The Hightower Report

Corporations Co-opt Local Food; and All the Wine That's Fit to Drink

Corporations Co-opt Local Food

The big demand in food these days is that it be locally produced. A new term has even been coined – "locavore" – to describe consumers who want the freshness and sense of community that comes from eating the bounty of small-scale, local producers. You know, hometown guys like Frito-Lay and Hunt's.

Proving that no standard of integrity is so pure that it can't be perverted by corporate profiteers, these giants of industrialized food production are reaching out with their deep-pocket advertising budgets to co-opt the locavore label. Frito-Lay – a multinational, multibillion-dollar, agribusiness giant that buys two billion pounds of spuds a year from hundreds of very large farmers to make Lay's potato chips – is presently running national television ads trying to convince viewers that its farmers are just local folks.

"We grow potatoes in Florida," declares one of its corporate providers in an ad imbued with bucolic, down-home imagery. Not mentioned is that the potatoes he grows on a sprawling 800-acre spread end up as chips that are sold in New York, California ... and beyond. Local?

ConAgra Foods, the conglomerate that owns Hunt's tomatoes, concedes that it can't literally be local in the geographical sense. So, says a consultant working on Hunt's current locavore ad campaign, "The question is, how do we take [local] to that next level?" In corporate world, you see, "local" is not a place, but a figment of marketeering imagination.

Jessica Prentice, the food writer who coined the "locavore" tag, begs to differ with that definition. The local food movement, she explains, represents an ethic of small-scale production, ecologically centered in a place, and based on personal relationships within a community. "Large corporations peddling junk food," she says, "are the exact opposite of what this is about."

All the Wine That’s Fit to Drink

Newspapers are dead, we’re told. Dinosaurs in a Twittering world.

Well, try telling that to The New York Times. The brontosaurus of American journalism, the largest newspaper in all the land, is not only alive – it intends to thrive!

Never mind that the paper’s ad revenues have plummeted, that it has put some of its prime assets up for sale, and that its cash-flow situation is so dire that it sold a big chunk of itself this year to a Mexican billionaire known for shady dealings. Times are tough, even for the Times, but the company’s innovative, forward-looking corporate leaders have come up with a business plan that they say will return the financial luster to a gem of journalism. To make ends meet, the Times is going into wine.

Wine? You might presume that the executives have taken to guzzling wine in an effort to give the paper’s future a rosy look – but, come on, these are serious businesspeople. They have announced a new, revenue-enhancing venture called The New York Times Wine Club. For about $180 a month, the club will ship wine to your door.

At first blush, journalism and wine might seem an odd pairing. But the Times is already in the home-delivery business, so perhaps it’s not so strange after all. The head of “strategic planning” explains that a wine club is a way for the paper to “delve further into our audience and bring them products and services that basically enhance the bond with The New York Times.” Whatever the hell that means.

Well, maybe it’ll take odd jobs to keep the presses running. Actually, I think they’re onto something with that home-delivery theme. Why not add The New York Times Maid Service to the mix? This would make the Times a company that could do it all for you in one stop – deliver your paper, clean your house, and leave a nice bottle of wine for you. See, there is a future in journalism!

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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