There are a lot of labor stories in my blogging queue right now. Let’s just deal with them all at once.
1. Do we need a new legal framework for food workers? Jacob Gersen and Benjamin Sachs say we do and they are correct:
Take farm workers who witness the processing of infected (or “downer”) cows — an illegal but, unfortunately, not uncommon practice that risks spreading a host of diseases to humans. Or workers in poultry-processing facilities, where safety and hygiene regulations are flouted, thus increasing the risk of salmonella, which every year results in more than one million illnesses, more than 350 deaths and over $3 billion in health care and lost productivity costs. Unless we offer specific legal protection for all food workers who come forward to expose such practices — something the law does not do now — we all are at risk.
We should also adjust many of our standard workplace rules to take account of the special nature of food production. To avoid the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which causes mad cow disease, workers involved in the processing of beef must fully and carefully remove the dorsal root ganglion, a part of the spinal nerve, from all cattle that are 30 months old or older. That’s because these dorsal root ganglia can contain the infective agent behind B.S.E.
Not sure what the Obama Administration can do on this in the face of certain Republican opposition but it should be a priority within American labor regulation.
2. San Francisco is considering an ordinance to force companies to provide a “predictable schedule” for part-time workers. This is absolutely a workplace justice issue that needs to be taken care of. Among the many problems with people stringing together multiple part-time jobs to keep a roof over their heads is the inability to know when they will need to work week-to-week at each job. Keeping workers’ lives unstable of course helps the company and so they will probably fight such a common-sense idea.
3. In the world of labor on our college campuses, administrators at Pensacola State College are telling faculty members they are violating state law by talking to student reporters about their stalled contract negotiations. The administration is trying to use a section of the state legal code already shot down by both state and federal courts. Absurd, but all too typical for one of the biggest union-busting industries in the U.S. right now–institutions of higher education.
4. I always like to highlight stories of student labor activism when I see them, so here is one on anti-sweatshop activism at Oregon State University.
5. Meanwhile, a Chicago alderman whose father worked in a sweatshop in India is pushing the City Council to pass an anti-sweatshop ordinance. Wonder what ol’Rahm thinks about that.
6. Finally, the chemical industry strikes again, with 4 dead workers at a DuPont plant in LaPorte, Texas after a chemical leaked. I’d be real curious to see when the last time this plant was inspected by OSHA.
We’ve discussed the 1935 Idaho Potato Queen here in the past. But she didn’t exist in a vacuum. Food related royalty has long been a thing in the U.S. They still are too. I once attended the Yamboree in Gilmer, Texas. There was a Yam Queen. It was very exciting.
Sometimes, said food royalty poses with the food in somewhat odd ways. That is the subject of tonight’s Friday night open thread. Above is the Kearney, Nebraska Corn Goddess. Don’t know the year. Below, a Pork Queen.
When was the last time you thought about Totino’s frozen pizza? When you were 16 and hated good food? Me too. That’s some nasty “pizza.” And other frozen pizza-like products. But I have to give them credit–their tumblr is seriously amazeballs. Like there’s some great drugs floating around Totino’s corporate headquarters amazeballs. Whoever is running this thing is pretty good at their job. I mean, it’s sure as hell not going to make me buy their product. But I’ll probably keep checking the tumblr.
A friend altered me to this highlight of American culinary history.
The definition of everybody winning is hot cocktail sauce.
I know my trust in the quality of the chicken I eat (not that I eat very much) is really reinforced by the United States now accepting Chinese imports of cooked chicken products that come from chickens grown in “approved nations.” If there’s one thing, we can count on, it’s the safety and sanitation of imported Chinese goods.
China has been the given green light to start shipping chicken to America.
On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department told stakeholders it had certified four poultry processing plants in the Shandong province of China to export fully cooked, frozen and refrigerated chicken to the United States.
Though raw chicken must still come from countries approved by the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) — the U.S., Canada and Chile — consumer rights activists are calling the certifications for cooked chicken from China dangerous.
“China’s food safety system is a wreck,” D.C.-based Food & Water Watch said in a statement Thursday. The group has been fighting the USDA on the issue since November 2005.
“There have been scores of food safety scandals in China and the most recent ones have involved expired poultry products sold to U.S. fast food restaurants based in China,” the statement said. “Now, we have FSIS moving forward to implement this ill-conceived decision, and it has not even audited the Chinese food safety system in over 20 months.”
Taking raw American or Canadian chickens, sending them to China for processing, and then returning them to the United States also says a lot about the absurdity of the global food system.
Andrew Lawler provides an excellent history of chicken’s rise through the 20th century from minor part of the American diet to American companies feeding the world with it. The modern chicken is a technological marvel, with all the advantages and horrors that comes with it.
