Palm Oil’s Dirty Secret

Would you buy a donut that kills orangutans? You probably already have.

DunkinDonuts_640

So maybe you have noticed the proliferation of palm oil in your food products (I sure have). Turns out, all that oil is coming our way courtesy of rainforest clearing – the habitat enjoyed by, among others, those noble, most human-looking apes: orangutans.

I’m not recommending eating at Dunkin Donuts (got a lot of other issues with them), but a huge bravo for their decision to source their oils sustainably from now on! Click the link above for more on this story.

Don’t take it out on the kids

So yesterday I went to Chick Fil A for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t even realize my visit coincided with the possible end of the chain’s support of gay-hate groups, but that’s fine by me.

I wrote recently about why CFA should be a smaller part of my life, and it wasn’t about politics or religion at all – purely about health. But yesterday I was jonesing something awful for the spicy chicken. So I rationalized that going every six weeks to two months isn’t going to kill anybody, and the small amount I spend there (usually under $15) isn’t going to make a dent one way or the other in their business. I fulfilled my craving without guilt, and made my children extremely happy by finally relenting to their near-daily demand for the place.

After we ate and they were safely ensconced in the playground, I noticed that the kids had automatically been given the under-3 toy with their meals. At first, I assumed the restaurant must simply be out of anything else. But then I saw every other kid in the place had a different and cooler toy (some kind of cd…not sure if it was for listening or computer). Since my house is already littered with those little board books, I decided to go ask for the other toy.

Here’s what I was told: “You didn’t buy the right meal to get those. You only bought four nuggets. You have to buy six nuggets to get the over-3 toy.” I’m like, what? I’ve always only ordered four…because that is all my kids eat. The woman patiently responded that this was a new policy: to give an under-3 toy with a 4-count nugget, and an over-3 toy with a 6-count nugget (never mind that I bought two 4-count meals, and therefore 8 nuggets…but I didn’t think of pointing that out at the time).

This concerns me because it raises a health issue. Basically the store is taking the position either that a) only toddlers eat 4-count meals or b) an older child with a reasonable appetite should be treated like a baby.

My children often eat only three of their four nuggets, and that is because I make them first eat their fruit and pouch of applesauce, all the while drinking milk (fries, if any, are last after nuggets). When they load up on the healthier stuff first, then their little tummies are pretty much full, and the nuggets are just a protein chaser.

But CFA is penalizing this behavior, and insisting that if I want my children to receive an age-appropriate toy, they have to have what they consider an age-appropriate appetite.

Is anybody else thinking about childhood obesity? Could this maybe be such a problem because we assume that a “normal” child portion is six nuggets plus fries plus (refillable) soda?

I realize that an older child probably does need six nuggets to feel full (though she will get fuller if she eats fruit and milk on the side instead of fries and soda). But my kid is four years old. And skinny. And frankly, I have no desire to force feed her extra nuggets.

CFA has tried (successfully, in my book) to position themselves as a healthier alternative for kids, offering grilled nuggets, applesauce, fruit, milk, etc. They used to upcharge for these items but stopped that practice a few years ago, which indicated to me a positive move towards caring about kids’ health – making it easy & cost-neutral to give your child something better for him. Now I feel like their commitment is declining…worse, I feel like they are cutting costs at the expense of kids.

And I do not know one parent who doesn’t go there because their kids beg for it. So really, children are among their most important customers. They should be bending over backwards to keep kids happy!

Yes, I know it is ironic to talk about health, especially to complain about it, when it comes to fast food. That was the point of my previous post. But the fact remains, sometimes your kids will want it, sometimes you need a fast and cheap lunch. That’s just a reality of parenting. And I’d rather go there than other places where I really don’t trust the food at all (and have bigger problems with their labor practices than I do with CFA’s charity practices). Finally, I appreciate the fact that at CFA I have several healthier options to choose from.

I just wish my kids wouldn’t be punished for making a choice that is better for their bodies.

[UPDATE: I’ve recently learned this might only be a local policy – if you find that this is not the policy at your CFA, would you mind posting a comment to let me know? Thanks!]
[SECOND UPDATE: OK Now I have been officially shamed by Food Babe and will probably give up CFA for good. Dammit.]

