Movie Review: Food Chains

When I saw that Real Food ASU was hosting a screening of the movie Food Chains this month, I immediately put it on my calendar. This movie played in Phoenix in January (I think?), but I was unable to make it, so I was thrilled to have a second chance.

The film tells the story of (mostly immigrant) farmworkers in the United States. It focuses on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of farmworkers in Florida who have successfully fought for higher pay and better working conditions on the farm. They started advocating for higher pay from farm owners, but quickly realized that the real problem lay further up the food chain – with retailers and dining establishments. Undeterred, the members of the CIW took on the industry and, amazingly, have won quite a few victories. Farms participating in the CIW’s Fair Food Program are monitored for humane working conditions and offer fair pay for labor. The CIW has also uncovered and fought against modern-day slavery.

Nonetheless, the laboring conditions of most of the people who grow and pick our food is appalling. One worker talks about how it’s so hot in the growing months in Florida that the workers would relish the time that the pesticides were sprayed on them, because it was the only cool breeze they experienced all day. There are often sexual assaults and labor violations, largely unreported because the many undocumented workers fear being fired or, worse, deported. The hours worked vs. pay received equation is grossly unbalanced. As an example, one widely-publicized CIW victory was that of “one penny per pound” more pay – an increase that DOUBLED wages for tomato pickers. Notably, the Publix supermarket chain in Florida has been unwilling to meet with CIW representation or take part in the Fair Food Campaign to increase farmworker pay.

The film focuses on both victories and defeats. More broadly, it sheds light on the working conditions on America’s farms. Agriculture is one of those industries where we are content to exploit undocumented immigrants because we can get away with low wages and horrible treatment, all while singing the rhetoric of immigration reform (and deporting most who dare to challenge this system which works so well for us). If you eat, you should see this film.

Efficiency in the Kitchen

I loved this recent article in the New York Times about how chefs and home cooks are embracing a reduction in food waste. I have to be honest: although I shop so that I don’t produce a lot of waste, I am definitely guilty of throwing out those broccoli stems or carrot tops. I found this article inspiring, and I can’t wait to read the Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook when it comes out! Root to Leaf looks fantastic, as well. I love that a (Southern!) chef has taken the concept of nose-to-tail eating in animals and applied it to vegetables. My heart sings!

Photo via NYT/Peter Arkle

Photo via NYT/Peter Arkle

Secrets of Food Marketing, Part II

I guess I’m a little later on this than I expected, but if you watched the video I posted earlier this week, here’s the follow-up. As you might have guessed, the “food marketer” in the video was actually an actress, as Upworthy explains. Yet, the tactics she explains are real. I love this campaign, because it so adeptly shows the truth behind the food industry’s attempts to make us feel good about horrendous practices. Bravo to Compassion in World Farming for a job well done!

A Group to Watch

I recently learned about a new group that launched at the ICN2 conference in Rome in November 2014: The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. I’ve been reading their publications to date and they seem quite refreshing and practical. The Panel recognizes that our policy needs are changing as a result of changes in our food system. It is no longer simply sufficient to continue the call for greater agricultural productivity. We must also consider improving diet quality, increasing product diversity, supporting national infrastructure, and supporting producers of all sizes. Overall, I thought that the various global success stories, the reasonable policy options, and the utter practicality of the technical brief made it well worth a read. My three main critiques/concerns would be:

  1. They made no mention, anywhere, of clean drinking water;
  2. They seem to support genetic engineering, even as they state one of their goals as “to help generate and stimulate a stronger evidence base for… changes in agriculture and food systems”; and
  3. International development is a noble goal but with often disastrous consequences. The Panel hinted at, but did not give specific examples of, how to approach the development aspect without harming indigenous peoples, systems, or cultures.

You can see a video, the summary brief, and the technical brief here; or for the technical brief, click the image below.


Another reason to avoid soda

“Over 79 billion gallons of water are required annually to dilute Coke syrup, and an additional eight trillion gallons are needed for other aspects of production, including the manufacturing of bottles. In 2012, Coke used more water than close to a quarter of the world’s population.

-Beth Macy, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, via Bartow Elmore’s book Citizen Coke

Citizen Coke

Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

I have written once before about food waste, and when I saw this video I wanted to highlight it since it tackles the same issue. Supermarkets around the world set standards for “food quality” which include appearance. Even if a piece of produce is as tasty and nutritious as can be, it is discarded when it doesn’t meet certain specifications for size, color, or shape. I love to see that the EU declared 2014 the European Year Against Food Waste! I also love that supermarkets are selling “ugly” produce at a lower price, that consumers are embracing it, and that farmers are making a profit off of items that would otherwise have been thrown away. Bravo!