeans and beef exceed the 40 percent threshold, meaning the seeds and inputs that farmers need to grow our crops come from just a handful of companies. Ninety-three percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the United States are under the control of just one company. Four companies control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of beef in the U.S.; four companies dominate close to 60 percent of the pork and chicken markets.

Our banks were deemed too big to fail, yet our food system’s corporations are even bigger. Their power puts our entire food system at stake. Last year the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Justice (DOJ) acknowledged this, hosting a series of workshops that examined corporate concentration in our farm and food system. Despite the hundreds of thousands of comments from farmers and eaters all over the country, a year later the USDA and DOJ have taken no action to address the issue. Recent decisions in Washington make clear that corporate lobbyists have tremendous power to maintain the status quo.

In November, the Obama administration delivered a crushing blow to a crucial rule proposed by the USDA (known as the GIPSA rule), which was meant to level the playing field for independent cattle ranchers. The large meatpackers, who would have lost some of their power, lobbied hard and won to leave the beef market as it is – ruled by corporate giants. In the same month, new school lunch rules proposed by the USDA that would have brought more fresh food to school cafeterias were weakened by Congress. Food processors – the corporations that turn potatoes into French fries and chicken into nuggets – spent $5.6 million to lobby against the new rules and won, with Congress going so far as agreeing to call pizza a vegetable. Both decisions demonstrate that corporate power wins and the health of our markets and our children loses.

Despite all they’re up against, family farmers persevere. Each and every day they work to sustain a better alternative – an agricultural system that guarantees farmers a fair living, strengthens our communities, protects our natural resources and delivers good food for all. Nothing is more important than the food we eat and the family farmers who grow it. Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil, pollution of our water and health epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

We simply can’t afford it. Our food system belongs in the hands of many family farmers, not under the control of a handful of corporations.



+69# Feral Dogz 2011-12-17 09:07

Many thanks Willie, for your wisdom and voice in the battle for sanity. Not to mention all those great tunes.

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+62# Barbara K 2011-12-17 09:31

Thanks, Willie, and thanks for all you’ve done and do for the farmers. You are so correct. Our quality of food has dropped with the takeover of corporations, who by the way, get lots of subsidy money. Subsidize the real farmers and we would have tastier food and less chemicals in our food. Too few people are taking over our businesses in this country, and it is not to our benefit.

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+41# AMLLLLL 2011-12-17 09:34

Keep up the great work, Willy. It will take a lot to turn this ship around.

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+7# Gurka 2011-12-17 10:55


Keep up the great work, Willy. It will take a lot to turn this ship around.

Is that ship still turnable? Really?

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+5# John Locke 2011-12-17 13:57

this ship is the Titanic, and we have already hit the ice berg, that the republicans say didn’t exist

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+16# nancyjbird 2011-12-17 10:12

I’m still in love with this man.

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+32# noitall 2011-12-17 10:51

Willie Nelson, a true American Hero! telling it like it is. He ain’t lying either! Isn’t it refreshing to KNOW that something you are hearing is truth?! The damage done to the soil is something like the climate crisis and global warming; we don’t know if it is beyond the point of no return. Products like Roundup indiscrimately kill all sorts of organisms that are good and necessary for plant (and human) health, degrading soil to a point of sterility unless bouyed by Petroleum-based chemical fertilizers. These chemicals can be found in our bodies w/o any knowledge of long-term effect. The elimination of these critical elements in the soil also makes it more susceptable to erosion, lacking the LIFE in the soil that binds it together. Wasn’t the Sahara Desert once a rain forest?

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+30# econmyth 2011-12-17 10:54

Willie, I agree with you about family farms vs. agri-businesses, but what about co-ops to keep successful family farms from becoming too hierarchical and to help out poorer family farms?

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+24# The Saint 2011-12-17 11:22

Way to go, Willie! Why have the Tea Party folk and the supposedly rural american republican party completely sold out to CORPORATE FARMING AND ALLOWED THE SMALL FARMER TO GO UNDER–AND WITH HIM/HER MUCH OF THE RURAL ECONOMY, =I ALSO AGREE WITH ECONMYTH. WE NEED BOTH.

