Wondering what to stream online, check out from the library, or rent at your local video store?
Thanks to HuffPost, I discovered a list of “26 Films Every Food Activist Must Watch,” compiled by Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Work.
As they describe,
Food Tank has selected 26 films — both long and short — to share with you. From the importance of land rights for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to the insidious dominance of fast food in an urban community in California, each of these films can inform and inspire eaters all over the world.
For the full list with links and brief descriptions of each film, head to Food Tank’s website. Happy viewing!
Matthew Canfield recently contributed an article to Civil Eats on the efforts of berry pickers in Washington state to improve their working conditions. As he describes,
On July 10, Frederico Lopez couldn’t take it anymore. The berry picker says he was constantly barraged with verbal abuse by his supervisor, while earning only 30 cents per pound of berries. “It’s unjust to yell at us like we are animals, simply for asking for a fair wage” he told his supervisors that day….
On the hot summer day Lopez complained, he was given an eviction and a pink slip – a practice that would is routine in the fields. But on this day, Lopez’s co-workers took notice and decided not to return to work the next day. What has ensued has been an all-out labor dispute in a region widely known for its local food movement. As the farm workers press on to raise their working conditions, they are raising important questions about the priorities and social values of the burgeoning food movement.
Yesterday NPR’s Dan Charles posted about efforts to help protect Spanish-speaking farmworkers from the chemicals they regularly come into contact with. As he notes,
Pesticides carry warning labels that spell out health risks and how workers should protect themselves — but those labels are usually in English. More than 80 percent of the workers in the “salad bowls” of Salinas, Calif., or Yuma, Ariz., are Hispanic. Many have difficulty communicating in English.
Farmworkers “are frustrated about their lack of knowledge about these chemicals,” says Virginia Ruiz, director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice. Her group, along with many others, submitted formal to the EPA arguing that “without bilingual labeling, today’s Spanish-speaking agricultural workforce is at great risk for pesticide exposure.”
Find the full post—and some informative links—here.
Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote a great piece about the sub-poverty wages of many workers in fast food and other parts of the service sector. He writes,
Over the past two decades, with the Industrial Revolution and its union wages all but a memory, fast-food jobs have skyrocketed – now employing roughly 3.5 million Americans and as many as 15,000 Philadelphians.
In a new service-based economy, flipping burgers and manning the drive-through is no longer just a part-time starter job for eager high-school students, but now a long-term solution for people on the wide bottom of the economic pyramid – folks lacking a diploma, single moms or those escaping long-term unemployment.
The ones who stay behind the counter have found not only that it’s hard to claw much above the $7.25 minimum wage, but that they have little or no leverage with the big chains or their franchisees – and no one speaking on their behalf.
Find the full article here.
A new documentary will be airing tonight on PBS stations across the country and online, titled “Rape in the Fields.” described the problem as well as the film in The Fresno Bee:
Every year in the central San Joaquin Valley, thousands of farmworkers are harvesting fruits and vegetables to feed the nation and the world. Yet, underneath this massive multibillion-dollar industry is an environment that advocates say makes it ripe for sexual abuse.
Female workers have been the victims of sexual attacks, harassment and intimidation by supervisors and fellow workers. Many have suffered in silence, afraid to tell authorities for fear of losing their jobs — or being deported.
That veil of secrecy, however, may be lifting.
Several studies have shined a national spotlight on the issue, and on Tuesday the Public Broadcasting System’s Frontline news program will feature a report on the subject titled “Rape in the Fields.” The program will be rebroadcast Saturday in Spanish on Univision’s television stations.
The program — produced in partnership with Univision, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the investigative reporting program at the University of California at Berkeley — delves into the painful price some women are paying for providing for their families. As part of the program, dozens of women — from the Valley’s almond orchards to Florida’s tomato fields — shared their stories about being victims of sexual abuse.
Find Rodriguez and Aguilera’s full story here.
Check your local listings to learn when the documentary airs in your area, or head to FRONTLINE’s website. Watch for additional content online as well: As Elizabeth Jensen of The New York Times noted when reporting on the documentary for the Media & Advertising section of the Times, “two dozen additional reports, including an animated video, will appear on the various partners’ Web sites.”
Earlier this month, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of their Journalism Awards. In the category “Food Politics, Policy, and the Environment,” the award went to Tracie McMillan for her article “As Common as Dirt,” which I wrote about earlier this year. The piece was published as a collaboration between The American Prospect and the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN). As FERN editor-in-chief Sam Fromartz writes in a rightfully proud blog post,
Considered the Pulitzers of the food reporting world, the Beard Award was FERN’s first journalism prize, and also came within our first year of publishing.
