Cross-post: America’s Food Sweatshops and the Workers of Color Who Feed Us

February 19, 2011 by Imagine 2050 Editors · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Health, Politics 

Gratefully shared from and originally published by Colorlines.

by Yvonne Yen Liu, Thursday, February 17 2011.

juan_baten_021611.jpgJuan Baten came to this country from Guatemala seven years ago in search of a better life. A bus in Cabral, Guatemala, hit his father so Baten left home at the age of 15, to make the journey north. He made his way to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he found work in a tortilla factory in an industrial corridor along the Brooklyn-Queens border. He worked six days a week, nine hours a day, from five in the evening until two in the morning, operating the machines that churned out tortillas. The $7.25 per hour he earned was sent back to his family in Guatemala, supporting his four brothers.

Baten also found love. Seven months ago, his common law wife Rosario Ramirez gave birth to daughter, Daisy Stefanie. They dreamed of a day when they could move their family back to Guatemala.

However, one Sunday, Baten’s arm got stuck in the blades of a dough-mixing machine and he was crushed to death. Read more

Food giant disingenuously asserts that it is “Taking Care of the Team”

February 15, 2011 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Politics 

In a few days, the PBS documentary film, “Doing Virtuous Business” will be shown in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The film examines virtues and principles such as patience, compassion, forgiveness and humility, and their influence on organizational priorities, economic impact and social structures.

This documentary contains a segment called, “Taking Care of the Team,” featuring Chairman John Tyson, current CEO Donnie Smith and Chaplain Rick McKinnie of Tyson Foods, Inc.  The segment is a twisted piece of propaganda that purports to show that the focus of Tyson’s vision and mission is one that values a “faith-friendly” environment in its Springdale, Arkansas and other massive meat processing facilities. This segment might more aptly be titled, “Taking ONE FOR THE Team.” Read more

Defend the Rights of Farmworkers

February 10, 2011 by Guest Blogger · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Politics 

by Minnie McMahon

Big agriculture must stop exploiting its workers.

The majority of America’s agricultural workers are undocumented people subject to sub-human treatment from their employers. Because of their lack of legal status, these workers have limited recourse to advocate for their human rights.

Agricultural workers in Immokalee, FL, and across the country find themselves in positions of indentured servitude. Read more

Food safety must go beyond food recall legislation

January 19, 2011 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Politics 

“There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat are safe and do not cause us harm.”  - President Obama

On January 4, 2011 President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act.  This forward-thinking legislation enables swifter recalling of contaminated food products.  The law authorizes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase inspections of many domestic food facilities, enhance detection of foodborne illness outbreaks, and order recalls of tainted food products

This doesn’t necessarily translate into consumer, and certainly not food worker, confidence in the government’s accountability for the overall safety of the food production and distribution processes. Food recalls are necessary; however, it will take more than accelerated legislation and faster food recall processes to actually keep our food safe.  Making food safe in the first place is a major effort, involving the farm and fishery, the production plant or factory, and many other points from the farm to the table. Read more

Meatpacking workers ready for struggle in 2011

January 5, 2011 by Carlos Rich · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Immigration, Politics 

It has been about 30 years since the turkey plants began to open in the Iowa and other parts of the rural Midwest.  The location was ideal for corporations.  After breaking up the labor unions in places like Chicago and St. Louis, the industry was able to perfect a system of hiring which relies mostly on immigrants, refugees and workers of color.

These plants operate with little regard for their workforce.  They treat workers as if they are sub-human. They also take advantage of and prey on the fact that most employees have families to feed as well as limited access to education concerning their rights as workers. Read more

Holiday gathering brings together Latino community

January 4, 2011 by Axel Fuentes · Comments Off
Filed under: Culture, Food Justice, Immigration 

On December 5, 2010, the Latino community in Milan, Missouri gathered to celebrate the winter holidays.

Kids and adults alike were in eager anticipation as the holiday party signaled a break in their usual routines.  Working adults were able to relieve some of the stress of their often tough lives, many of who work 10-hour days at the local meat-packing plant.

