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Supermarket USAFood and Power in the Cold War Farms Race$
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Shane Hamilton

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780300232691

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300232691.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM YALE SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.yale.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Yale University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in YSO for personal use.date: 25 February 2020

Food Chains and Free Enterprise

Food Chains and Free Enterprise

(p.143) 5 Food Chains and Free Enterprise
Supermarket USA

Shane Hamilton

Yale University Press

This chapter returns to the United States, where in the 1950s and 1960s supermarkets secured economic dominance in the nation’s food system. Even as American-style supermarkets were exported as “weapons” against international communism, no small number of American farmers and consumers developed cogent critiques of the notion that supermarkets were unassailable exemplars of “free” enterprise. American farmers, long upheld as the backbone of democracy, bristled at the realization that supermarkets’ demands for standardized, low-priced foodstuffs often pinned farmers in an uncomfortable position. Economic freedom—supposedly the hallmark of the American supermarket—seemed increasingly illusory to many in the rural United States who were expected to either conform to the demands of supermarket-driven industrialized agricultural production or get out of the agricultural marketplace altogether. Meanwhile, many American consumers who appreciated the low prices and wide range of goods on offer in their supermarkets nonetheless contested conservative economists’ declarations that “consumer sovereignty” was a central achievement of “free enterprise.” Even at the height of the Cold War Farms Race, when Americans’ certainty in the economic superiority of capitalism was at its apogee, the undeniable power of corporate entities in the American food system raised questions about capitalism’s moral and political legitimacy.

Keywords:   Family farms, Free enterprise, “Chicken of Tomorrow” contests, Industrial agriculture, Consumer sovereignty

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