The story revealed the systematic practice of cheating farm labor contract workers of their wages, to keep costs low. Outsourcing labor to contracting companies also allows farm businesses to distance themselves from the practice, which has prompted law suits as well as state and federal actions. McMillan told the story by focusing on 75-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, who has been a farmworker his entire life and who is a plaintiff in one of these law suits.
The story took several months to report, requiring multiple trips to southern California and many hours of interviews with farmworkers, government and industry officials, and legal advocates. The project took patience and tenacity, qualities which are frequently lacking in a time of highly constrained resources and constant deadlines….
“The exploitation of farm labor has long been one of the great scandals of American society—it dates back at least to the beginning of the 20th century—and persists to this day,” said [American Prospect Editor-in-Chief Kit] Rachlis. “Tracie’s piece looks at one of its most insidious practices—institutionalized wage theft—and shows its devastating effect on people’s lives. At once intimate, authoritative, and moving, the article ranks as one of the best the Prospect has ever published.”
Last fall I posted about coverage in The New York Times of, as I wrote then, “the cause of a small but persistent number of deaths on U.S. farms each year: grain storage buildings, or—more accurately—employers’ failure to ensure that proper safety procedures are followed when workers are inside them.”
It was a great piece of reporting that helped bring to light needless and senseless worker deaths. I was glad to see the issue getting additional in-depth coverage last week from NPR and the Center for Public Integrity in a special series titled, “Buried In Grain.” A number of audio pieces from NPR’s Howard Berkes aired throughout the week, and print versions are available online. I highly recommend them. As reported in the first entry,
on a stifling hot day in July 2010, [14-year-old Wyatt] Whitebread joined his buddies Alex Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20, at the Haasbach LLC grain storage complex. Piper had begun working there the week before, and it was Pacas’ second day on the job.
The boys carried shovels and picks as they climbed a ladder four stories to the top of the grain bin, which was twice as wide and half-filled with 250,000 bushels of wet and crusty corn. Their job was to “walk down the grain,” or break up the kernels that clung to the walls and clogged the drainage hole at the bottom of the bin.
The work went well at first, with the boys shoveling corn toward a cone-shaped hole at the center of the bin. But around 9:45 a.m., Whitebread began sinking in the corn. He was sucked under in minutes and disappeared. Pacas and Piper also began to sink and desperately struggled to stay on the surface.
Six horrific hours later, only Piper was carried out alive.
The story details how simple safety precautions, which are required by current law, can prevent such tragedies. It also documents how ineffective the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been at tackling this ongoing problem. As the report describes,
“At some point we’re going to have to decide whether these incidents are just accidental … [or] somebody’s really making horrendous decisions that approach a criminal level,” says [Bill] Field [a professor of agricultural and biological engineering] at Purdue, who is often enlisted as an expert witness in grain death lawsuits and as a safety consultant for the grain industry and OSHA.
“It’s intentional risk-taking on the part of the managers or someone in a supervisory capacity that ends up in some horrific incidents,” Field adds. “The bottom line is if you ask them why they did it, it was because it was more profitable to do it that way.”
Field counts more than 660 farmers and workers who suffocated in nearly 1,000 grain entrapments since 1964 at both commercial facilities and on farms. Nearly 500 died in grain bins. One in four victims was younger than 18.
Head to the home page of the series here , where you’ll find links to NPR’s four stories, photos, documents obtained in the investigation, and links to related reports from the Center for Public Integrity, the Kansas City Star, and Harvest Public Media.
Yesterday was Easter. It also would have been the 86th birthday of farm-labor organizer and activist Cesar Chavez. Internet giant Google recognized the latter with an image of Chavez on its main search page. Scandalous, yes? Um, no. But some disagree, it seems. As Dana Hull writes for the Mercury News,
Conservative commentators lashed out at Google … over the company’s decision to feature labor and civil rights legend Cesar Chavez, instead of an Easter-related theme, as its “Google Doodle” Sunday.
Chavez was born March 31, 1927, and would have been 86 years old Sunday. A devout Catholic, he dedicated his life to improving wages and working conditions for farm workers and was among the founders of the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers of America.
Talk show host Glenn Beck and Fox News Contributor Dana Perino were among those leading the criticism on Twitter Sunday.
“I thought the Chavez-google thing was a hoax or an early April Fool’s Day prank … are they just going to leave that up there all day?” wrote Perino, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, on Twitter.
Aargh. For more of the absurdity (as well as some nice links), check out Hull’s full piece, Brad Knickerbocker’s post for The Christian Science Monitor, and especially this appropriately snarky report from Chris Matyszczyk at CNET.
It’s National Farmworker Awareness Week, a program of Student Action with Farmworkers that aims “to raise awareness about farmworker conditions and to honor their important contributions to us every day.”