But “you are always on [our] mind.” Wendell Berry and Willie Nelson–you ought to record something together maybe with some of his poetry. Good luck, my man.

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+5# Capn Canard 2011-12-17 12:04


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+32# John Gill 2011-12-17 11:26

One approach to this problem is for the 99 percent to occupy their own bodies and the bodies of their children, by which I mean “stomachs!” Parents can easily prepare a brown bag lunch for the kids and boycott the “pizza as vegetable” cafeterias. If we were to boycott corporate owned restaurants, fast food chains, and coffee houses, they would lose much of their control. My family has done this for years now, but the masses have to do it or it means little. Admittedly, it is more difficult to boycott the supermarket chains. The food industry has raised the prices on fresh food to the point that it is actually cheaper, in many cases, to go eat burgers at corporate welfare fast food chains like MacDonalds than to buy and prepare your own food at home. It is also difficult, in households where the mom and dad work a couple of jobs to survive, to allocate time to prepare nutritious food from scratch, but this is a choice we still have left to us. It is clear that as the one percent have driven the cost of living up, kept the wage low, and made fast food cheaper than cooking wholesome food at home, that we are being herded like cattle ourselves. And speaking of cattle, stop eating meat. Don’t support the cruel animal food industry. These are choices we can make which lessen the control of the corporate dragon over us.

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+17# noitall 2011-12-17 11:58

One thing guaranteed in life is that fast food is produced in the WORST WAY! If you want to consume GMOs, shop no further. Nutrition for $, no better way to get screwed nutritionally than to feed your family fast food; might as well eat the wax fruit decorating your table.

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+1# Torvus 2011-12-17 20:18

Stop eating meat (Part 1): wholly agree; meat-eating is disastrous for the environment; but the very thought of cutting out meat frightens most people. For decades we’ve been brainwashed into supporting Dairy and Meat industries. It’s not just about cruelty: It takes 4000 glasses of water to produce 1 glass of milk. 1 kg of meat uses 20 times as much energy as 1 kg of potatoes to produce. The US uses more than one third of fossil fuels produced to raise food animals. A person living chiefly on animal protein requires 10 times more land to provide it than someone living on vegetable protein.

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+2# Torvus 2011-12-17 20:23

Stop eating meat (Part 2): The biggest polluter is waste disposal. The meat industry contribute about 18% of global greenhouse gases through fossil fuel use. And animals emit lots of methane gas too. There is land degradation by continual trampling and overgrazing which may cause desertification . There are polluted rivers from chemical run-offs and manure dumping. “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from local to global” says the FAO.

In 2006 the UN said “The cow is the world’s top destroyer of the environment. Rapidly growing herds are a threat to wildlife, forests and climate, and help create acid rain.” The pressure is on to raise yet more food animals (more and more via cruel factory farming methods, never mind the sweet talk) because of the rising population forecast. If you can control yourself by eating less or no meat, you control corporations. Eat and buy local, walk to shops if you possibly can. And avoid GM foods!

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+15# Floridatexan 2011-12-17 11:30

Willie, there’s nothing like the sound of your voice to make me homesick for Texas. Never stop fighting for the farmers…the real heart of our country. God bless and keep you.

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+19# lamancha 2011-12-17 11:32

Willie leads the charge on the “food foible” that grips this nation but he might have kicked it up a notch, for as “noitall” aptly inferred, our soil has become totally depleted as a result of constant bombardment with chemical fertilizer & pesticides – rather than having a preponderence of organic farming – which I understand,, was the norm prior to WW11. We, who appreciate that organic foods are so much more life sustaining, have to bear the ridiculously high prices encountered. Here again, FDA & the DA are so beholden to the Monsanto’s and other corporate elites,that they prefer a sicker nation over battling the monied interests. That’s why I say, Willie and other food mavericks, need to kick it up a notch.

