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Tag: "food"

Colonialist Labor Relations with Every Cup of Tetley

[ 48 ] February 14, 2014 |

The tea industry, as exploitative as most of the rest of the food industry. Turns out Tetley likes its labor extra exploited, as if the British still colonized India. Must add to the flavor.

The abusive conditions for APPL workers are consistent with conditions in the sector as a whole. They are rooted in the colonial origins of plantation life which continue to define the extremely hierarchical social structure, the compensation scheme, and the excessive power exercised by management.

The tea workers of Assam and the adjacent area of West Bengal come from two marginalized communities — Adivasis (indigenous people) and Dalits (the so-called “untouchable” caste) – whose ancestors were brought from central India by British planters. They remain trapped in the lowest employment positions on the plantation, where they are routinely treated as social inferiors. …

Workers live in cramped quarters with cracked walls and broken roofs. The failure to maintain latrines has turned some living areas into a network of cesspools. APPL is failing to provide adequate health care, both in respect of quality and access. Medical staff are poorly-trained and frequently absent. …

At one plantation, while the manager lauded the old and new mechanisms in place to ensure that pesticide spraying happened safely, and stressed the absence of any gaps, the research team watched a group of sprayers walk past his window with chemical tanks on their backs and no protective gear at all on their bodies.

Food and the Agency of the Poor

[ 452 ] February 11, 2014 |

Rich people concerned about the health of the poor are perplexed:

In inner cities and poor rural areas across the country, public health advocates have been working hard to turn around — neighborhoods where fresh produce is scarce, and greasy fast food abounds. In many cases, they’re converting dingy, cramped corner markets into lighter, brighter venues that offer fresh fruits and vegetables. In some cases, they’re building brand .

“The presumption is, if you build a store, people are going to come,” says , professor in the departments of sociology, anthropology and demography at Penn State University. To check that notion, he and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently residents of one low-income community in Philadelphia before and after the opening of a glistening new supermarket brimming with fresh produce.

What they’re finding, Matthews says, is a bit surprising: “We don’t find any difference at all. … We see no effect of the store on fruit and vegetable consumption.”

What, you mean poor people have agency in the choices they make? You mean they may not want to eat kale? The clear answer is for rich people to tell people what they should put in their bodies even more stridently:

Alex Ortega, a public health researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees that providing access to nutritious food is only the first step.

“The next part of the intervention is to create demand,” he says, “so the community wants to come to the store and buy healthy fruits and vegetables and go home and prepare those foods in a healthy way, without lots of fat, salt or sugar.”

An intervention! Exactly! We rich need to intervene more in the lives of the poor and tell them everything they are doing wrong. I have trouble seeing any down sides to this attitude…

Look, the diets of modern Americans are problematic. I am not saying that this is not something health professionals should be paying attention to. But let’s not obscure the connections between class and food. For the upwardly mobile of this country, local food, organic food, GMO-free food, backyard produced food–often at high prices–these are signs of social status. I can go to the farmers’ market and buy some greens right now if I want to pay a lot to do so. The farmer gets some money and this is good on a number of levels. I indeed want to support this when I can. Also, I get to look cool with my green canvas bag and see some other people of my socioeconomic status. If I was single, I might even strike up a conversation with someone that could lead to a date. Maybe I will see some fashion I want to emulate. If it was summer, all the yuppies would bring their designer dogs to the market to show off to the other rich white people. (This is a real thing at the big Saturday farmers market in Providence. I always see breeds I’ve never seen before. It cracks me up every time).

So while there are health problems related to food in America, let’s also remember that telling poor people what to eat is also just another episode in a history of rich people in this nation telling poor people what to do, a process constantly shifting as social and moral norms among the upper classes change over time. And look, Doritos and Coke are tasty products. People like fat and salt. Throwing a bunch of cauliflower in front of the poor and telling them it is good for them is not going to change their behavior. They want to eat these things because they are yummy. Moreover, desirable body shapes are changing with changing diets and health norms and this is also divided by class. The person who looks hot to someone on the Navajo Reservation or the south side of Atlanta or rural West Virginia may be different than who is hot in San Francisco or Portland or the cover of Runners’ World. But that’s entirely socially constructed as well. Pushing diet is also pushing body type.