In that spirit, I thought I’d point you to a couple recent pieces. The first is an essay in Good Magazine from Sanjay Rawal, director of the forthcoming documentary film, Food Chains (which I posted about when its Kickstarter campaign was underway). As Rawal writes,
Farmworkers, whether documented or not, aren’t protected by the same labor laws as the rest of us are. They are also paid by how much they pick which pits workers against each other to harvest more than one another—in the heat and without regular water breaks.
Worse, the power dynamic in the fields is akin to that of a master and serf. Workers are too intimidated to complain when their rights are violated. Women can be raped and are regularly harassed. In the worst cases, workers have actually been enslaved: working for no pay and under the threat of beatings or death.
The undercarriage of our magnificent food production system, second to none, is rusted and decayed. The system is fueled by inequity and fear.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Rawal goes on to describe the struggles (and successes) that the farmworker organization the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has had. Check out his full piece here.
For more on that subject, check out this recent article from Ryan E. Little reporting for Naples News in Florida. As he writes,
Hundreds of Immokalee farmworkers and their supporters held out open hands to [grocery chain] Publix on Sunday [March 17] demanding they join a coalition that works for farmworker’s rights….
The Sunday afternoon event was the end of a 200-mile march from Immokalee to Lakeland; workers endured uncommon cold, rain and blistered feet to protest in front of Publix stores….
The two-week-long march is part of a four-year effort to bring one of the nation’s 10 largest grocers into the Fair Food Program, which unites farmworkers, growers, consumers, and 11 retail food leaders in support of fair wages and human labor standards. Some of Publix’s competitors, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, have already joined the program along with companies like Chipotle, Burger King and McDonald’s.The program is well known for its call for an extra penny per pound on the price of tomatoes, but it also created the Fair Foods Standard Council, which operates to ensure participating farmers are meeting the program’s requirements.
Find Little’s full article here. And, for some of my earlier posts on related farmworker issues, check out the following:
- Tomatoes, tasty versus tasteless
- A Fair Deal for California’s Farm Workers
- Farm-labor contractors and the dirty secrets behind low-cost produce
Awhile back, I posted about the (thus-far unsuccessful) efforts of two Girl Scouts to get palm oil removed from Scouts’ cookies, since worldwide demand for palm oil is leading to deforestation and resulting habit loss for endangered animals like orangutans.
Palm oil continues to become a major commodity crop, with complex implications for localities where it is raised. Yesterday the PBS NewsHour ran an informative piece examining the issue from special correspondent Steve Sapienza, as part of a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. As Sapienza describes,
In Malaysia’s Sabah province, migrant workers hustle to keep up with the rising global demand for palm oil. Made from the fruit of oil palm tree, it is now found in more than half of all the products sold in U.S. supermarkets, from cookies to cosmetics.
This labor-intensive work has changed little since the 1960s, when the government first pushed the expansion of palm oil production. Today, palm oil is Malaysia’s top crop, netting $25 billion dollars a year, and driving the spread of palm oil plantations into the wilderness….
One big reason the oil is so cheap to produce is the steady supply of migrant labor. The palm oil sector relies on some 500,000 foreign workers to feed global demand for the product and fuel Malaysia’s economic prosperity….
More of the world’s working children are employed in agriculture than in any other sector, according to the International Labor Organization. In Sabah, surveys show that more than half of the children without schooling end up working as child laborers.
For more details, including one bright spot — a collaboration between a plantation and an NGO to provide schooling for farm workers’ children — head here for the streaming video, along with an MP3 audio version and full transcript of the story.
Another report yesterday from the Sapienza’s fellow Pulitzer Center grantee describes how pesticide use in Malaysia’s palm oil production is resulting in the deaths of pygmy elephants. As Jason Motlagh reports for The Christian Science Monitor‘s Global News Blog,
A rare breed of elephant appears to be the latest casualty of the palm oil boom that is sweeping Malaysian Borneo, reigniting an already heated debate over the pros and cons of the world’s cheapest cooking oil.
Malaysian wildlife officials say 14 dead pygmy elephants were found last month in the wilds of Sabah Province, apparently poisoned by chemicals used by farmers to keep pests from eating the palm fruit grown on plantations that blanket vast swaths of the countryside.
As if that weren’t troubling enough, Morlagh notes that
A joint study published in October by Stanford and Yale universities revealed that land-clearing operations for plantations in Borneo have emitted more than 140 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 alone, equal to annual emissions from about 28 million vehicles. Over the past two decades, about 6,200 sq. mi. of primary and logged forested land have been destroyed in Borneo.
Next time you’re in the grocery store, check an ingredient list or two; you might be surprised where you find palm oil.