Working together, student leaders from the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO) of Truman State University, members of the Health Action Council (HAC), several church congregations, and other community organizations from Milan and Kirksville made this event possible. Read more

Cross-Post: Working America’s 5 Best and 5 Worst Moments of 2010

December 25, 2010 by Imagine 2050 Editors · Comments Off
Filed under: American Identity, Food Justice, Politics 

Originally published on by Kimberly Freeman Brown

It’s been quite a year for America’s working families. And as we gear up for the fights ahead, it’s important to reflect on 2010—both the highs and the lows.

The Best

1. Rail and Airline Union Elections Lead to a Win for Democracy

Imagine a presidential election in which all non-voters were tallied as a vote for the incumbent. That’s how union representation elections used to be for workers in the rail and airline industries, where non-voters were counted as a vote against the union. But last May, the National Mediation Board (NMB) adopted a new rule that ensures a more democratic process for these workers by only counting votes from voting employees.

2. Students and Workers Earn Sweat-free Victory

Ten years ago, workers at BJ&B factory in the Dominican Republic kicked off their effort to form a union for better pay and a voice in their workplace. Despite a strong partnership with student labor group United Students Against Sweatshops, big-name brands stopped sourcing from the factory once the workers had a contract, and it closed in 2007. But this summer, Knights Apparel reopened the factory and rehired the unionized workers. In college bookstores across the country, consumers can now buy apparel produced at the plant under the brand name Alta Gracia. Read more

Acts of Resistance and Hope, Breaking the Barriers of Power

December 22, 2010 by Rev. David L. Ostendorf · Comments Off
Filed under: American Identity, Food Justice 

In a restaurant in a small Midwest town last week three workers got fired for standing up for a new employee promised one salary and given significantly less after his first week on the job.  They took the injustice to one of the owners, asked that it be redressed, and were summarily dismissed themselves.  The story didn’t make the news; these stories seldom do.  After all, it’s business-as-usual in America these days, where workers—especially immigrant workers—are expendable “inputs” treated with impunity.

These three workers were, however, unusual.  For the past year they have organized their own crew and other restaurant workers in the community for better wages and working conditions, and have stood fast in the face of owner threats.  Most of them worked over seventy hours a week, and their meager pay came in cash.  While the owner often played them off with threats of calling immigration, they backed him off with threats of calling the IRS. Read more

Bringing justice to the food system in 2011

December 21, 2010 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: American Identity, Food Justice 

As 2010 comes to a close, some social justice groups claim forward movement, some claim progress and a few even claim to have won small victories.  However, a good portion of our country’s socially conscious folk maintain that this year was one of setbacks and defeats.

A year ago, the unemployment rate was nearly 10 percent, African-American unemployment was 16 percent, and Latinos were unemployed at a rate of 13 percent, with whites having the lowest rate at nearly 9 percent.  Young people were unemployed at almost 25%.  The current unemployment rate is 9.8 percent. These dismal numbers provided a backdrop for even more economic devastation in the immigrant communities across this country.  Retirement has been indefinitely postponed for scores of people, homes continue to be foreclosed on and things are still pretty bleak for your average American - except that corporate profit has grown to a level not seen since 2007. Read more

Mejor venado que jamon

December 13, 2010 by Axel Fuentes · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice 

En el estacionamiento de una tienda de comida me encuentro Bill, quien regresaba de ir de caza.  En la parte trasera de su camioneta, cargaba un gran venado con unos preciosos cuernos.  Con curiosidad le pregunte, “Que haría con ese venado?”

Pensando que su respuesta sería que solo le quitaría los cuernos para mantenerlos como decoración de su casa, asi como se mantiene un trofeo y como muchos de los cazadores lo hacen.  Pero su respuesta fue diferente.  “En estos tiempos cuando uno ya ni siquiera sabe ni con que alimentan a las vacas, los marranos o los pollos, creo que es mejor comerse un pedazo de venado cazado en los bosques que un jamón o un lomo comprado en las tiendas,” me dijo. Realmente me sorprendió.  No es muy común que me encuentre con un cazador que me de una respuesta como esa.  Por lo regular las respuestas son que van de caza por deporte y por la cabeza de un venado con bonitos cuernos. Nuestra conversación se extendió por varios minutos durante la cual me comento que también le gusta cazar pavos y patos silvestres los cuales también congela y se alimenta de ellos. Read more

Temp agencies make job security tough for meatpacking workers

December 9, 2010 by Carlos Rich · Comments Off
Filed under: Economy, Food Justice 

Temporary work agencies have been popping up all over the country. I did a Google search for agencies in Iowa alone and came back with 53,000 results.  As I talk to workers, many of them say they are finding work, but that they must go through temp agencies first. Although this may seem like an innocuous path to permanent employment for many Americans, there are hidden drawbacks for low-wage workers.

