It’s particularly troubling as a parent to know that there are now more than 2 million children harvesting cocoa in West Africa alone, according to a recent report by Tulane University — and most of those kids are doing hazardous work. And sugar isn’t any sweeter. According to the US Department of Labor, either child labour or forced labour is used to produce sugar and farm sugar cane in 17 of the world’s countries. A lot of the Halloween candy Canadian kids are consuming may contain child labour, we just don’t know for sure.
As a World Vision employee, I’ve seen the pictures and read the accounts of child labourers working on cocoa and sugar plantations in some of the world’s poorest countries. I’m familiar with the toxic pesticides to which many of these kids are exposed each day, without any safety equipment. I’m acutely aware of the machetes they swing for eight or ten hours a day to harvest cocoa pods, often on an empty stomach.
Talk about a razor blade in an apple. Imagine a machete on a bare hand or foot.
Like the environmental post yesterday, there are a lot of interesting historical posts I’ve been meaning to talk about. Let’s move through them all at once.
1) Extremely expensive dinners in 19th century America. Turtle for all!
2) In the late 19th century, Christians responded to Satan’s minions practicing “science” by showing how the scripture proves the Earth is flat. Today’s conservatives are slacking off in their anti-science ways. Step it up people. Sounds to me like we might have a new requirement for being elected Speaker of the House.
3) Decolonizing elementary school American history, a much needed phenomenon to teach our children something other than Puritans were awesome and prepare them for the multicultural American of 2015.
4) People sometimes complain when I write about the Civil War and battles over its memory that this is all long ago and doesn’t matter. This is an incredibly myopic view, in no small part because conservatives are fighting this war all the time and they pick their battles wisely, i.e., they force textbook companies to tell conservative history. Such as that slaves were workers brought from Africa to work on agricultural plantations. But not slaves. Don’t mention that word.
Scott is not incorrect that a major problem with bagels is the ridiculous amount of cream cheese. I am fairly agnostic on the point as I like cream cheese, but the point is fair. But a far greater problem is the terrible quality of the 99% of the bagels in the United States. It drives me absolutely crazy that 80 miles outside of New York City, no one bothers to prepare bagels properly and everyone, including the ex-New Yorkers, seem perfectly happy to accept Dunkin’ Donuts bagels, or even more atrocious, bagged and frozen bagels, products not deserving of the name. We are in a major food renaissance in this country, with middle and upper-class white people appropriating food cultures from around the world for their own tastes, focusing on fusion, new experiences, regional foods of Mexico and Thailand instead of what has become broadly known as Mexican and Thai food in the U.S., local ingredients, organic, whatever. And yet, for all the hipsters who have come in and out of Brooklyn in the last 10 years, it seems that no one has decided that a great idea would be to combine the food artisanship of the time with learning how to make good bagels and then moving to Portland/Austin/other hipster site of the moment and opening a first-class (or even second-class) bagel shop. Instead, we are in a world of poor bagels except for the rare times most of us get to New York (or Montreal–I don’t want to offend those who believe in that tradition, which I have never had since I’ve never been there).
So who is responsible for the terrible bagels of America? There are probably many perpetrators, including Murray Lender, a man Yglesias lauds precisely for his mediocre product, because of course. but one is a man named Daniel Thompson, who just died. His “contribution?”
Daniel Thompson, who five decades ago automated the arcane art of bagel making, a development — seen variously as saving grace and sacrilege — that has sent billions of mass-produced bagels raining down on the American heartland, died on Sept. 3 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 94.
His family announced the death last week.
A California math teacher turned inventor, Mr. Thompson was a shaper of postwar suburban culture in more than one respect: He also created the first wheeled, folding Ping-Pong table, a fixture of American basements from the mid-20th century onward.
But it was for the bagel machine that Mr. Thompson remained best known. The invention changed the American diet, ushering in the welter of packaged bagels — notably Lender’s — now found in supermarkets nationwide, and making the bagel a staple of fast-food outlets.
“There was a kind of schism in bagel-making history: pre-Daniel Thompson and post-Daniel Thompson,” Matthew Goodman, the author of “Jewish Food: The World at Table,” said in an interview on Monday. “What happened with the advent of the automated bagel-making machine was that bagel makers were capable of producing far more bagels than had ever been imagined.”
I like defeating my brother at ping pong, so I give the man some credit. But his bagel machine was clearly a mixed blessing, if one can call it that. I guess that maybe–maybe–one can argue that without mass popularized bagels, it would have fallen by the wayside like a number of other Jewish foods and instead there is the potential for a demand for a better product. This is basically what Yglesias argued about Lender in the link above. On the other hand, given that New Yorkers, or a lot of them anyway, still demand a quality product produced properly, I doubt it. But if we assume this argument might have some legs, I guess we could look at the rise of Taco Bell moving into more sophisticated Mexican food as maybe a path to bagels, although again, here the increasingly popularity of a better class of Mexican food is really related to larger immigration patterns and the exposure of whites to that food through randomly stopping in an Oaxacan restaurant (although the reality is that Oaxacan-owned restaurants in the U.S. only serve a small fraction of what Oaxacans actually eat, including few of the best dishes for reasons that I think are about modernity and work practices but that’s for another post).