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+9# cordleycoit 2011-12-17 12:21

Thank you Willie your words are better than both Houses of Congress and the withered executive branch. When I need some backbone I’ll ask you: Brother. Thanks again.

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+14# waters 2011-12-17 13:12

Thank you Willie for stating the obvious! Hooray for you!! Check out this inspiring story about local food plots planted in an English town where the public is invited to gather what they want to eat! Even local vandalism has gone down due to the local gardens. Guerrilla gardening, what a great idea! This keeps the food very local and diminishes corporate control.

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+12# ruralhorseman 2011-12-17 13:22

Willie has always been at the front of Farm Aid, Bio-fuels and decriminalizing . We can’t leave our future to our celebrity heroes. We must form our own cooperatives and work as a united front against the mega-corporations. There are seed banks and land available to grow seed producing crops that have not been tainted by Monsanto and others. We need more small local private or cooperatively owned meat processing plants.There is the power of independents to sell their product at one price to a local market place at a profit and then sell to larger markets at considerably higher prices. There are business opportunities out there now that could be regional but can’t be national, such as bee-keeping for pollination of food crops. As locals on the state, county and city (town) level you can implement laws to outlaw the USE of GMO plants with public safety in mind. To lamancha I say if YOU don’t kick it up where you live then expect to be corporately raped. All around this world PEOPLE have had the power to CHANGE THEIR LAWS. The first thing everyone should do is read the book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” and then institute the step by step format in the book in your county. It will take work, it will take severing of friendships and alliances that you have built up over a life time while you became addicted to someone else running your government. YOU, nay WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. It is time to show that you know what AMERICAN means and how to be one. It’s not just about food.

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+6# crowtower 2011-12-17 14:19

I’m going to talk about dirt. Soil. We have mined, depleted and wasted away the top layer of earth’s crust that had accumulated over eons and that supported the rich plethora of life on our planet. Our best intentions at farming practice has allowed massive erosion. What was once some of our best farm land with topsoil measured in feet now is mere inches and often shows ledge outcroppings. What once had billions of microorganisms per spoonful that imbued the plant life with vitality, now has none, is dead, poisoned, and worms can not even survive in it. The soil that had a full array of dozens of major and trace minerals that were available to flora and fauna for a healthy existence, has been essentially mined to death. You can not keep growing plants/crops that take up nutrient minerals and not replenish them or only the three of them that allow the plant to physically have a shell.

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+4# MauiJOY 2011-12-17 14:19

What about exposing Monsanto on Maui where you and I live? What can we do to support taking “action” in Occupy Food?

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+7# crowtower 2011-12-17 14:20

(continued) The food we grow has some value for sure, but no health system will ever make up for a population that eats food that is devoid of the nutrients that it needs for health. If it ain’t in the soil, it won’t be in the food, and it can’t nourish your body. The human organism is extraordinarily resilient and adaptable, but we do have our limits. 

What are we going to do about it………..Well, thankfully as it turns out, many individuals and organizations have been working for decades on this very issue. They have researched soil reclamation and revitalization. What they advocate would best and most simply be understood as organic and bio-dynamic systems that are best deployed in small diverse farms. They have calculated the potential outputs and have discovered that small farms producing highly nutritive crops appropriate for humans can exceed the current output of industrial farms growing depleted and unhealthy plants and animals. The agribusiness model requires inputs of more and more poisons to attempt to control the pests that become resistant in their attack of the unhealthy plants. The animals we try to raise from such feed require more and more antibiotics and medicine to stay alive until we can eat them. The poisons and medications accumulate in our water and body tissue and contribute to our epidemic degenerative diseases we are already susceptible to from being deficient from eating food grown on depleted soil.

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+7# crowtower 2011-12-17 14:22

Who is going to do all this farming you say? Well, it turns out there are millions of young people chafing at the bit to do just that. Many have already started. Many have been studying and apprenticing. Others are eager to learn. If we can facilitate them getting going and more on that below, not only can we get back on track with our health, but as it turns out, all these small farms are small businesses and the stimulus to our local economies and the multiple value of all those locally recycled dollars from their produce and associated cottage industry goods and services that flourish as an offshoot from their lifestyle will create a real solid sustainable economy that essentially bypasses the shallow corporate driven material consumptive lifestyle that is stressing our families, communities and the planet.