Scary Clowns and Scary Food

I love the Crappy Pictures blog. I laugh and simultaneously read it in a complete jealous rage because a) my kids do all these exact same things and b) Amber Dusick thought of a cleverer hook than I ever would have. Thus, she has a billion readers and a book coming out. Bitch. I’m getting it from the library, so there.

Oh, AND she gets to live in Los Angeles. GAH! Hate her!! [tho if I ever get back there I imagine we’d be the best of snarky friends]

I checked and I am allowed to post this picture. Amber’s cool with it. It is linked back. No lawyers, please.

Anyway, today’s post actually has to do with food, so I can somewhat justify sharing it here. There’s really not much more I can add to it. I too have taken my kids to fast food places on the road for the sheer purpose of peeing and playing. I however manage to maintain my dignity by refusing to buy any food. I just use the wi-fi and toilets. Take that, Ronald!

OK I might have bought an ice cream cone once.

So like I said, just read the original post, as much as I hate showing people how much funnier she is than I am and therefore you’ll go “like” and “follow” her and somehow I am threatened by that.

Aren’t you glad I’m in therapy? I sure am.

I guess I should add “Scary Blogger” to the title of this post.

What you can do

Been writing on some heavy stuff this week, so I wanted to end the series on a positive note, with some ideas on how you can help make a difference in the lives of the people who pick your food.

Even I have found myself getting increasingly depressed as I think about my own small ability to change anything. Yeah, I’ve changed my shopping habits, and yeah, I write about it on here and maybe somebody somewhere reads it (though from the number of comments this series has garnered – exactly ZERO – I doubt it). Maybe we’re all just too tired and disheartened to think about changing the world any more.

Well, for what it’s worth, here are some things you can do. And I’m stealing some from other people because frankly I’m spent after reading and writing about this stuff for a week!

Here is the “Take Action” page from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, about whom Tomatoland is written.

From Barry Estabrook’s original article, The Price of Tomatoes:

In the warm months, the best solution is to follow that old mantra: buy seasonal, local, and small-scale. But what about in winter? So far, Whole Foods is the only grocery chain that has signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, which means that it has promised not to deal with growers who tolerate serious worker abuses and, when buying tomatoes, to a pay a price that supports a living wage. [UPDATE: Trader Joe’s has since signed on; CIW’s Take Action page linked above has sample letters you can send to your local grocery conglomerate]

When shopping elsewhere, you can take advantage of the fact that fruits and vegetables must be labeled with their country of origin. Most of the fresh tomatoes in supermarkets during winter months come from Florida, where labor conditions are dismal for field workers, or from Mexico, where they are worse, according to a CIW spokesman. One option during these months is to buy locally produced hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes, including cluster tomatoes still attached to the vine. Greenhouse tomatoes are also imported from Mexico, however, so check signage or consult the little stickers often seen on the fruits themselves to determine their source.

And I’m going to steal from myself, too – here’s the little guidelines I wrote earlier this week, in my post about Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating:

  • To start, buy as much produce as you can locally. Cutting out the cost of distribution systems and nation- or even world-wide transportation goes a long way towards keeping prices low. If the farmer’s market seems to expensive, go at closing time – you’ll get great deals on whatever’s left.
  • If possible, join a CSA, which will ensure that your money goes straight into a farmer’s pocket (then get to know the farmer, and ensure he or she is paying a fair wage to fieldworkers).
  • Avoid large farming corporations (even organic ones), as their infrastructure prohibits paying close attention to conditions in the field (most subcontract their labor anyway), and their corporate obligation to profit requires them to cut corners (sadly, it is often easiest to hurt people, rather than product).
  • Avoid huge retailers like WalMart that make plenty of money off other goods but mark up the cost of fresh food (since it spoils and therefore cannot be bought in the huge quantities that are their advantage over smaller competitors). An orange may cost 50% more at WalMart than the local grocery store simply bc it doesn’t fit their pricing scheme (see McMillan, 136-7, for her comparison shopping between WalMart and the local Mexican grocery).

To keep it simple: buy fresh, buy local, buy in season, buy from small farms, and cut out as many middlemen as possible.

