Gah. This is one of those posts I mean to post, oh, exactly three months ago, for Blog Action Day on October 16, but then never got around to it, and was going to do it just a few
days weeks late but here we are and it’s JANUARY and it’s still not written. And by now I’ve kinda forgotten what I was going to say. I mean I always have a lot of opinions rolling around in my head, but it’s rare they come together in a cohesive and articulate way…so these words below may or may not make sense.
But it’s MLK Jr day and it’s an important topic. FOOD. So here goes.
Exactly two years ago, I was on a grad school-related trip in Costa Rica visiting farms and observing the production of agricultural commodities we take for granted here. Bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons…some of it organic, some of it not. Some of the farms were exemplars for sustainable and fair production, others were allowing their migrant workers to inject methyl bromide into the fields without protection.
This summer I read a book called Tomatoland. The author travels the world to tell the story of tomatoes, from the Atacama desert where the fruit’s wild ancestors still grow, to the fields of Immokalee, Florida, where, if you have ever purchased a tomato from the grocery store, it was most likely grown. If you google Immokalee, some of the first results are for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization which has been responsible for enforcing basic human rights on Florida tomato farms that you probably thought had been guaranteed in 1865 with the 13th amendment. Sadly, wrong.
There are many things wrong with our current industrial system of food production. Soil erosion, climate change, monocultures, animal welfare, polluted waterways from nutrient runoff, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of plant genetic diversity, pesticide resistance, endangered wildlife, childhood obesity…the list goes on.
But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of all is that it is so hidden. So removed from our consciousness. None of us go to the grocery store intending to purchase tomatoes grown by slave labor. But if you have ever purchased a grocery store tomato, you surely have. I never really thought much about the actual people who picked my bananas and pineapples until I witnessed them do it for the first time. It’s easy to hide behind the mask of anonymity. It’s easy to think, I am not a part of the problem, because I didn’t know about it.
So this is my challenge to you on this historic day: think about it. When you pick up a piece of produce, take a moment to think about the human being who picked it so that you could serve it at your dinner table. No, it wasn’t done with a machine…someone picked it with their hands. There is an actual person behind every chocolate bar, every sip of coffee, every glass of wine…everything.
Think about it. And perhaps make the gradual shift to more ethical eating habits. Choose fair trade products when you can. Support grocery stores that have joined the campaign for fair food and have agreed to pay workers a penny more per pound. Don’t support those who have not (ahem).
I know it’s not easy. No one can be perfect. I sure can’t afford to buy 100% fair trade coffee all the time. It is difficult to be ethical while living within the system when the system is corrupt. And I don’t expect everyone to want to run away from society and live on a commune!
But our little decisions can make a meaningful difference. Even if it’s just one person.
I bought some tomatoes yesterday. Yes, out of season. They were grown by Lady Moon Farms, a grower based out of Florida and Pennsylvania. They are profiled in Tomatoland. They give their workers a fair wage and free housing. They are organic so their workers obviously avoid toxic chemical exposures. They probably cost a little more than other tomatoes. But honestly, not that much more. Certainly worth it to me. Because in my mind, whether we’re bargain shopping for produce to feed our families on a budget, or a migrant worker who has traveled to another country to seek a better life by picking other people’s tomatoes, we’re all in it together — we’re all just trying to survive get through life the best we can. Some of us in the world are dealt a better hand of cards than others. And I’ll do what I can to support my fellow humans on this journey. No matter who they are.