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Knowing Your Food: Making Sense of Our Food System

All food has a story behind it. It makes a journey from farm to shelf through our food system, the vast network where food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed.

This network is interwoven with all our other systems - the economy, the environment, transportation, politics and government, public health, our culture, and more. Communities are impacted by the food system's use of natural resources and livestock antibiotics, labor practices, management of byproducts and waste, and the quality of what it produces. Many of us depend on it for our livelihoods. And all of us depend on it to eat.

The Good Food Movement

Fortunately, there are a plethora of individuals, organizations, and projects working to build a safer, more sustainable, and more equitable food system. This movement is effecting change in areas such as:

  • Preserving farmland and supporting small farmers
  • Achieving better conditions for workers on farms, in restaurants and processing plants, and other points in the food system
  • Building localized food systems and supporting public health and equity through farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs
  • Using farming, food production, and cooperatives as solutions to food deserts, limited opportunities for those exiting the criminal justice system, and community development
  • Influencing policy decisions at local, state, and national levels of government

Organic Industry Structure: Who Owns Organics? 

Although we may prefer to divorce the concepts natural and organic from multinational corporations, they are inextricably linked. Conglomerates have purchased product lines from once-independent producers, while simultaneously developing their own trademarked natural product lines in response to the growing demand for nutritious food.

Revealing the chain of acquisition and expansion requires painstaking research and monitoring of financial news. Fortunately, Professor Philip H. Howard and his team at Michigan State University do that for us. Check out the two industry maps we've posted here, and to see more graphics and information, visit Professor Howard's website.

Organic Industry Structure: Acquisitions & Alliances, Top 100 Food Processors in North America, 2016

Click image for a bigger version


Seed Industry Structure, 1996 - 2013


Go Further

A Note About Our Products

Independent companies are essential to a healthy food system, and Central Co-op is committed to supporting and emphasizing our independent producers. At the same time, many products from other companies are of high quality and affordable. We choose to keep our shelves full and provide options for our community by carrying products from small, independent, and local producers and makers as well as goods from larger companies. We also strive to empower our community with information to support our owners and customers making informed choices, and to help illuminate the broader systems our Co-op is embedded in.


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