And even if life is shorter and diabetes is a major issue, it’s an entirely reasonable and respectable decision for someone to say they’d rather live to be 52 in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by their family and friends and enjoying themselves as part of the culture of their people watching football and eating nachos and pizza than live to 82 and eat celery every day. That’s actually an OK decision for someone to make. Obviously, some of those decisions are being made by parents for their children and setting their children on a nutritional path that might not lead to long life, but unless we are going to call CPS when a child’s BMI gets over the norm, I don’t see any real solutions here.

Let’s also not forget about the very real issue of price. I was at a farmers market last year that took food stamps, which is great. But that doesn’t mean the food is any cheaper. A southeast Asian woman came and bought some peppers. The price came up. You could see her physically blanch in horror. She bought it but I wonder if she ever came back. There might be good reasons for the prices to be high, but if you live in a food desert, you probably have a limited income and those organic tomatoes aren’t any cheaper because of it. Even if you want to eat healthy, you may well not get full doing so because you can’t afford it. I’d love it if the government directly subsidized this food in a way that lowered the sticker price to consumers. Short of that, how can you tell a poor person they should spend their hard-earned but small amounts of money on the food you think they should eat versus what they can afford? A box of Kraft mac and cheese or package of ramen is awful cheap. Might allow you to also have cable television. Which is also a totally OK choice to make.

Again, all of this isn’t to say there aren’t health issues at play here that are reducing people’s life spans. But it would help if the very real and conscious choices made by the poor were also respected in these debates and if the rich would quit thinking the poor are doing something wrong (today in food, yesterday in having sex out of wedlock, tomorrow who knows) when it doesn’t follow the fashionable behavior of the elite.

Making Poultry Producers Pay Up

[ 36 ] February 9, 2014 |

Maryland legislators have introduced a bill to make the state’s poultry producers pay a whole 5 cents a bird to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed from runoff from these incredibly polluting facilities. Governor Carcetti O’Malley has backed away from such legislation in the past, afraid of angering big business in his desperation to become president. Of course, the poultry plutocrats are claiming this will drive all production out of Maryland. But this is obviously sensible legislation given the enormous environmental impact of meat production on the waterways of the mid-Atlantic.

Scab Cereal

[ 82 ] January 21, 2014 |

Time to avoid Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, since Kellogg’s has locked out the workers making the cereal at its Memphis factory and instead bused in scabs through an Ohio unionbusting company.

Bradshaw says the lockout is part of a plan to make Kellogg union-free. “If we win in Memphis, they have to wait until the master contract expires to make these changes,” he said. “If we lose in Memphis, it’s going everywhere.

“Other companies are going to see it. General Mills has already called our international president and said, ‘What are you doing about Kellogg?’ He’s thinking if Kellogg can do it, they can, too.”

The Memphis lockout is only the latest step in a series of increasingly hostile anti-union moves by Kellogg globally. Management recently announced that two union plants in Australia and Canada will close this year, and production will move to non-union facilities.

Kellogg also recently shifted 58 million pounds per year of cereal production from Memphis to Mexico. Bradshaw said workers in Mexico are required to live in a housing compound near the factory and are bused to work. Some have been kidnapped by drug cartels.

In 1996, more than 800 people worked at the Memphis facility. Now it stands just above 200. Much of the work is automated.

Hardly surprising that a giant corporation like Kellogg’s is using capital mobility as a union-busting strategy. Capital mobility and the outsourcing of American jobs has done more than anything to undermine the middle class, making the working class ever more poor, and generate the enormous income inequality of the New Gilded Age.

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.

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