And to finish, some hope: things are getting better in some respects. The CIW’s “Campaign for Fair Food”, seeking to raise wages by “a penny a pound” and ensure basic rights for tomato pickers started in 2001 and has successfully enrolled Taco Bell (2005), McDonald’s (2007), and Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods (2008). The next years were spent fighting the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which initially resisted (even though the wage increase was entirely paid for by the buyers and didn’t affect the Exchange or growers one way or another – except to ask them to treat their workers better). They finally relented in 2010 and now the extra pennies, previously sitting in escrow accounts, are finally reaching the workers for whom they were earmarked.

The CIW’s next target is grocery stores, and from their website I gathered that they have added to Whole Foods’ early participation the signature of Trader Joe’s and several food management companies (e.g. Bon Appetit, food supplier to many of the colleges with which I’ve been affiliated) to the growing roster of companies on board with the Campaign. Sadly, the rest of the major grocery chains – including WalMart, which takes in ONE of every FOUR food dollars in the United States (more than the next three grocery corporations combined) – have yet to sign on. Read more about the Campaign for Fair Food here: http://ciw-online.org/101.html#cff.

Summing up: big campaigns definitely help, but it’s also the choices you and I make every day that eventually will turn around the whole system. So don’t you be discouraged, and I will try not to be either!

Think you care about modern day slavery? How’s that tomato tasting?

“Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave.”

Tomatoland, p. 75

Yesterday I wrote about tomatoes as a case study for farm worker rights – or rather, the lack thereof. This issue came to my attention when I heard an interview with investigative journalist Barry Estabrook on one of my favorite food shows, KCRW’s Good Food.

Estabrook was talking about the winter tomato industry in Southern Florida, and he began describing conditions there that sounded like fiction or ancient history. People chained up to sleep, forced labor without escape, beatings by “field bosses”, transportation in vans crowded with 25 or more men lying on the floor and not released for days, urinating into jugs and sharing maybe one bag of chips for sustenance.

But this is not history. It is now. It is happening. Right. Now.

Why? So that we can go to the grocery store and buy tomatoes in winter. So that we can go to a fast food restaurant and imagine we are having a “healthy” lunch of a salad. So that we can add a “vegetable” to our sandwich or burger, no matter the time of year.

But it’s fair to say that most of us had no idea this was happening. I didn’t, and I follow food news pretty closely. Fair enough.

But now you know.

If you’re like me, you probably think of modern-day slavery as human trafficking for sex, or maybe child soldiers. Both are abhorrent. Both have become big ISSUES that churches take on. Christians are all up in arms about modern slavery, but despite the fact that the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was instigated over an agricultural slavery case, none of us seem to realize that this hits a lot closer to home than we’d care to admit.

I’ve been thinking about why this is; why are we so gung-ho about stopping slavery in the sex trade, and ignoring it in the produce aisle? I don’t think it’s just ignorance. Does any of this feel like it might be true?

  • For the average American and certainly average Christian, the sex trade is fairly easy to look down upon. We are confident that we would never participate in such an unsavory activity, so it makes us feel superior to work against it.
  • Sex slavery also is, well…sexy. It’s salacious. It’s forbidden. It’s a lot more titillating than tomatoes.
  • It seems worse to us, as Christians, because we have a long and complicated history with the body and with sex generally. We’re quicker to jump on sexual sin than almost any other kind. It just “feels” more wrong. (maybe because it “feels” so right?)
  • Most of those trafficked in the sex trade are women and children. They seem more like victims than do teenage to middle aged men, most of whom are in this country without documentation. (never mind that many of them came seeking legitimate work and were forced or tricked into the situation that led to them being literally sold to a crew)

Maybe I’m terribly cynical, but I fear something: what if Christians aren’t forming organizations around and donating in huge numbers to the small groups fighting food slavery because this would touch our lives directly.

We participate in this slavery because it gets us what we want: a winter tomato, good prices at the market, a false sense of adding something nutritious to our fast food meal. We are sacrificing lives for convenience and economy.

Perhaps you might say that this is how the business runs, and we can’t control what they do, it’s not our fault. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what people said about plantation owners, too. And who says we can’t control them? Activists have been stamping out slavery – and changing entire political and economic systems – since William Wilberforce and others organized boycotts of sugar in the 18th century, a hundred years before our country nearly split over the issue. 

If you truly care about human trafficking then you need to educate yourself about agricultural slavery and add it to your fight.

And – unless you know exactly where they come from – stop eating tomatoes in winter.