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Tag: "food"

Capital Mobility and Transnational Exploitation

[ 60 ] January 18, 2014 |

David Bacon’s The Right to Stay Home is high on my reading list. Demonstrating the profound impact of NAFTA on both the United States and Mexico, it shows how NAFTA allowed American corporations to go into Mexico, buy up land and evict farmers, create a new pool of cheap labor for American companies in both the US and Mexico that forced Mexican farmers to migrate against their wills, and use immigration authorities as its own union-busting force when that labor begins to unionize.

To illustrate how NAFTA worked in practice, Bacon explains how a Smithfield Foods subsidiary used NAFTA’s land reform laws. The company scooped up land in Veracruz to open a massive mechanized hog-raising facility, driving small local pork producers out of business. Those displaced small farmers then filled the recruiting buses to go work at Smithfield’s packinghouse in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

Undocumented immigrants were shipped in partly to break a union campaign. When they said “enough is enough” and joined the union drive, Smithfield colluded with ICE to terrorize the workforce. Ultimately, the union drive won, but at tremendous cost: firings, fear, deportations, resentment among the different communities.

The union organizing in Tar Heel mirrored a community effort in Veracruz to limit the growth of the Smithfield subsidiary—in particular because of its toxic waste that destroyed the water table, causing kidney infections and forcing communities to depend on bottled water. The community won an agreement that the company would not expand further.

In another example, further south in Oaxaca, mining corporations gobbled up farmers’ land—also using NAFTA provisions—and poisoned the environment with toxic wastes. They provided a few jobs at above-average wages, but dried up many more.

These are the processes I am talking about in my own forthcoming book on the effects of capital mobility. Capitalism unbound by national borders and with the support of corrupt elite classes around the world undermines both labor and environmental rights and regulations everywhere with no consequences for their actions. These are the complex forces we have to fight against. Even when you have meaningful and difficult to achieve transnational progressive alliances, the forces of capital combined with the forces of capitalists’ client states make real wins few and far between. Probably nothing suggests the power of capital mobility than food and food policy, where free trade agreements create not only new markets for rich world corporations but by forcing people off the land through either direct eviction or more commonly undermining their economic stability, they then create a labor force for their own operations around the world. It’s win-win for corporations and lose-lose for most of the world’s workers.

The Beef Monopoly

[ 84 ] January 7, 2014 |

It’s not so much that the beef monopoly is evil. We all know that. It’s that the beef monopoly is an evil subsidized directly by taxpayer dollars. That’s a problem.

I’d also argue that the beef pictured in the link was a bit overcooked.

The Lives of Fast Food Workers

[ 157 ] December 28, 2013 |

Sasha Abramsky with a valuable look into the life of one fast food striker demanding a $15 an hour wage. You know what she wants that she can’t have? Fruit.

Roberts, who is now thirty-eight years old and working at a K.F.C. in Oakland, is slightly stout, with hair done up in braids. She is quick to smile, and she has a matter-of-fact attitude about her circumstances. Tacked to the wall above her stove is a Bob Marley poster with the quote “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Around mid-morning, after Thomas, now fifteen, has headed off to school, Roberts walks to the K.F.C. on Telegraph Avenue. She earns eight dollars an hour as a cashier, and she typically works five- or six-hour shifts.

“I pack orders, take orders. I clean, take out the garbage. I deal with belligerent people, disrespectful people, I deal with a lot of people who do drugs—so I’m basically a security guard, too,” she told me. During a ten-minute lunch break, she wolfs down free fried chicken. In the early evening she walks home to her apartment, where, when she has food in her small refrigerator, she prepares dinner.

I visited Roberts a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, and she still had leftover turkey in an tinfoil baking tray. She usually cooks a lot of beans and ramen noodles. The night before, she said, she had sautéed some vegetables and made a sandwich.

Often, though, she can’t afford vegetables. She is paid little enough that she qualifies for a hundred and ninety-five dollars’ worth of food food stamps, but they run out after a couple of weeks, and by end of the month the fridge shelves are virtually bare, and Roberts starts skipping meals so that Thomas can eat more. “I’d love to eat fruit,” she told me. “Fruit is my favorite. Peaches. Nectarines. Cantaloupe. Bananas. I like Fuji apples. Can’t afford to eat it.”

Should any person in this country be denied apples and bananas, employed or unemployed? No and I don’t think I have to explain why.

