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Edible Institute in NYC

This May in New York City, Edible Communities, a network of local food magazines across America, will host a 2-day event discussing and celebrating the local food movement.  Both days feature talks, panels, opportunities to explore the city and network.

It’s interesting hearing about this after McMillan’s experience in New York. Through her story of Vanessa and time at Applebee’s, she made it sound that produce is hard to find in the city.  This could be another example of the effect of location and income on access that she discussed in her conclusion.  While some people can afford to eat locally and go to this event, others have fewer options.

A big part of the conference is discussing ways to decrease food waste. I’m curious if any of the solutions involve increasing the access to this food.

For more information, visit:

http://ediblefeast.com/article/edible-institute-2014

Grocery and Produce 101

The first supermarkets was King Kullen, which opened in 1930. Though it did not become a nationwide brand like Kroger or A&P, it opened the doors to a new style of grocery shopping. Traditionally, one would go to the store and hand a list to the clerk, who would gather all your items for you. The new style used more preservatives to deter the threat of spoilage, which lowered the cost of the food. The lower prices drew customers away from the older stores.

Walmart was created in 1962. Tracie mentions how working at Walmart was preferable for the workers since the alternative was waiting tables. The benefits that Walmart provides are also mentioned. The author also notes that the labor requires skill, especially stocking the shelves.

However, the downside of this style of grocery stores is that Walmart is now so large that it is compared to the old railroad corporations that had power over everything. Business journalist Charles Fishman writes that “Walmart is so large that it can often defy the laws of supply, demand, and competition.” (McMillan 118).

Still, Walmart is expanding. Detroit is called the food desert because until 2011, there were no national grocery chains in Detroit’s city limits. It does have local stores, but not enough to met the demands of the residents. Tracie goes to work at a Walmart in Detroit. There, she experiences the lack of emphasis on safety from the Walmart supervisors. She mentions that she is “pretty sure this flies in the face of basic workplace injury law” but she does not say anything (McMillan 144).

I believe that this is a problem. Corporations that get too large lose interest in their workers and the people that should be its number one priority. Instead, cash flow and expansion and competition become the focus. Walmart cuts corners, not only in safety, but also in food quality. One example is the technique of crisping.  Crisping is when you cut off the limp ends of a leafy green and then put it in a cooler with water, so that it looks better. Also, the wages that Walmart pays are barely legal. The minimum wage is not substantial enough for people to live or provide for their families. Tracie says she got excited by her paycheck, since it was still much higher than what she got working in the fields, but realized that she had been overzealous and that it actually is not as much money as she thought. With the low prices that Walmart prides themselves on, they could pay their workers more. Also, hiring part time workers rather than full time brings into question the integrity of Walmart and how it is trying to get around providing benefits and other advantages to its full time employees.

There are many articles and news stories about how if Walmart increased its workers wages to a “livable” wage of $12.50, its prices would only increase by 1.1% (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/18/walmart-worker-wages_n_3611531.html).

Another source is this video from Slate, which outlines the math and comes up with the number “1.4% increase in price.”

Slate – Walmart Prices

I really recommend at least watching the Slate video and thinking about how corporations are neglecting the people they claim to care about. The employee is also a consumer, and mistreating and underpaying an employee should offend all of us.

 

Questions:

1. Why do you think Walmart has refused to increase its employees wages?

2. What does Walmart get out of doing when they hire part time workers instead of full time?

3. Do you think Walmart should increase wages and, in turn, increase its prices?

 

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I came across this article today that relates to our discussions on organic food as well as McMillian’s experiences as a Walmart employee. The article says that Walmart wants to start selling organic produce at the same price as conventional produce. For those who prefer organic fruits and vegetables but don’t normally buy it because of the higher prices, this is very good news. However, this new demand for mass production of organic crops at the same scale as conventional crops is not without its complications, especially for the farmers. As the article points out, organic crop yields tend to be lower than conventional crop yields and involve more intensive care, so their prices are slightly higher. If they are going to begin meeting these new production demands, then the intensity of labor on organic farms will have to increase dramatically. In addition, many organic grains will just end up being imported from foreign countries, and this international shipping and its environmental costs might counteract the organic farm’s initial goals for sustainability. However, to be sure, a complete Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) would have to be performed. What do you guys think? Is Walmart’s new plan plausible?

