SFJFS Session 4 Insights

Come to the Table’s School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling (SFJFS) held its fourth session on March 2, featuring a presentation from RAFI-USA Program Manager Aaron Johnson on corporate consolidation in the food system and its connection to faith communities and theology.

While this cohort of SFJFS is not open for new members, we thought it would be helpful to share five insights from each session with our network. The second cohort for SFJFS will begin in the fall of 2023. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on the latest information from the Come to the Table team.

Five Insights from Session 4

When it comes to corporate power, faith leaders have the opportunity to tell stories that make a real impact in their communities. 

Using the metaphor of a garden, Johnson suggested that pastors are in the unique position of deciding which narratives get weeded out and which get watered and tended to. Johnson identified pastors’ superpower when it comes to challenging corporate power as being able to patiently shape narratives in their community around the forces and power dynamics that are at work in the food system.

Several agriculture industries are controlled by a “big four” cluster of corporations that combine to control over 50% of their respective sector.

While the grocery shelves and stands may seem filled with a diverse array of products, the reality for many large sectors of the American food system is an illusion of choice between a few corporations.

Corporate consolidation has real effects on real people.

In this session we focused on a North Carolina example of how Smithfield’s  concentration of North Carolina hog farming into large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)’s forced thousands of farms out of business, and the disproportionate concentration of both those farm losses and the resultant CAFO and lagoon complex in BIPOC communities.

Corporations contribute to food insecurity.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) recently conducted a survey to determine rates of food insecurity among Kroger’s employees. The results were significant: of the 30,000 employees that were surveyed, over 75% of Kroger’s workers were determined food insecure – seven times the U.S. average. While profits have skyrocketed for Kroger, wages have remained stagnant for employees, making them more vulnerable to affording their own grocery bills. 

Further, grocery mergers often result in mass store closures, creating new food apartheid zones. Food apartheid is also exacerbated by “anti-grocery covenants”: when corporations close grocery stores, they make whoever buys the property agree not to continue operating a grocery store. 

There is enough for all in the absence of hoarding and there is no rot where there is no extraction. 

Drawing from Daniel Erlander’s Manna and Mercy, Johnson framed conversations on corporate consolidation in the scriptural story of Israelites’ liberation from Egypt, where the Pharaoh “owned everything” and reigned over a system of brutal oppression. The “wilderness school” and the provision of manna to God’s people showed that God provided for all to have enough, no one had too much, and that hoarding of the manna, like the Pharaoh’s system, led to rot and decay. 

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