Meanwhile, Yum, which is not only the stupidest name of any corporation in the history of the United States but which also owns KFC, has paid its CEO David Novak $81.5 million over the past five years.

One Big Win in 2013

[ 13 ] December 27, 2013 |

The defeat of the ag-gag bills in every state where agribusiness had them introduced was a major victory in 2013. Even if you don’t care about animal rights, where animals are abused, usually so are workers. Many of these big agribusiness operations have long sought out the most exploitable labor, even using undocumented workers and then reporting themselves for immigration violations to avoid unionization. There’s little no doubt that agribusiness and their state legislature lackeys will continue to try and make knowledge about what happens in their factories illegal, but in a world where the Koch Brothers and ALEC dominate state legislatures and horrible laws have passed across the nation, it’s good to give a shout-out to one of the few places where they’ve been turned back.

Rare Good News for New England Fisheries

[ 19 ] December 2, 2013 |

This is a nice change from the usual news of doom for New England fisheries, with scallop production based out of New Bedford exploding and what sounds like very responsible government regulation of the scallop beds that will keep the production going. Note: you usually know the government is doing a good job if the fishers are complaining about too much regulation.

Now, New Bedford has its issues with poverty. But between a still functioning scallop industry and something of a tourist industry, it is in a whole lot better shape than, say, Fall River or Worcester or Pawtucket.

A Union Thanksgiving

[ 81 ] November 25, 2013 |

A useful list of food products for your Thanksgiving made in union shops. If you have a choice, choose union-produced food.

Blood Avocados

[ 23 ] November 25, 2013 |

I know we frequently talk about a benefit of marijuana legalization undermining the cartel violence in Mexico. But at this point, the cat is out of the bag on that. The cartels have plenty of ways to make money. Such as taking over the entire avocado industry by violence. Scary stuff.

Kitchen Labor

[ 103 ] November 13, 2013 |

Arun Gupta’s memorial of the recently deceased Chicago chef Charlie Trotter gets at some key issues about restaurant labor and worker abuse in kitchens, especially at the higher end.

But rather than pore over flaws that paled next to Trotter’s virtuosity, it’s time to admit that the real culprit is a restaurant culture that dishes out abuse. Michelin-starred chefs are often known for their prowess in screaming as much as for their cuisine. Few underlings will openly admit it, lest crossing a celebrity chef consign them to also-ran kitchens, but get a few seasoned cooks together and they’ll swap accounts of star chefs who hurl insults, torment weaklings, throw pots, or perhaps even a punch. As Donald Trump is to real estate, Gordon Ramsay is to the kitchen, building his public persona on being a flaming asshole.

During my brief forays into professional kitchens, I was challenged to a fistfight, worked with a line cook who broke someone’s jaw, and was told about a famed chef who would throw spice into the eyes of hung-over waiters during brunch service. While the stories are entertaining, they also suggest that many chefs believe that high pressure and hard work excuse bad behavior.

Charlie Trotter’s tragedy is that his life was both a testament to and indictment of the restaurant industry. He has an outsized legacy in the chefs he mentored, the Chicago dining scene that he made world-class, and the cuisine he crafted, which defied convention while delighting the senses. But tributes to his work would be elevated by acknowledging that great food shouldn’t be accompanied by abusive working conditions.

Last summer, I saw Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert do a sort of performance/conversation in Providence. Overall, it was exactly what you’d expect and so was entertaining if not particularly challenging. But one highlight was Ripert and Bourdain talking about how utterly awful Gordon Ramsay is and how behavior like his is terrible for the entire food industry since it makes working in a kitchen seem like the worst job in the world. Ripert admitted that he used to be like Ramsay. He had grown up in the French kitchens run by a tyrannical chef and brought that to America. Then he realized he was a loathsome human being who everyone hated. So he reformed his behavior and became one of the most successful French chefs in the United States.

Tolerating and laughing about bad kitchen behavior is no different than tolerating and laughing about the boys’ club in NFL locker rooms that leads to Richie Incognito bullying Jonathan Martin to the point of mental illness. It’s about creating cultures of work where people have rights to basic decency. That’s far too rare in the restaurant industry, as it is in the NFL.

They Eat Lard

[ 107 ] November 1, 2013 |

British lard advertisement, 1957

Just because. Are they also drinking a lard-based cocktail?

….Jewish Steel in comments suggests this could be a parody. Sad if true. Good parody though.

Sriracha Emissions

[ 155 ] October 29, 2013 |

Among the many products we probably don’t actively think of as having a major pollution impact in Sriracha.