Read the article here!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/walmarts-about-do-organic-food-what-it-did-every-other-consumer-product-180951062/#AvQmGDLivmfmGFil.99

How to Save the Planet

I think rarely do we hear about food waste when it comes to sustainability. The reason for that is we don’t realize how much food we’re actually wasting. According to this video, we waste about $100,000,000,000 worth of food every year. That’s a massive amount of natural resource to be wasted. Those food waste caused green house emission and climate change even more than other hotly debated topics such as localism and organic vs in-organic. I know that I often buy food that I don’t eat (my apartment sometimes buy fruits like apples and tangerine just so we don’t feel guilty but we never actually eat them, we usually just throw them out when they go bad) and I know for sure that I’m not the only one. So I think instead of debating about where to get our food, we should work on buying only the food that we know for sure we’ll eat, I think that’s a more efficient way of saving the planet.

Back to GMO’s

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-kucinich/gmo-labeling_b_5120692.html?utm_hp_ref=food&ir=Food

The attached Huffington Post article describes a recent bill trying to get companies to label products that contain GMO’s. While this has been a topic widely discussed in class, I though that this article was of particular interest due to the emphasis on certain aspects of the debate. The author of the article lists many negative effects of GMO’s, while disregarding the fact that in the majority of cases (if not all) they are harmless. I believe that this promotes the general consensus of frightened consumers, instead of providing scientific evidence that can help educate the public.

At the same time, the article mentions that corporations like Monsanto are adamantly fighting against the required labeling. While I can understand why they are opposed to such a system, I feel like their opposition adds fuel to the fire. If they know that GMO’s are safe and actually beneficial, then they should be doing their part to advertise this fact. Because this is not the case, it makes me wonder whether the opposition of these large companies is implying some hidden information.

Volunteer Wrangling

1) If you managed to sign up for two shifts at food gatherers and would be willing to give up one of your shifts to someone else, post a message in the comments.

2) This week’s study guide will include the e-mail address of the Student Food Co. volunteer coordinator and the Campus Farm group–you can do a shift with either of those instead of food gatherers.

3) If you hear about any other food-related volunteer opportunities, e-mail them to me and/or post them on the blog.

Death on the Farm

This week I came across an interesting article that was the headline of Newsweek entitled “Death on the Farm.” I was intrigued when I read the line under the title: “farmers are a dying breed, in part because they’re killing themselves in record numbers.” This article looks at suicide rates on farms around the world and demonstrates how it is rising as an international crisis. In France, there is a suicide every two days from someone working on a farm. The reasons for doing so are in line with some things we talked about in class such as very minimal pay, long hours, and working at young ages. However, another interesting point raised by this article is the desolation and isolation of many farms. This type of lifestyle is not fitting for everyone and can lead many into severe depression, the article asserts.

81-death-on-the-farm-full

I really encourage everyone to read this article. It has a lot of important information and looks at various points we have not covered in class or read in “Eating Right in America.” Here is the article: http://mag.newsweek.com/2014/04/18/farmer-suicide-farming.html

 

 

 In “The American Way of Eating,” Barbara McMillan takes on many different roles in the food industry to gain a better understanding of these experiences. When talking about her work picking grapes, she bluntly says, “As a farmworker, I do not have the same rights that I have when I work in an office,” p27. She goes on to list her lack of rights, noting that her fellow workers will not have the opportunity to write a book about this injustice and share it on a national scale. My immediate hope after reading these lines was that the laws have changed because McMillan, an undercover reporter, exposed the unfair situations. However, this is not necessarily the case. Without a complex infrastructure that includes lobbying and massive public attention, no one will begin to care more about the laws for rights of farmworkers, and their conditions will not improve.

