Fuck Billionaires!

Madeline Link (PACKS) on corporate food systems, streaming services, and our increasingly twisted perceptions of rights vs. privileges.

Madeline Link fronts the Toronto indie rock band PACKS. Earlier this year, for the Talkhouse Reader’s Food Issue — out now digitally and in print — Madeline wrote about the exploitation of labor wrought by corporate food systems and streaming services, and our increasingly twisted perceptions of rights vs. privileges. PACKS’s latest record, Melt the Honey, is out now on Fire Talk. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Your favorite album is a treat. Having it streamable 24/7, a paid utility like gas or water, is a spoil. It spoils us, and not in a cute way. It allows us to consume music insatiably, ravenously, fed by our loving mother’s engorged, algorithmic teat. The illusion of choice intoxicates us. We enter the supermarket thinking, “Tacos tonight, Mediterranean on Wednesday, Asian fusion Thursday.” You find all of the necessary ingredients in the same place as always, all of the produce readily available and uniform. As you eat, you tell the robot music player, “PLAY. MARIACHI. MUSIC,” and some festive taco-eating music instantly blasts out of the tiny, tinny speaker. Life is “good.”

When something seems too good to be true, that’s usually because there’s a psychopath billionaire taking advantage of — sometimes even creating — the global chaos to which we have grown so accustomed. The “good” comes and the “good” goes, but the one constant in any billionaire’s philanthropic (money laundering, tax evading) venture, is the desire for expansion, domination, and of course, more money. There is no CEO leaning on his strained standing desk asking, “OK, now how can we maintain our current profit margin?” 


When I look up “music industry” on Google, the first photo is Taylor Swift with a big purple jacket and a microphone. (The same Taylor Swift who just won her fourth Grammy for album of the year, feigning surprise and humility as she snatched the statuette from Celine Dion’s iconic hands without so much as a glance in her direction.) When I look up “food systems” on Google, I see two pie-chart-like graphics with numbers and words like “production,” “consumption,” and “marketing.” No heroic stock photos of farmers, chefs, or happy families eating, as I had expected. I start to imagine Taylor Swift not as being an actual person, but a pie chart. A process to be analyzed and maximized. A money laundering system for The Industry. Then I think about Steve Lacy smashing a fan’s disposable camera on stage and smile.


“I think it’s the second phase of colonization,” fellow of the African Food Fellowship, Celestine Otieno aptly notes. She’s talking about AGRA, Bill Gates’ philanthropic farming venture, which approaches African farmers and offers them irreplaceable technology and patented seeds so that they can “lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.” In a 2021 press release from The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa — which represents more than 200 million farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and indigenous peoples across Africa — they cite researcher Timothy A. Wise:

“After 15 years and one billion dollars in outside funding, AGRA has failed to catalyze a productivity revolution in African agriculture. Farmers’ yields have not grown significantly, poverty remains endemic, and the number of chronically hungry people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries increased 30%. It is time for donors to listen to African farmers and community leaders.”


Imagine if a coalition of citizens, laborers, businesses, and spiritual representatives could determine how allocated funds would be used to design and implicate a system that would actually work for their specific community. That’s what happened in Belo Horizonte, a Brazilian town where the mayor made access to food a right of citizenship. And not just any food, but locally grown food. If public internet appreciation and exposure weren’t so heavily equated to a musician’s financial security and general well-being, I’m sure we would all be begging Daniel Ek to collapse Spotify and redistribute all of the money to real live musical communities.


I love to draw ludicrously wild conclusions from disparate pieces of information at the best of times, but for so many of humankind’s most contentious issues, I have noticed that the general concluding sentiment for those who care is pretty much the same: Hopeful, because the solution is actually quite simple, but awestruck and somewhat crazed by the deathgrip with which billionaires strangle the life out of our simplest pleasures. 


In a news special on tech and music, Tom Gray, founding member of the band Gomez, concludes, “When we’ve got this thing that we know makes people happy, that we know improves our well being and mental health, we should cherish it. We should protect it. That doesn’t strike me as a crazy idea.” Adriana Aranha, a former manager for community-driven farmer’s markets in Belo Horizonte reflects, with tears in her eyes, “I knew we had so much hunger in the world, but what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.” You don’t have to call yourself an activist in your Instagram bio to ask for more from your government. Access to cheap local food should be a human right. Access to digital, streamable music should be a privilege. Let’s not confuse the two.

PACKS is an indie rock band from Toronto led by Madeline Link. Their latest record, Melt the Honey, is out now on Fire Talk.