But in Irwindale, where the hot sauce’s production facilities are, residents are complaining of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches caused by a powerful, painful odor that the city says appears to be emanating from the factory during production. The smell is so aggressive that one family was forced to move a birthday party indoors after the spicy odor descended on the festivities, said Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante.

The city of Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, claiming that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production until the smell can be reduced.

“Given how long it’s going on, we had no choice but to institute this action,” Galante said.

Irwindale officals repeatedly met with representatives from Huy Fong Foods to discuss methods of reducing the odors, according to the suit. Huy Fong representatives cooperated at first but later denied there was an odor problem, saying their employees worked in similar olfactory settings without complaint, Galante said.

There’s obviously pretty serious emissions violations going on here. For that matter, the smell of fresh bread wafting outside of an industrial bakery also largely consists of emissions violations, but when it is chiles and fish sauce and such, that’s not good. This is why we need a vigorous regulation and inspection program. Sriracha is tasty, but we also need to make sure the people of Irwindale are protected from its byproducts.

The Poisoned Candy Scare

[ 111 ] October 22, 2013 |

Another Hail Satan Day Halloween is nearly upon us and Dan Lewis reminds us that the famed Halloween poisoned candy scare is a total media mythology.

What about poison, which, being invisible and generally hard to detect, is the more nefarious way to taint candy? You have little reason to be concerned there either. Landers stated, “many reports” of such terrible acts have occurred, however, they are almost entirely the stuff of myth.

Almost entirely.

For nearly 30 years, University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best has been investigating allegations of strangers poisoning kids’ Halloween candy. As of this writing, he hasn’t identified a single confirmed example of a stranger murdering a child in this fashion.

He found other examples of people accidentally passing out tainted candy or, in one case, passing out ant poison as a gag gift to teenagers (no one was hurt), but the bogeyman of terrible people making trick-or-treating unsafe is a canard. One example of a person trying, explicitly, to poison children via Halloween candy was confirmed. However, the child who died wasn’t a stranger—it was the man’s son.

On Halloween, 1974, an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died. His candy had, indeed, been poisoned. A few days prior, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, took out a $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy and Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth (then age 5), as an unimaginable way to get out of debt. The only way to collect required that at least one of his children die, so the elder O’Bryan laced some Pixy Stix with cyanide and cajoled his son into eating one before bed.

Pretty nice father there. In any case, while the overall point is fair enough, I do have to push back against the framing of Lewis’ article. He blames the scare on “the media.” But I’m not sure that citing Dear Abby and Ann Landers (Hell, that could just be some old family scare there) exactly equates “the media” here. Now I do remember lots of stories growing up about fears of this and local news reports on where to take your candy to get it scanned (my parents never bothered. And really, if I were their son, I probably wouldn’t have either). So the media scare did exist.

But the 1970s and 1980s were full of this kind of paranoia about the cities, bad people, kidnappings, and other horrible things. Don’t talk to strangers. Some of this is still with us, but in fact it is far safer for children today than 30 years ago. From bicycle helmets to Amber Alerts, we took our mostly misplaced paranoia and created a structure of real safety for our children.* But let’s also be clear, this was misplaced paranoia. When I was a kid, there was a famous case of a mother killing her children in my hometown. She blamed it on a shaggy haired stranger flagging her down and massacring her children (and shooting her in the arm). The police were inundated with calls from citizens saying they saw the same person trying to do the same thing to him. Of course he didn’t exist. The woman killed her kids and shot herself in the arm as an excuse.

What was with these fears? I figure it was probably a combination of backlash to civil rights and urban riots, the Manson murders and counterculture more broadly, the economic instability of the time leading to cultural fears, and other broader sociocultural factors that would lead parents to fear irrationally that their neighbors wanted to poison their children through Halloween candy. But while the media certainly fed these fears, it didn’t create them out of whole cloth. People aren’t passive receivers of narratives.

* Not that bicycle helmets aren’t a good thing

Ketchup and Culture Wars

[ 209 ] October 19, 2013 |

It’s pretty typical that Drudge would invoke the fear of salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s favorite condiment in his culture wars. Personally, I say Viva Reconquista. If ketchup is the condiment of the Tea Party, it just confirms everything I already think about it. So all you haters out there can go back to dumping Drudge Sauce on your eggs and fries, comfortable in the fact that you are supporting Real America through your condiment choices.

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