This post relates to the fourth week in our local discussion series, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability. This week’s articles deal with food’s complicated world of ethics and justice. Writers included: Matthew Scully, Madeline Ostrander, Peter Singer, Jim Mason, John Robbins and Barry Estabrook. Among the many benefits of this course is having my eyes opened to new writers. There’s so much good work happening!
It’s easy to turn our attention away from the disturbing, messy and sometimes horrific side of food production. We protect ourselves from this perspective; the industry protects us as well. Indeed, it would seem to be in everybody’s best interest not to talk about these things. We wouldn’t upset one another, and we wouldn’t have to face difficult decisions.
How animals are treated, the working conditions of many agricultural workers, forced labor and paltry wages are all topics not often covered by mainstream media. Due to powerful lobbies, even our politicians seem not to care. The fact that those winter tomatoes northerners so innocently buy at the grocery store are possibly the product of human slavery in Florida—that’s information that would shock most people, if they took the initiative to dig a little deeper into the story of their food.
This course does just that. It urges us to dig deeper, consider more thoughtfully and discuss more actively the stories our food can tell us. More importantly, it asks us each week what we are going to do to change those stories. Northwest Earth Institute courses are all about personal action. Reading is the first step on the path to action; discussion is the critical second step. Hearing my thoughts spoken out loud, and considering the thoughts of others, makes me realize each week how important it is to do something. Whether it’s the simple personal act of not buying something, now that we know its story, or a more public act like picketing or taking political action—it’s all important work.
Each of us has power to create change.
I thought I’d take a different approach with this post, in hopes of tempting you to host a Hungry for Change course in your community. Below are a few snippets from this week’s articles about food ethics—things that shocked me, moved me, surprised me or just seemed to say it all.
“They lie covered in their own urine and excrement, with broken legs from trying to escape or just to turn, covered with festering sores, tumors, ulcers, lesions, or what my guide shrugged off as the routine ‘pus pockets.’ … Kept alive in these conditions, only by antibiotics, hormoes, laxatives, and other additives mixed into their machine-fed swill, the sows leave their crates only to be driven or dragged into other crates, just as small, to bring forth their piglets. Then it’s back to the gestation crate for another four months, and so on back and for until after seven or eight pregnancies they finally expire from the punishment of it or else are culled with a club or bolt-gun.”
~ Exerpted from Fear Factories, by Matthew Scully after visiting a mass-confinement hog farm in North Carolina
“It is a profound spiritual truth that you cannot have life without death. When you chomp down on a carrot and masticate it in your mouth, that carrot is being sacrificed in order for you to have life. Everything on the plantet is eating and being eaten. If you don’t believe it, just lie naked in your flower bed for three days and see what gets eaten. That sacrifice is what feeds regeneration. In our very antiseptic culture today, people don’t have a visceral understanding of life and death.”
~ Joel Salatin, as quoted in Joel Salatin: How to Eat Animals and Respect Them, Too, by Madeline Ostrander
“Of course, it is true that fair trade coffee will not raise the returns to all coffee growers, but it is a mistake to think that because a proposal cannot solve a very big problem it cannot do any good at all. If more people buy fair trade coffee, more small famrers can make a decent living from growing coffee. For that reason, if you buy coffee, it is better to buy fair trade coffee. The same is true of chocolate, tea, sugar, bananas, and other products…”
~ Exerpted from Fair Trade, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason
“According to an investigative report by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), hundreds of thousands of children are being purchased from their parents for a pittance, or in some cases outright stolen, and then shipped to Ivory Coast, where they are enslaved on cocoa farms. These children typically come from countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Togo.”
Exerpted from Child Slavery, by John Robbins
“Unfortunately, involuntary servitude—slavery—is alive and well in Florida. Since 1997, law-enforcement officials have freed more than 1,000 men and women in seven different cases. And those are only the instances that resulted in convictions. Frightened, undocumented, mistrustful of the police, and speaking little or no English, most slaves refue to testify, which means their captors cannot be tried. ‘Unlike victims of other crimes, slaves don’t report themselves…they hide from us in plain sight.”
~ Excerpted from The Price of Tomatoes by Barry Estabrook
These are difficult topics to face head on. We have so skillfully, as a society, built layer upon layer of barriers to our individual understandings of the food we eat. It’s not pleasant to talk or think about these issues, thus the public’s appetite for coverage in the popular media is low.
Or maybe we feel we’re already making good choices, that it’s somebody else who needs this information. To that I’d ask, “Who is going to share it with them?” Why not you and me? And how can we share it in a way that opens doors to understanding, rather than closes them?
How can we begin to expose the nasty truths about our food system? If more people knew this stuff, could they possibly continue with the status quo?