Food and politics often come together in peculiar ways.  It’s not that their coming together at all is unusual – far from it.  Civilization and politics are both a direct result of agriculture.  But these days food’s impact on political discourse can lead to some odd sights, such as free pizza being delivered to protesters in Madison, paid for by sympathetic activists in Egypt. Read more

When I first started in the food business there were no rock star chefs. The late 80’s and early 90’s began a trend that created hundreds of almost-literal flash-in-the-pan celebrities and a handful of rightfully idolized geniuses. Today there remains a cult of personality around some chefs and TV cooks, but the attention is finally turning (and rightfully so) toward the farmers, without whom we chefs would be pointlessly clanking a lot of empty pans. Read more

You would never participate in slavery, right?

I know, it seems like a bizarre question in this day and age–of course no sane, civilized member of a modern society would take part in the indentured servitude of others. Lincoln ended all that 150 years ago, didn’t he? And of course you and I would never have anything to do with slavery in 2010.

The dirty little secret though is that millions of Americans are contributing to it each week and they don’t even know it. When you buy tomatoes at the local Publix, Ahold, Kroger, or Walmart, you become the last link in a chain that is attached to shackles in south Florida. Read more

I spend a great deal of my time on extremely small-scale food production.  Growing, procuring, cooking, eating, and writing about locally produced food is my bread and butter.  Thus picking up a copy of Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations was in some ways a departure for me.  Authors Evan D.G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas are examining a world that looks to me much the same as the Grand Canyon must look to a mouse. Read more

When then-governor Bush ran for president under the banner of “compassionate conservatism,” it seemed to me then (as it does now) that he did not know the meaning of either word.  I was reminded of this on Friday during Stephen Colbert’s congressional testimony before a House subcommittee on immigration, a gig he got because of his support for the UFW’s Take Our Jobs campaign.  The campaign’s purpose is to point out how vital migrant farm workers are to our food system, and how difficult the work is, while also demonstrating that they are not “taking jobs from Americans.”  Fact is most Americans won’t take those jobs for one (or both) of two reasons:  The hard work and the low pay. Read more

A few years back I was in a church basement in Oklahoma City preparing a meal for a busload of Florida farm workers on their way home from California.  They had gone there to stage a protest at Taco Bell parent corporation Yum! Brands HQ.  Their humble request? Two cents more per pound of tomatoes picked by their compatriots in and around Immokalee, Florida, so that they might be lifted out of near-and-actual slavery.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers eventually won that fight and many others like it, but their lives in the tomato fields there are still by no means easy.  It’s backbreaking work in the hot Southwest Florida sun, with long hours, poor housing and little to no free time.

Recognizing though that there are unemployment and immigration problems in this country, the Godfather of a farm worker movements – The United Farm Workers – has come up with an innovative solution.  Their suggestion: Take Our Jobs!  That’s right, all the folks who are out of work and feel that undocumented workers are taking jobs that should go to American citizens like themselves are invited to apply online and join the exciting field of manual farm labor!  Apply now! Read more

In much the same way that Michael Pollan has told us in recent years not to trust our nutrition to the nutritionists, essayist, sage, and father of modern agrarian thought, Wendell Berry, instructs us that we should never have trusted our economy to economists. At least not to the ones who have been (mis)handling it for the last hundred years or so. Read more

Here in Iowa we have an event called RAGBRAI – The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – the oldest, largest and longest non-competitive ride in the world.  Simply put, roughly 15,000 of us dip our back tires in the Missouri River one July Sunday Morning, then pedaling past the cities, fields and farms we dip our front tires in the Mississippi River 6 days later, having ridden an average of 465 miles.

When the ride started 38 years ago, riders rolled past countless fields dotted with little lean-to style huts – shelters for the hogs that have been raised here since the European settlers came in the early 1800s.  Since then, though, the huts have all but disappeared, replaced by long, narrow steel buildings with pairs of 6-foot exhaust fans on each end and large lagoons outside. Read more