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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture.

A coalition of grassroots farmers, consumers, and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been re-elected in a landslide.

The 51 to 44 Senate vote was so close because we were able to expose Butz as ... well, as butt-ugly — a shameless flack for big food corporations that gouge farmers and consumers alike. We brought the abusive power of corporate agribusiness into the public consciousness for the first time, but we had won only a moral victory, since there he was, ensconced in the seat of power. It horrified us that Nixon had been able to squeeze Butz into that seat, yet it turned out to be a blessing.

An arrogant, brusque, narrow-minded and dogmatic ag economist, Butz had risen to prominence in the small (but politically powerful) world of agriculture by devoting himself to the corporate takeover of the global food economy. He was dean of agriculture at Purdue University, but also a paid board member of Ralston Purina and other agribusiness giants. In these roles, he openly promoted the preeminence of middleman food manufacturers over family farmers, whom he disdained.

"Agriculture is no longer a way of life," he infamously barked at them. "It's a business." He callously instructed farmers to "Get big or get out" — and he then proceeded to shove tens of thousands of them out by promoting an export-based, conglomeratized, industrialized, globalized and heavily subsidized corporate-run food economy. "Adapt," he warned farmers, "or die." The ruination of farms and rural communities, Butz added, "releases people to do something useful in our society."

The whirling horror of Butz, however, spun off a blessing, which is that innovative, free-thinking, populist-minded and rebellious small farmers and food artisans practically threw up at the resulting "Twinkieization" of America's food. They were sickened that nature's own rich contribution to human culture was being turned into just another plasticized product of corporate profiteers.

"The central problem with modern industrial agriculture... (is) not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste, and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all. More fundamentally, it has no soul," said Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and former farm boy from Yamhill, Oregon. Rather than accept that, they threw themselves into creating and sustaining a viable, democratic alternative. The Good Food rebellion has since sprouted, spread and blossomed from coast to coast.

This transformative grassroots movement rebuts old Earl's insistence that agriculture is nothing but a business. It most certainly is a business, but it's a good business — literally producing goodness — because it's "a way of life" for enterprising, very hardworking people who practice the art and science of cooperating with Mother Nature, rather than always trying to overwhelm her. These farmers don't want to be massive or make a killing; they want to farm and make delicious, healthy food products that help enrich the whole community.

This spirit was summed up in one simple word by a sustainable farmer in Ohio, who was asked what he'd be if he wasn't a farmer. He replied: "Disappointed." To farmers like these, food embodies our full "culture" — a word that is, after all, sculpted right into "agriculture" and is essential to its organic meaning.

Although agriculture has forestalled the total takeover of our food by crass agribusiness, the corporate powers and their political hirelings continue to press for the elimination of the food rebels and ultimately to impose the Butzian vision of complete corporatization. This is one of the most important populist struggles occurring in our society. It's literally a fight for control of our dinner, and it certainly deserves a major focus as you sit down to your holiday dinners this year.

To find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets, and other resources in your area for everything from organic tomatoes to pastured turkey, visit

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at

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Economists tell us that the current high rate of inflation is not forever. And it's not all bad, certainly not for workers whose rising wages play a part in the climbing prices. How seriously Americans are taking it may be reflected in this Wall Street Journal headline: "Retail Sales Rose by 1.7% in October Despite High Inflation."

Anyhow, the media angst over jumps in the broad consumer price index often overlooks the big price differences in the categories that go into it. And what more timely subject for those intent on squawking about inflation than the price of turkey?

As an example, CNN anchor John Berman recently declared, "There's a good chance that the grocery bill is going to be quite high on Thanksgiving." Business correspondent Christine Romans took it from there delivering the scary-sounding news about the Thanksgiving bird.

"We're expecting the price to top a record high of $1.36 per pound this holiday season," she said. That would be "22 bucks for a 16-pound turkey."

Let's unwrap this. A 16-pound turkey feeds something like 18 people. That would come to $1.22 per person. Put in perspective, a Sausage Biscuit with Egg at McDonald's costs $2.79.

But things could go downhill from there. You might not get any turkey at all, Romans warns. "Economists are saying, grocery stores are saying, they expect a run on turkeys, a run on birds." There's also a "risk," she goes on, that "you may not get the size bird you want."

Aha, just the thought that alarmed Americans might do a run on turkeys, fearing they won't get one, could cause ... a run on turkeys. Recall last year's ransacking of shelves for toilet paper. Though inexplicable, it did create some cute memes: Did you know that the Charmin bear was behind the coronavirus pandemic?

Oh, and there are other Thanksgiving food items. The price of potatoes was up 1.7 percent last month from a year ago. Potatoes in October 2020 cost about 82 cents a pound, which means Americans are now spending slightly over 1 cent more a pound this year for potatoes.

Consider the worst-case scenario. Just suppose the turkey shelves at the supermarket go bare in the days before Thanksgiving. So, you have eggplant parmesan for dinner or hamburger or chicken pot pie. No one is going to starve. After all, the American people did get through the Great Depression.

But let's not interrupt a good cry. As The New York Times reported, "Thanksgiving 2021 could be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday." But then comes the line five paragraphs down that put things in a calmer light: "Granted, last year the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 was the lowest it had been since 2010, according to the American Farm Bureau."

In other words, the increase in prices comes on a low base. That is, prices a year ago were unusually depressed because of the pandemic.

That also applies to gasoline, an item whose price has truly surged. The national average is now about $3.41 for a gallon of regular, according to AAA. There are several causes, but a spike in demand after a year when far fewer people were driving is a big one.

By the way, back in July 2008, unleaded gas hit $4.11 a gallon — and $4.11 in 2008 would be worth $5.17 in today's dollars. Life went on then, too.

As for the price of turkeys, who's panicking, other than certain media desperate for a hot headline during the mid-November doldrums? No need to panic. Black Friday is right around the corner, and as national obsessions go, shoppers-gone-wild are hard to beat.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at