One of McMillan’s main arguments as to why workers have fewer rights is that they are stuck in a tough situation. If companies feel they’re being pressured to change their ways, they can legally move production to machines, leaving the workers without a way to earn their living. This unfortunate fact shows that unless the workers somehow move on to greater jobs with greater power, they will not be the ones to make a change. Someone from the outside has to do that, and this person cannot be connected to the large corporations that benefit from the workers’ low wages and unfair conditions. They will need enough money that they can publicly expose this problem without being paid to do so, and without relying on the industry itself for their income. As long as the farming industry continues to operate as it does today, no internal force will cause workers’ situations to improve. Only an outsider with a strong commitment to the cause and sufficient connections will truly be able to fix this problem and make workers have rights nationally, not just state by state.

 

Discussion Questions:

How have other industries with similar workers’ rights issues managed to improve their situations?

Why does our government not take a proactive stance on these issues?

Being from California, I am well aware of the water crisis. Whenever my family drives up north, we have to pass through farm country. This land houses a variety of production such as cow ranches, lemon and lime orchards, and fields of almost every berry. However, there were two common things throughout the drive—constant water being sprinkled over these areas and signs along the road calling for changes in the water policy legislation.  At least in Central California, water really is just as valuable as blood.

 

While these areas do not possess the necessary water to sustain the farming, California agriculture is too vital to be discontinued.  While many see the Golden State as a place with perfect weather and virtually no seasons, it is actually drier than most would believe.  As Tracie McMillan discovered in her time in the peach orchards, the irrigation used to supply the water to foster growth has detrimental effects on the ecosystem.  Areas like Central Valley have a high concentration of salt and minerals that  “filters down into the aquifer—taking fertilizers and other chemicals used in agriculture along with it—it can contaminate drinking water, too” (McMillan 144).  With a heavy reliance on foreign water, farming on poor soil then puts that water into other sources where it cannot be utilized.  While this may be considered a price, irrigation does generate some benefits.  According to the National Crop Insurance Services, not only does California supply “more than half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts,” it also earns “more than $47.9 billion” each year because of this production.  It is obvious why there are groups and people that are very against any move for change.  Although irrigation has its negative impacts in the long run, it is viewed as a necessary undertaking in order to continue the production to fuel Americans and California’s economy.

 

For me, it has always seemed like California has been in a drought.  While residents have been urged to conserve their supply, farmers are calling for increased access for their crops.  The biggest question to ask ourselves is what happens when all the water runs out?

 

Discussion Questions:

The land was altered and developed for the farming; are the environmental reasons enough to justify moving the production to a more water abundant place?

 

With the proposed partition of California into 6 separate states, how  do you think this will impact farming, irrigation, and legislation?

 

Sources:

http://www.cropinsuranceinamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/california1.pdf

Fast Food Nation was an interesting film, I had never heard of it before this class. The movie was quite familiar due to the scene about the Mexican immigrants illegally traveling to the United States. The high school student working at a fast food establishment, the marketing guru and the huge meat packaging company are all important to the production of fast food. The movie in a way confirmed that immigrant workers are taken advantage of in the meat packing industry and how their lives can be made or broken based on these jobs. Schlosser’s “the most dangerous job” touches on this topic. I still believe its ironic that the meat packing industry went from being the most dangerous job to great improvements to back being an extremely dangerous job. The guy that had his leg chopped off while cleaning affirmed Schlosser’s belief that the clean up crew has some of the most dangerous jobs. The young married women at the end had the most impact on me because she hard to do multiple things in order to survive and take care of her husband once he got hurt; I say the disgust and fear in her eyes, very powerful. I thought it was very shocking to see that Don (the marketer) basically sweep the fact that manure was in the meat under the rug. It’s quite disgusting actually, this could be real life situation!

I only have one question to pose: Why some immigrants chose to come to the United States knowing that they will be cornered into dangerous and abusive jobs?

- I don’t think I would travel so far knowing that I would most likely be stuck in a job that would get me no where.

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