At first glance, writing an exposé on the pork industry might seem outside Ted Genoways’ wheelhouse. He’s the author of two books of poetry and has penned a biography of Walt Whitman—not necessarily what one expects from someone writing about modern meat production in the U.S.
But Genoways, who has written on factory farming for Mother Jones and is the grandson of a former packinghouse worker from Omaha, Nebraska, brings his interests together by focusing on working class Midwestern life. His newest book, The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, is a chilling indictment of today’s pork industry told through the story of one company, Hormel Foods. Essentially, it’s The Jungle for the modern era.
We recently spoke with Genoways about his new book, Hormel, and the fact that much of our food has become less safe over time. Read more
Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour. Low-wage workers are actually worse off now than they were in 1968, when the minimum wage reached a peak of $8.56 an hour in inflation-adjusted dollars. Yet as sobering as these statistics are, they don’t capture the complete story. Workers who don’t receive tips are guaranteed $7.25 an hour, yet tipped workers only earn a measly hourly wage of $2.13. Even more staggering, a recent study found that 41 percent of New York City’s restaurant workers are food insecure, and tipped workers are 30 percent more likely to struggle to put food on the table than those who earn tips. Read more
Have you ever bought groceries from a checker with the sniffles? If so, you’re probably not alone. In fact, most food retail employees can’t afford to miss work when they’re under the weather. Many don’t have medical coverage and few can cover lost wages when taking unexpected time off.
Janifer Suber, a clerk at Vons–a Los Angeles-based division of Safeway, Inc. with over 300 stores nationwide–says employees at her store often take matters into their own hands when a co-worker is sick. She recalls one instance when an employee had a stomach virus that had gotten so bad she missed several days of work, but only after co-workers had pooled their money to cover the co-pay for the doctor’s visit and the lost paycheck. Read more
Thinking back to barely a year ago, Oscar Vasquez says things have changed on the Oxnard, California farm where he works picking strawberries. For so long, he felt as though he was treated like little more than a cog in the fruit production machine—necessary to his employer, but also very replaceable.
But now, since his farm adopted a new approach to working with its employees, he feels better about going to work each day. Vasquez and his coworkers care more about the quality of the produce they’re picking and, he adds through a translator, “A lot of workers are staying for the whole season, which is a sign that they feel good about the farm.” Read more
Spring has been slow to arrive in New York this year, but warmer temperatures mean the re-invigoration of the city’s many farmers’ markets. This season, New Yorkers will shop at nearly 150 markets across the five boroughs. Some will surely chat with producers, asking questions about growing practices or ingredients. After reading Margaret Gray’s Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, I wondered: Will any of them ask about the people who grew, harvested, or transported their food? Read more
Americans might be used to buying Fair Trade chocolate and coffee, but bananas are an entirely different story. The Fair Trade banana industry began in Europe nearly two decades ago and while it currently represents 30 percent of the banana market in the United Kingdom and 50 percent of the market in Switzerland, less than one percent of the bananas sold in the U.S. are Fair Trade certified. Read more
Even in this day and age, injustice remains an invisible ingredient in much of the food that we eat.
— Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union
March 31st is Cesar Chavez Day. As you probably know, Cesar Chavez was a co-founder and leader of the United Farm Workers union. A farmworker himself, in the 1960s through the 1980s, Chavez organized with workers in the fields in California who struggled for fair wages, safe working conditions, and respect on the job. Chavez also collaborated with Filipino labor leaders like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz to found the United Farm Workers.
Because of Chavez’s legacy of multi-racial organizing for workers’ rights, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) chose Cesar Chavez Day for a day of action to raise the minimum wage. Read more
When I heard that farmworkers were being bussed from around California’s Central Valley to Delano, the town where the United Farm Workers (UFW) union was founded, to watch the new biopic, Cesar Chavez: American Hero, I had mixed feelings. Read more
When she was U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan focused mainly on local and regional food systems. But she doesn’t think we’ll be able to count on local food for much longer if we don’t take a close look at how and why today’s farms employ their workers. Read more
Around 750 farmworkers, student activists, and faith leaders marched on the Wendy’s corporate headquarters in Ohio yesterday, before heading to the chain’s flagship restaurant. The goal: To ensure that the tomatoes on Wendy’s burgers are picked by people being treated fairly. Read more