Many meat-processing workers, especially immigrants, find themselves caught in hiring practices designed to keep them from gaining fair wages or job security.  Nine months ago, a worker I spoke to was unfairly fired from a plant where he was employed for almost five years. And two months ago he was hired back at the same plant, but for significantly less than he’d been making before. How did it happen? Recently, that particular employer outsourced all of its hiring to a temp agency. Read more

Discerning between cheap and inexpensive food

November 26, 2010 by Garat Ibrahim · Comments Off
Filed under: American Identity, Food Justice 

Over the past few years I have turned a critical eye on American agribusiness and the corporate food industry. Giant companies increasingly turn profits by cheapening the nutritional value of food and selling it inexpensively. High fructose corn syrup and sodium are major contributors to this process whether they appear in Big Macs or turkey sandwiches or vegetable broths.

It is one thing to eat these foods on occasion as a choice, but for folks using the SNAP CARD or as it was formerly known, EBT, this is the only option. Is it any wonder that diet related illnesses like obesity; hypertension and diabetes are epidemic, especially among poor people? What are the long term consequences of eating this way? Read more

Improve working conditions for those who bring you your turkey

November 25, 2010 by Rev. David L. Ostendorf · Comments Off
Filed under: Culture, Food Justice 

Originally published by The Progressive Media Project on November 22, 2010.

Before you carve into your Thanksgiving turkey, please pause to reflect on the workers who brought the holiday feast to your table.

After twenty-one years of grueling, hard labor at the same Midwest turkey processing plant, one worker — let’s call him Alberto — is today earning $12.45 an hour.

He handles as many as thirty turkeys a minute as they speed along the processing line. Every shift, he makes some 20,000 cutting motions.

Alberto and thousands of other poultry workers — mostly immigrants, refugees and workers of color — feed the nation this Thanksgiving — and every day of the year.

Two-thirds of the meatpacking and poultry-processing workforce in the United States is Latino and black.

Thousands of Somalis who fled their war-torn African homeland help put forty-five million turkeys on Thanksgiving tables. Read more

A vision for a new harvest

November 23, 2010 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: Culture, Food Justice 

It’s that time of year again when people are busy planning and hosting seasonal celebrations that honor various cultural, religious and social traditions. Over the next six to eight weeks, gatherings will be held in homes, banquet halls, and houses of faith.  Although the meaning of these celebrations may vary, rest assured, there will be plenty of good food on hand including ham, vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products of all kinds, and lots of turkeys.

While some families prepare to make their traditional holiday trek to enjoy time with family and friends, hundreds of thousands of low wage, immigrant food workers are sequestered in meatpacking, poultry processing and dairy plants, and laboring in fields in order to meet product demands for the celebrations set to commence this week.  Turkey workers, primarily Latino, African American, Somali, Burmese and representatives of other immigrant and refugee communities, who come to this country to support their families, will find this increased production particularly difficult. Their experiences mirror the majority of food industry laborers who work to bring food to our tables. Read more

Cross-Post: Fast food, fat profits

November 21, 2010 by Imagine 2050 Editors · Comments Off
Filed under: American Identity, Food Justice 

Courtesy of Al Jazeera English:

Obesity in America has reached a crisis point. Two out of every three Americans are overweight, one out of every three is obese. One in three are expected to have diabetes by 2050.

Minorities have been even more profoundly affected. African-Americans have a 50 per cent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics 25 per cent higher when compared with whites.

How did the situation get so out of hand? Read more

Bargains at the Supermarket may Translate to More Wage Theft

November 17, 2010 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Immigration 

A local Midwestern television station is carrying an ad that boasts Jennie-O turkeys for just $0.39 per pound with coupon savings.  In a time of such economic challenges, tight family budgets press otherwise quality conscious shoppers toward what appears to be real bargains.   $0.39 a pound is a pretty low price given the 2008 average price of turkey was $0.56 and a drop to an average low of $0.50 per pound in 2009.  With U.S. turkey production totaling seven billion pounds in 2009, yielding some $3.5 million annually for turkey production in this country, the delivery of low price goods in the market is often done so through concessions of quality of life and sometimes life itself.

