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Ep20: Phil Howard on Corporate Consolidation

 Episode summary

In the first Feed episode about power we speak with Phil Howard, author of Concentration and Power in the Food System, a book that asks "who controls what we eat?" We dive right into big questions, asking whether Phil Howard’s ideal food future is compatible with capitalism. We also talk about the rise of organics, how is power distributed within corporations, how a US farmer’s prospects about staying a small and diversified operation has diminished over time, and how food corporations intent on growing cope with the fact that human stomachs remain the same size.

[ Transcript available ]

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protein visualization




About Phil Howard

Phil Howard is a professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Community Sustainability, a member of IPES-Food, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable food systems, and the author of Concentration and Power in the Food System that investigates who controls what we eat?

Phil teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Community, Food and Agriculture, as well as a graduate course in Political Ecology. His research focuses on the 'food system,' which involves all of the steps required to produce food and get it to our plates–from farming and processing to distribution and consumption. Phil's work is unified by three main questions: 1) What changes are occurring, 2) What are the impacts of these changes on communities, and 3) What can communities do to respond positively to these changes.

Organic visualization




Background reading and resources

Books and articles

Book: Concentration and Power in the Food System (Revised edition 2021)

Report: The Food System: Concentration and its Impacts (Hendrickson, Howard, Miller and Constance, 2020)


Protein industry convergence (Howard, 2021)

Organic processing industry structure since 2020 (Howard, 2020) and Phil's very first graphic (Howard, 2004)

Recent changes in the US Beer Industry (Howard, 2019)

Global seed industry changes since 2013 (Howard, 2018)

Referenced in the episode

Podcast: “Who do you want controlling your food” (NY Times, the Daily, 2022)

Article: Explainer: How four big companies control the U.S. beef industry (Reuters, 2021)

Article: "JBS...executives admitted to bribing 1,829 politicians a total of nearly $600 million" (CFR, 2018)

Article: "The global Avian Influenza outbreak in 2006 caused a loss of about 50% of the business." (Poultry World, 2012)

Related Feed podcast episodes

Introducing season two: Power in the food system

Jennifer Clapp on Commodifying Food


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