Also, I find it a little disturbing that the average American eats 100 lbs of chicken of year.
We can pass regulations forcing corporations to divulge sourcing. But unless those regulations come with more stick than carrot, the corporations will fib. See the ever-exploitative shrimp industry:
In a report released Thursday, ocean-advocacy group Oceana conducted a survey of 111 restaurants and grocery stores across the U.S., and found that more than a third of the sampled shrimp were vaguely labeled, or else mislabeled entirely.
The confusion begins with the fact that there are 41 species of shrimp sold in the U.S., but any of them may just be labeled as “shrimp.” It deepens when it turns out that many of those labeled “Gulf” or “wild-caught” were really a species of farmed shrimp. It’s easy to prawn off these crustaceans as more valuable versions of themselves when more than 90 percent of the U.S. shrimp is imported, and only a small percent of that is ever inspected. Still, the depth and variety of deception is shrimply staggering. Consider this from the Guardian:
Unexpectedly, some of the shrimp that were identified in the survey were genetically unknown to science, and one sample taken from a bag of frozen seafood even turned out to be a banded coral shrimp — a species renowned on reefs and coveted as a ‘pet’ shrimp by aquarium enthusiasts, but certainly not as food. “It’s one of the things you look for on a reef,” Warner says. “How it ended up in a bag of salad-size shrimp, I have no idea.”
This says an awful lot about the food system that respects nothing approaching sustainability or ecological boundaries and instead pursues short-term profit.
In other words, more sticks for industry. Vigorous regulations with real consequences in the only answer to solve these problems.
Isn’t the real reason for McDonald’s slumping sales and potential slow decline that it makes a horrible burger and that a generation perhaps somewhat more sophisticated on food than the previous realized this? Whether a nouveau fast food joint like Five Guys or Shake Shack or In-n-Out–or just good old Wendy’s–there isn’t much reason to eat McDonald’s today outside of being stuck feeding at the chain’s monopoly on the Mass Pike.
This is depressing news for we oyster lovers. In short, climate change is creating ocean acidification which will decimate oyster beds. What’s more, we know it is already happening but the carbon currently affecting oyster beds today was spewed fifty years ago, meaning that what is happening today won’t be fully felt for another 50 years.
Ocean acidification is bound to get worse, before it gets better
It takes a few decades for all this acidic water to make it to the surface. That means the oyster die-offs we’re seeing now at hatcheries across the Pacific Northwest are being caused by carbon absorbed into the ocean at least four or five decades ago, when greenhouse gases levels were significantly lower. “The worst part is that even if I could push a button right now which would stop all CO2 emissions today, for the next 50 years things are going to get worse before they start improving,” Eudeline says. There are record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, which means the worst might be yet to come for producers like Taylor Shellfish.
Shellfish operations could move inland, but be prepared to drop almost $20 on an oyster
If acidity levels continue to soar, operations like Taylor Shellfish could theoretically move their operations completely inland and harvest oysters in a lab. But the production costs would get stupid high. “Instead of paying $10 a dozen, you’re going to pay $200 a dozen,” Eudeline says. “That’s just the cost of what it would take to grow an adult oyster on a land-based system where you can control all the water quality.” Plus, growing oysters on land just isn’t, well, natural. Says Eudeline: “We rely 99.9 percent on nature to do the job. If nature cannot do the job anymore, that means there will be a decrease [in oysters] — there is no doubt.”
Eat your bivalves today because your children probably won’t know what they taste like.
Hot soda! Get your hot soda drinks from 1913 here!
Why can I not get a hot clam drink today?
A minor detail in this article on the history of Tabasco sauce, but one that is telling about how, when we are talking about “innovators,” we forget who actually does the work:
Accounts differ as to when exactly McIlhenny acquired the seeds for those Capsicum frutescens peppers. But in the years after the war, he began using them to make pepper sauce, a popular Louisiana condiment. His method was a laborious one that involved crushing the peppers with a potato masher and mixing them with rock salt from the island’s own salt mines, then aging the mash twice, adding vinegar in between. After straining the resulting mixture through a series of sieves, he decanted it into castoff cologne bottles.
He began making the pepper sauce? He crushed the peppers? He decanted it into castoff cologne bottles?
Or was it African-Americans doing all of this, probably ex-slaves working for quite low wages and in poor working conditions? The article is titled “Who Made That Tabasco Sauce?” It was workers who made that sauce, even if it was McIlhenny who thought of it, if he even did that.
But when we are talking about the rich, they are deified and thus any mention, not to mention asking questions about, the labor used to make these products is irrelevant. All the credit goes to the supposed innovator.