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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."

Publishers Weekly

“[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.”  


"Frerick’s skill as both a serious academic and gifted storyteller keeps the pages turning as his colorful cast of characters build empires with everyday dinner items like pork chops, milk, coffee and strawberries."

Farm and Food File

"Rookie Austin Frerick has smacked a homerun in his first swing at authoring a book."

— Milkweed

“Frerick takes apart [the barons’] strategies patiently and methodically, almost as though he is turning an engine upside down to figure out its workings... Though his writing style is restrained, it simmers with damning facts and figures.”


"[Frerick] has a knack for making explicit the connections between policy and the concrete realities of people’s lives... [Barons is] an indictment of our regulatory system and the many ways the government — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — has failed to break up monopolies, prevent them in the first place, or meaningfully hold them accountable for wrongdoing. "

Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN)

"In a carefully researched book, Frerick makes ordinary insider knowledge both compelling and urgent."

Daily Yonder

“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.”  

Mode Shift

"Frerick’s greatest strength is in drawing out the federal, state, and local policies (and policymakers) that fueled the rise of the captains of industry he profiles."

The American Prospect

“Wow.  This is one important book… If you want to know how corporations control the food supply, start here.”

― Marion Nestle, Professor at NYU and author of  What to Eat and Food Politics

“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 breaks down complex issues with plain language that is incredibly readable and engaging. I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the food we eat and how it is produced."

Wenonah Hauter, Founder and Executive Director of Food & Water Watch

Like Fast Food Nation and Omnivore’s Dilemma, Austin Frerick’s Barons tells a darkly fascinating story about our food system. With startling accounts of corporate behemoths and the regulatory failures that allowed them to amass unchecked power, destroying the family farm and the rural heartland along the way, Frerick makes an urgent case to structure our markets to protect our environment, our health and ultimately our democracy.

— Robert Kenner, Director of Food, Inc. and Food, Inc. 2


"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

"Well-written, maddening, and inspiring, Frerick takes us into the power networks of food, and brings the reader out the other side deeply informed about the structural problems in the food system."

— Zephyr Teachout, Professor of Law at Fordham Law School and author of Break 'Em Up and Corruption in America

“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.

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