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Coming March 26, 2024
Starred Review: "In this eye-opening debut study, Frerick, an agricultural policy fellow at Yale University, reveals the ill-gained stranglehold that a handful of companies have on America’s food economy...It’s a disquieting critique of private monopolization of public necessities."
“[Frerick] dissects not only the food barons’ business practices, but also the disastrous impacts of these practices… The author, who frequently sounds as though he is fighting to control his personal rage at the people he’s writing about, backs up his statements with facts and figures. This is an angry and accusatory book, but also a fair and well-documented one.”
“Time will tell whether Austin Frerick’s Barons joins that elite list [of classic books on the food system]. It certainly could given how well he’s structured the story, how seamlessly he grapples with complex policy, and how effortlessly he guides readers through the consequences to so much of American real estate, so many communities, and so many people.”
“Barons is an explosive and absolutely riveting tour through a hidden world of big-money powerhouses that control our food system. Frerick is a fantastic storyteller, with the rare combination of on-the-ground empathy for rural communities and sparklingly brilliant analysis. This book is essential to understand our new food system, and the dangers it poses to everyone who eats.”
— Christopher Leonard, author of The Meat Racket and Kochland
"Austin is one of the most important and exciting voices in the next generation and he lays out a road map to bring about a delicious revolution that addresses climate, health, and taste."
— Alice Waters, founder and owner of Chez Panisse
“Frerick traces the items in our grocery carts to uncover a radical consolidation of economic power that has put our communities and democracy in jeopardy. Most importantly, he shows how none of this is inevitable, but rather the outcome of decisions that are in our power to change.”
— Stacy Mitchell, Co-Executive Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and author of Big-Box Swindle
“Austin Frerick shows just how much consolidation has devastated family farmers. But what makes Barons so good is how clearly he explains how those changes were caused by policies that benefit Wall Street and corporate America at the expense of everyone else.”
— Rob Larew, President of the National Farmers Union
“An urgently important book.”
— Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation
Barons is the story of seven corporate titans, their rise to power, and the consequences for everyone else. Take Mike McCloskey, Chairman of Fair Oaks Farms. In a few short decades, he went from managing a modest dairy herd to running the Disneyland of agriculture, where school children ride trams through mechanized warehouses filled with tens of thousands of cows that never see the light of day. What was the key to his success? Hard work and exceptional business savvy? Maybe. But more than anything else, Mike benefitted from deregulation of the American food industry, a phenomenon that has consolidated wealth in the hands of select tycoons, and along the way, hollowed out the nation’s rural towns and local businesses.
Along with Mike McCloskey, readers will meet a secretive German family that took over the global coffee industry in less than a decade, relying on wealth traced back to the Nazis to gobble up countless independent roasters. They will discover how a small grain business transformed itself into an empire bigger than Koch Industries, with ample help from taxpayer dollars. And they will learn that in the food business, crime really does pay—especially when you can bribe and then double-cross the president of Brazil.
These, and the other stories in this book, are simply examples of the monopolies and ubiquitous corruption that today define American food. The tycoons profiled in these pages are hardly unique: many other companies have manipulated our lax laws and failed policies for their own benefit, to the detriment of our neighborhoods, livelihoods, and our democracy itself. Barons paints a stark portrait of the consequences of corporate consolidation, but it also shows we can choose a different path. A fair, healthy, and prosperous food industry is possible—if we take back power from the barons who have robbed us of it.