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+6# crowtower 2011-12-17 14:23

So, as we craft instruments and mechanisms to get earnest people on the land or support people using their existing land (and lawns), such as bond issues for adequate financing of ventures, tree growth type tax incentives, land trusts, traditional homesteading of town land, etc., let’s also support their success with high capacity organic farming and human skills trainings, and mentoring. Perhaps binding commitments from them or even community service obligations could be served in exchange for land access. Basically, however, and brace yourself and I”m sorry, but using land and homes for investment and casino capitalism has gotten us into this situation where our children can not afford to live in our communities and we can only sell our “asset” to someone with high wealth from a place further along in its inflationary dysfunctional spiral. 

You can call this socialism or poshialism or anything you want, but I’m calling it one of the very few paths out of the corner we are in. Perhaps someone else will present a better one or edit this one and that would be terrific, especially if it were simpler. However, don’t think it will go away or fix itself. We need to be proactive and aggressive. Anything less is negligent. We have a thriving future to gain by acting and a sad journey to no future by not.

Occupy the soil!

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+4# ruralhorseman 2011-12-17 16:57

Crowtower: I heartily agree with all three of your posts but it can’t just be agriculture. The entire social tree has been infected at the roots and the fungus has reached the leaves. We THE PEOPLE are the systemic remedy to this disease. We must OCCUPY EVERYTHING and it will be a process that can never cease. We must make this democracy work for The People and The Planet….if it is not too late already. Time is short, act now people. If you don’t know how ask Crowtower or me.

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+3# MauiJOY 2011-12-17 14:24

How about a Monsanto Insanto song Willie???

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+4# drsaundy 2011-12-17 14:42

I do so appreciate your information, Mr. Nelson. I have a question. Exactly how can we use the Occupy _______ approach to address the terrible situation with our food? I do want to do something.

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+5# oakes721 2011-12-17 15:14

Variety, provided by many, many smaller farms is the best insurance against food failure. Different seeds in varying soils in different conditions best insure against a famine.

We need to look at some “established facts” like the great ‘need’ for protein: THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A SINGLE RECORDED CASE OF PROTEIN DEFICIENCY. This idea was spread widely for the last century by the meat and dairy industries. Turning edible grains to animal product for consumption is very wasteful and inefficient (besides being the sole source of cholesterol)

Many lands can be reclaimed. Nature has her own wisdom and can educate us better as to what is possible than what is impossibly promised by men in suits.

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+6# m… 2011-12-17 16:25

I agree Willie..!

I hope you do not mind if I use your analogy of the Narrow Corporate Control of the food industry in America today, using Media as ‘FOOD’ for thought, to stake my claim here that the sane point you make about the Food Industry also very much applies to the EXTREMELY NARROW GLOBAL CORPORATE CONTROL OF ALMOST ALL MEDIA ENTERPRISES IN AMERICA .

And that the control of it too should be broken up into thousands of bits and much more useful pieces for the sake of OUR collective health and Well Being.

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+5# William Bjornson 2011-12-17 17:41

If only Mr. Nelson represented Texas and was not, instead, a towering giant of a contrast to all that’s ill that comes out of Texas like disease out of a swamp. Nor has Texas been kind to this rare humanistic native son. Willie, if you ever get tired of paradise there in Maui (!), you’re welcome back here in the Northwest anytime. We have the rain if not the tears…

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+6# andyseles 2011-12-17 18:30


Thanks for a very impressive and articulate article. Here in Oregon we are pushing for a state bank similar to North Dakota’s. It will be up for a vote in February, the idea being to keep our money in state, providing loans to Oregon farmers and small businesses rather than having it “outsourced” by the big banks. Agribus gets subsidized by “we the people” six ways to Sunday while their CEOs complain in the clubhouse about “welfare queens.” Thanks for “occupying” this site and “keep on, keepin’ on!

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