Anyway, most of the bagels we eat are pointless lumps of carbs with little value. Daniel Thompson is partially to blame. Demand better bagels!
It’s also worth noting how the bagel machine was used to bust the bagel makers’ union.
Bagel-making was still a skilled trade then, restricted to members of the International Beigel Bakers Union, as the name was Romanized after the organization was founded in New York in 1907. (Until well into the 1950s, the minutes of the union’s board meetings were taken down in Yiddish.)
The bagel-maker’s craft was passed down from father to son, fiercely guarded from outsiders’ prying eyes. In a contingency that seemed straight out of Damon Runyon, or perhaps “The Untouchables,” nonunion bakers trying to make and sell bagels risked paying for it with their kneecaps.
“Every bagel that was made in New York City up until the 1960s was a union bagel — every one,” Mr. Goodman said. “The reason why this union was strong was that they were the only ones who knew how to make a proper bagel. And that was the keys to the kingdom.”
The union — New York’s Local 338, with some 300 members — could hold the entire metropolitan area gastronomic hostage and, in disputes with bakery owners over working conditions, often did.
“Bagel Famine Threatens in City,” an alarmed headline in The Times read in 1951, as a strike loomed. (It was followed the next day by the immensely reassuring “Lox Strike Expert Acts to End the Bagel Famine.”)
Then, in the early 1960s, Mr. Thompson’s machine changed the bagel forever.
That’s really written in an anti-union fashion, given the use of the term “gastronomic hostage” to describe what seem to be bad working conditions. You know what would be great? Quality food made by unionized workers who are well-paid in safe conditions. Instead we have low quality food made by non-union workers who are paid peanuts. Welcome to America.
This ad seems less than effective.
The Chicago factory that makes Oreos is closing and moving to Mexico. 600 people thrown out of work. The company’s CEO makes a cool $21 million a year.
The title of this post is the title of one of my chapters in Out of Sight. Dissent has published an excerpt from the book to coincide with this evening’s Brooklyn event. I write a lot about food and food production in the book. Here’s a bit of it:
Here’s the thing about food: because it is so important to our lives and our health, it is one set of products where we can effectively resist the concealment of production. Eating is a profound, if everyday, experience that affects our health and our happiness. The explosive growth in farmers’ markets, concerns about genetically modified organisms, and fears of pesticides have challenged the industrial food complex, just not over its treatment of workers. Free-range chickens and cattle have become highly desirable and expensive products, both for taste and for health and safety concerns, but less so because of the workers injured and killed in the meatpacking plants.
We can see the current local food movement as a backlash against corporations’ efforts to hide their operations from us. We cannot control very much about our relationship to the larger economy. But regional food networks, with production ranging from rooftop gardens to large farms on the outskirts of cities, can bring a significant amount of food democracy back into cities while providing enormous environmental benefits compared to the current system. Eschewing monocultures for diversified food crops would cut down on the pesticides and herbicides needed, meaning less fertilizer, less pollution, and healthier rivers, lakes, and oceans as well as small farmers who could afford to live and farm without expensive chemicals.
But food movements also need to be justice movements and connect to bigger issues. If we are serious in thinking about a democratic food system, we have to support good working conditions throughout the food industry. It means we need to support farmworker and meatpacker unions. We have to end the tipped minimum wage and demand greater funding for OSHA and the FDA to inspect our food factories.
Ultimately, our food problems stem from the same lack of democracy that plagues our society. In our food system, animals are abused, workers die, waterways become polluted with animal waste, and wildlife dies. Yet most of us have no idea this is happening. If we can demand ethically produced food that allows consumers insight into food production, we can go far to reshape the world into a more just and sustainable place. Food corporations, from Monsanto to McDonald’s, hope this never happens.
Federal court officers have recommended a sentence of life in prison for a peanut company executive convicted of selling salmonella-tainted food, a move that attorneys on both sides called “unprecedented” for a food-poisoning case.
The potential life sentence for former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was disclosed by prosecutors in a court filing Wednesday.
Parnell, 61, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 21 by a federal judge in Albany, Georgia. Prosecutors filed a legal brief Wednesday in U.S. District Court revealing that the U.S. Probation Office, which prepares pre-sentencing reports to help guide federal judges, concluded the scope of Parnell’s crimes “results in a life sentence Guidelines range.”
Parnell and his co-defendants were never charged with sickening or killing anybody. Instead prosecutors used the seven-week trial to lay out a paper trail of emails, lab results and billing records to show Parnell’s company defrauded customers by using falsified test results to cover up lab screenings that showed batches of peanut butter contained salmonella. The tainted goods were shipped to Kellogg’s and other food processors for use in products from snack crackers to pet food.
Prosecutors wrote that court officers “correctly calculated” Parnell’s recommended sentence, but stopped short of saying whether they plan to ask the judge to impose a life sentence. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, Nicole Navas, declined to comment.