With the turkey industry commanding that kind of market share, it’s outrageous that this industry would also be inflicting hardship through employee wage theft. Considerable national attention has been brought to the issue of wage theft by Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), which calls on communities of faith, political leaders, social justice advocates, and community organizations to pressure government officials and employers who are responsible for ensuring justice in cases of wage theft, working conditions, and working conditions.  A basic definition of wage theft is when employers do not pay workers earned wages upon voluntary separation from a company, do not pay overtime hours or simply don’t pay workers for work performed. Read more

Cross-post: USDA sells cheese while warning against eating it

November 13, 2010 by Imagine 2050 Editors · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Politics 

Agency helps Domino’s, Taco Bell, others push fat-laden products but fights obesity

This article by Michael Moss for The New York Times is a fascinating look at how government agencies, while setting health guidelines for the American public, are simultaneously aiding the very food corporations that  make us unhealthy.

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies. Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign. Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,”

Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times. But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories. And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Continue reading at Read more

Punitive Rules in Food Processing Endanger Workers and Consumers

November 9, 2010 by Carlos Rich · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice 

Talking with workers in food plants, mostly where turkeys and hogs are processed, I hear many disturbing stories.  Just a few months ago management at one of these plants fired a woman who had been working there for over six years because she was two minutes late to her desk. She was tardy because  a company trailer was blocking the road and the entrance to the plant parking lot.

Most of these processing plants rate their employees on a point system in which each point received equals a tiny infraction.  At many companies, workers can receive no more than ten points before they are fired.

If you are a as much as 30 seconds late then you get a point. If you get sick and have to call in, you get a point.  Even if you have time off approved by your supervisor you have to call in that day anyway; if you don’t you will get 2 points. I’ve work in enough places to know that these companies are too rigorous with their policies when it comes to attendance.  One would think that after six years of being with the same company you wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of a petty point system anymore. Read more

Who’s Thanksgiving is it Anyway?

October 15, 2010 by Charlotte Williams · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice, Immigration 

It’s October and already the annual super bowl of livestock marketing campaign is in full gear.  According to Lara Durben, of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, “One-third of all turkey consumed in the United States is eaten in the fourth quarter, and half of that ends up on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables.” The super 3 of turkey and poultry – Tyson, Jennie-O, and Cargill – are well into the holiday season with unprecedented production of turkey, pork, and chicken.  Consumer demand dictates the prices and production – which informs processing plants regarding addition of workers and even adding an additional shift in order to keep up with the demand.  “Today, people are enjoying turkey all year long, with only 29% of turkey being consumed at Thanksgiving.”

That being so, plant workers tell stories of restless nights and being awakened by a throbbing, and shooting pain in their hands and legs.  These annoying and progressively worsening pains bombard the muscles throughout the night. Pain is temporarily relieved with flexing and massaging the fingers, wrists and legs; more often than not, only after several does of muscle relaxer.  However, in spite of ongoing sleep deprivation, poultry workers faithfully show up to the plants, just before dawn, to stand, cut, throw, chop, pull and push the birds and carcasses on rapid speed processing equipment – for hours.

Read more

Food and the Mandate for Racial Justice

September 29, 2010 by Rev. David L. Ostendorf · Comments Off
Filed under: Food Justice 

Midst all the manifestations of the so-called “food movement” in the U.S.—organic, slow, sustainable, natural, whole, healthy, urban, sovereign—is a glaring absence of analysis of the structure of race that pervades the entire food system, from the ground to the grocer.  

Wherever food is produced, picked, processed, packed, or purveyed low wage workers of color predominate in the hard, dangerous, low-wage jobs that feed a nation built on cheap food, cheap labor, and rampant exploitation of food workers within a toxic framework of abiding racial structures spanning rural and urban America alike.  And wherever food is sought by those who can least afford it, those same racial structures prevent or prohibit access to decent, nutritious, and affordable food.  If all people are to be well-fed with good, healthy, affordable food there can be no avoidance of this fundamental reality of the food system. 

Read more

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