The Politics of Food:
The Straus Dairy in the Bay Area
The politics of food is a huge topic. The connections we used to have to our food sources— something so basic and important—have dramatically changed in the past 30-50 years. From a progressive perspective, these changes are disastrous. Food production is now industrialized, controlled by alarmingly few corporations and supported by government food and water policies that adversely affect us and the environment. We’re now part of a global food system.
To understand a piece of this in more manageable terms, we’re taking a look at the dairy industry in California, which now produces one quarter of the nation’s milk and over a million pounds of cheese daily. Cheap feed and water subsidies from both state and federal policies encourage mega-dairies.
The organic movement has grown over past decades, supporting food production that ensures the health of the land, animals, family farmers and consumers. Partly due to its growing demand, not even the organic label is safe; Dean Foods now controls 40% of conventional and 60% of all organic milk produced. Aurora Organic Dairy supplies organic label store brands to Safeway, Walmart and Trader Joe’s. Both Horizon (Dean) and Aurora have been sued over their failure to comply with organic standards on their industrial dairy farms. The USDA has ignored these violations.
Our speaker, Brie Johnson, is the communications director for Straus Family Dairy & Creamery, one of the Bay Area’s many examples of the organic model with products widely available to all of us. Albert Straus began the only organic dairy west of the Mississippi in the early nineties. With about 300 milk cows, he’s maintained a sustainable regional dairy and processor upholding the integrity of organic milk standards. Straus continues to develop a sustainable model of energy independence, reusable packaging and land stewardship.
As consumers, we vote with our wallets and can support local sustainable agricultural models. We can also pay attention to the ongoing struggles to produce good quality food, especially local food and food safety issues.