Prosecutors’ legal brief also noted stiff sentences were recommended for Parnell’s two co-defendants. Punishment of 17 to 21 years in prison was recommended for Parnell’s brother, food broker Michael Parnell, who was convicted on fewer counts. The recommendation for Mary Wilkerson, the Georgia plant’s quality control manager, was eight to 10 years. She was convicted of obstruction of justice.
According to the CDC, deaths linked to the outbreak were reported in Idaho, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia.
Both sides are calling this unprecedented, and it is. But then if your actions lead to the death of someone in most circumstances, you can be held liable and forced to serve a lot of time. If your culpability goes to the point of defrauding customers to avoid safety and that then kills people in four states, that’s pretty bad.
I will note that there’s no way that the public outrage over companies killing customers is likely a lot more intense than the same CEO killing workers through unsafe work practices. But then threats to consumer health has long drawn more outrage than threats to worker health.
Yes. Yes I can.
I find it fascinating that as the lower end fast food chains find their sales slipping, a solution is to create the most ridiculous and/or disgusting food possible. Such is the new Pizza Hut hot dog pizza. I never thought I would object to mustard on anything, but I guess I am wrong.
What Cheer Tavern in south Providence already had a legitimate claim to the best bar in the state. And then they gave me this menu tonight:
I like this place even more.
Image from The Florentine Codex, the 16th century study of Aztec customs by Bernadino de Sahagún
Although I cringe at the term “Culinary Luddites,” you really need this Rachel Laudan article, originally published in the wonderful Gastronomica, on the need to embrace culinary modernism and reject a romanticized food past that is completely ahistorical, colonialist, and classist. Laudan shows how people around the world from the beginning of their ability to do so have sought to create processed foods that are tasty and digest well. The idea that there is this wonderful past of pure food simply is wrong. In the U.S. case, read Harvey Leverstein’s Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, for a history of American food. You’ll discover that basically American food was terrible, then became slightly less terrible, and over time has improved. That means that the food we might well make fun of today from fifty years ago was actually significantly better than what came before. The idea that our grandparents or great-grandparents or some faraway ancestors had this great food tradition of delicious healthy food is pure mythology. They were baking possums though. Creating a food regime that assumes hard culinary labor also means that we will be assuming that the poor, probably women, will be happy spending their entire lives cooking for families. For most women, that’s not how they want to spend their lives. An excerpt:
Meanwhile, most men were born to a life of labor in the fields, most women to a life of grinding, chopping, and cooking. “Servitude,” said my mother as she prepared homecooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three hundred and sixty five days a year.
She was right. Churning butter and skinning and cleaning hares, without the option of picking up the phone for a pizza if something goes wrong, is unremitting, unforgiving toil. Perhaps, though, my mother did not realize how much worse her lot might have been.
She could at least buy our bread from the bakery. In Mexico, at the same time, women without servants could expect to spend five hours a day — one third of their waking hours — kneeling at the grindstone preparing the dough for the family’s tortillas. Not until the 1950s did the invention of the tortilla machine release them from the drudgery.
If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove instead of going to McDonald’s, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old. We are reducing the options of others as we attempt to impose our elite culinary preferences on the rest of the population.
If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic foods” we encounter in cookbooks, restaurants, or on our travels. We let our eyes glide over the occasional references to servants, to travel and education abroad in so-called ethnic cookbooks, references that otherwise would clue us in to the fact that the recipes are those of monied Italians, Indians, or Chinese with maids to do the donkey work of preparing elaborate dishes.
We may mistake the meals of today’s European, Asian, or Mexican middle class (many of them benefiting from industrialization and contemporary tourism) for peasant food or for the daily fare of our ancestors. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multinational corporations bent on selling trashy modem products — failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market, foreign restaurants to eat at, and new recipes to try.
We always want to believe in a simpler, purer past. That past does not exist. That’s certainly true for food. This doesn’t mean that the modern food regime of heavily processed, high-sodium foods is great. We can do better. But better doesn’t mean relegating women to the kitchen 12 hours a day (“cough” Michael Pollan), bemoaning the world’s poor from having choices, or fetishizing kale (or açai 5 years ago or rice cakes or whatever it is tomorrow). I’m not a historian of food per se, but I write about a food a lot and read about it a good deal. At this point it’s very hard for me to take any sort of food movement as anything other than the fad of the moment. After two centuries of American food faddism, I simply do not believe that gluten-free diets will still exist as a major food movement in twenty years. Too many “real medical conditions” have come and gone over the history of medicine. That probably makes me sound like a jerk, but I don’t see how we read food history and come to a radically different conclusion. I’m not saying people don’t feel discomfort. I am saying a huge percentage of the world’s rich people have not become allergic overnight to the same foods people have eaten for thousands of years. Whether it’s yogurt enemas, graham crackers, Atkins diet, veganism, locally sourced, or gluten free, this stuff comes and goes with the seasons.
Also, just because I like it, here’s another great old Gastronomica essay, “Why Michael Pollan Makes Me Want to Eat Cheetos.”