The Invisible Hand of Big Agriculture

Big Ag controls how our food is grown and gets into our bodies.

When you think of family farms versus corporate farms, it's tempting to envision Little House on the Prairie on one side and Upton Sinclair's The Jungle on the other. But today, Big Ag has taken on a cleverer and much more insidious mask. 

In the United States, 96.7% of farms are actually family operated farms. But here's the catch: half of the produce from those farms depend on fertilizers, seeds and pesticides supplied by a handful of mega-corporations. Those crops are then traded and transported around the globe via another handful of mega-corporations.  And when those crops are ready for distribution to supermarkets—you guessed it— it's another handful of mega-corps. 

Illustration: James Provost

As a result, you have oligarchies reigning over our food, and through our food, reigning over us. For consumers, having oligarchies such as Monsanto controlling a huge percentage of our produce means dubious pesticides, hormones, and additives going into our bodies—with no one to check them. For farmers, it means contracts with corporations to raise their food a certain way, to a certain standard, even if they know those methods and standards could be harmful for the person consuming that food.

Some believe Big Ag to be a necessary evil. How else are we going to feed the 7 billion people around the world? But the problem with Big Ag isn't simply in their ubiquity, it is in their foggy-at-best business practices to achieve that global standing. And these practices makes losers out of all of us. 

How do you challenge something that big?

"It takes small producers to rise up and say we want something different...because a big player isn't going to do it."

- Lisa Fetterman, founder of Nomiku

If there's anything you need to know about Lisa Fetterman it's that she loves food, and it's a generous brand of love that can't be contained—so she's sharing it with the world.

Fetterman's romance with eating led her to create Nomiku, a handheld sous-vide machine. Sous-vide is a cooking technique that uses precise temperature control and before Nomiku, it was reserved for upscale restaurants where sous-vide machines cost thousands of dollars. But today, you can get Nomiku's sous-vide circulator for $199.

Fetterman's startup journey took her to China where she lived right next to the factory manufacturing her sous-vide machine, to running the most successful Kickstarter food campaign ever, and to joining Y Combinator, the most prestigious startup incubator in the world. Today, Fetterman has settled in a San Francisco office where she manufactures the Nomiku in-house.

"Nomiku is a part of this giant movement of food and tech that's going towards more sustainable ways to eat," Fetterman says. 

And according to her, the time is ripe to uproot  the current system. 

"Some forces have manipulated our minds into thinking we don't have control over what goes into our body," Fetterman says. "I refuse to believe that people can stand that for a long time."

Transforming Food with Technology
...Take Two

In the twentieth century, and even before, innovations in technology transformed the playing field for farmers and consumers alike. Inventions such as the cotton gin and the assembly line allowed the scale of food production to explode. The discovery of chemical preservatives in the mid-1900s introduced a whole assortment of long-lasting foods that were as delicious as they were efficient, ringing in the era of the McDonald's burger and the Hostess Twinkie.

But the indulgence of those technologies and products has put us at a tipping point. Do we continue to sacrifice our own health and the health of the planet for sheer convenience? In 2016, the food industry is again changing course. Food and tech are once more combining forces to create a new consumer culture like Nomiku's: one where food doesn't sacrifice taste, health, or the environment. 

Here are 3 more companies who are changing the game.

1. GrubMarket

GrubMarket is an online farmer’s market. Farmers post their harvest online and customers choose just what they want. GrubMarket then delivers orders straight from the farm to the customer's kitchen. 

Farmer's markets can't be a daily affair for farmers. It takes too much time to harvest, travel, setup and breakdown booths—time that can be spent growing beautiful, fresh foods. GrubMarket allows farmers to to reach paying customers whenever they're ready without the hassle. They're giving farmers control over where and when to sell their food again.

2. Hampton Creek

If you've been to a Whole Foods, you've likely caught sight of Hampton Creek's first product: Just Mayo. 

Hampton Creek has had some bad press, but its mission strikes at the heart of a new trend in eating: eliminating animal products. According to CEO Josh Tetrick, they're building "a food system that's healthier and stronger and more aligned with our values." They're showing that eating vegan can be easy and delicious.

3. Freight Farms

Freight Farms up-cycles freight containers into fully functional hydroponic farms. That means they can produce an acre's worth of food 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all inside the boundaries of a single shipping container.

Freight Farms is the answer to food deserts. Their containers can be taken anywhere and produces a variety of fresh, healthy greens regardless of harsh climates.

"What humans yearn for is truth and what tastes good. And the old way of food doesn't do that, because you don't have control." 

- Lisa Fetterman, founder of Nomiku

Technology has the ability to determine the future of food, and that's exactly what Fetterman plans on doing with Nomiku. 

Nomiku is one cog in the machine that is determined to revolutionize food: how it's grown, where it comes from, what it does to our bodies, and, of course, how it tastes. It's a step toward healing the past fifty years of damage to the environment and to our bodies.

"I've seen the age of people giving food that doesn't taste good and thinking that would be enough. And clearly people have said back, 'that's not enough,'" Fetterman says. "We actually need food that tastes good, because food matters to me."

Nomiku is giving everybody a chance to indulge in food that tastes delicious, a chance to care about what you're eating and what you're putting into your body. Because caring is the first step to doing something different, something better. 

And according to Fetterman, "It's about eating exactly what you want to eat."

What are you craving?

Can't get enough Nomiku? Check out their sous-vide circulators and recipes at
Nomiku and EatTender

Up next, Chapter Six: Eat Together

Meet Top Chef finalist Melissa King. After her reality TV show days, King started Co+Lab, an extensive project bringing together local artisans and ingredients. See how she seats diners alongside the hunter who caught their meat, the brewer who made their beer, and the potter who crafted their bowls, for one magical meal!...more

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