Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé Group, believes organic farming is rubbish. He insists fresh water should be considered a “raw material” and controlled entirely by private interests. For good measure, he also thinks the hours in a work week should be substantially increased (though presumably not the overall compensation for the menials).

Sometimes these guys don’t even seem real. Comic book material. Maybe Richard Branson could play the real life Tony Stark, flying in on his laser-cannon-equipped spaceship to thwart Brabeck’s evil plot.

Except this isn’t a comic book, and Brabeck helms what is probably the most powerful force in the global food industry this side of Monsanto. If you shop at an average American grocery store, Nestlé owns more of your food than you know. It’s actually a little creepy.

Just after Brabeck made waves for his corporate villain of the month comments, I was at the store buying drinking water—just moved into a new place and the well tastes like sulfur—and I remembered hearing that Poland Spring, a brand I often purchased, was actually owned by Nestlé. So I picked up a gallon of Deer Park, looked at the label and saw “nestleusa.com” in small white letters near the rest of the fine print.

This was in addition to the huge selection of water that actually had Nestlé on the label.

I bought some Aquafina—tap water filtered and bottled by Pepsi—and went to the frozen food section. I’m actually trying to wean myself off frozen foods, but the circumstances of the evening dictated convenience take priority. I picked up a DiGiorno Supreme Pizza, and right next to the cooking instructions, in little white letters: nestleusa.com.

I was starting to lose my appetite a little bit, so I grabbed some Stouffer’s. Their Chicken and Pasta Bake has always been a reliable choice. If you squint your taste buds just right, it even—almost kinda sorta—tastes like an actual cooked meal. Taking that and a Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle, I headed home and threw my dinner in the microwave.

As I looked at the box, I had somewhat of a twilight zone moment. There, in little white letters, next to the cooking instructions and ingredients: nestleusa.com. I was hungry enough to eat it anyway—plus I paid for it. The way I was raised, once you’ve paid for a meal, you eat that shit even if you find out it has actual shit in it. There’s starving children in West Virginia and grandma and grandpa had to eat dirt back in the Depression, so clean your fucking plate, kid.

Regardless, what I had previously considered a quasi-scrumptious meal now tasted like chemicals and preservatives. Obviously, there were perception issues at play, but eating Nestlé food suddenly felt intolerably gross.

There’s actually a Wikipedia page listing Nestlé’s many brands. You’ll recognize quite a few of them. Taster’s Choice Coffee. Lean Cuisine microwave meals. Gerber baby products. Juicy Juice. Powerbar. Boost and Carnation nutrition drinks. Purina pet food. The list is extensive.

And every dollar spent on these products goes towards building a future terrifying in its potential for cruelty and suffering.

Commoditizing the essential needs of human beings inevitably breeds oppression and totalitarianism. People tend to react unfavorably to starvation and thirst, and the powerful elements seeking to control those resources generally have no hesitation in maintaining their market share by force.

This goes even deeper than diamonds or oil, two commodities which breed plenty of bloodshed in their own right. We’re talking about the basic necessities of survival. People might not fight for their ideals or their politics or even their economic well-being. But they will fight for their lives.

Violence will give rise to fear and chaos, which people like Brabeck will have no hesitation in using to their advantage. They can paint the people fighting for their own right to live as menacing bogeyman, coming to take your family’s water in the night, meanwhile solidifying their hold on the mechanisms by which you feed yourself.

I remain ever skeptical of post-apocalyptic scenarios. My read of the arc of history tells me that we are moving—slowly—in the direction of greater human dignity and equality, and towards a more harmonious relationship with the planet that gives us life. But if people like Peter Brabeck are allowed to continue to steer the ship, I fear the voyage won’t end well for any of us.

So to that end, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reevaluating my entire food acquisition strategy. Obviously, Nestlé products are verboten. They only have the influence and power they do because people buy their shit. And they aren’t the only game in town—yet. But even deeper than that, I’m trying to examine my habits, and find ways I can transition to a more natural, self-sufficient diet.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t quit the grocery store just yet. I have to balance my health aspirations with the humility of my budget. But I do know there are affordable options out there for the creative and persistent.

Nestlé Group has their vision of the future; some dystopian hell where we eat what we’re told and pay handsomely for the privilege. I’ve decided I would prefer to work towards a different scenario.

 

Alex Benson can be reached at alexb@theaquarian.com.

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