Sunday, December 07, 2014

What We Read, What We Eat: The Library, Our Food, and Books

Dear Gente,

First--The library in Ferguson, Missouri has become a place of refuge (click here for their website). The librarians there have kept the library open despite the Ferguson school district closing its schools during the protests.  The librarians have welcomed people to get water, check their e-mails, study, read, come together for education sessions—it’s become famous on twitter and Facebook.  As a result, the Ferguson library has now been receiving donations of books and money from all over the country.  I wanted to give a shout out to the Ferguson, Missouri librarians for keeping their doors open to the people!  Here are two articles about the library:  click here and click here!  And if you want to donate to the Ferguson Public Library, their address is:  35 N Florissant Rd., Ferguson, MO  63135

Second-- My posts sometimes cover issues regarding food and Diabetes, which greatly affect our community.  I’ve shared recipes, food ideas, interviews, the latest science regarding Diabetes. Today, I’m showcasing two books that focus on workers in the meat and vegetable industries—specifically our gente who work to bring us what we purchase at the grocery stores. 
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta
Civil rights activists, labor leaders, and co-founders of The United Farm Workers Association, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, worked tirelessly (and Dolores Huerta is still quite active) in making the workplace safe and humane for the workers.  Yet, a number of books recently published reveal that inhumane conditions continue for the workers and, in turn, affect the grocery shopping public.  There is still so much work to be done.

The following two books focus on the current state of our immigrant workers and the conditions in which they work.  In The Chain:  Farm, Factory, and the Fate of  Our Food, Ted Genoways interviews hundreds of people working in the meatpacking industry in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and other Midwestern states where the majority of workers are Latina and Latino immigrants.  Then in Florida, Barry Estabrook, reveals the horrific conditions in which workers (mostly Latino immigrants) are mistreated and exploited in his book, TomatoLand: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our MostAlluring Fruit.

How does this affect us?  The conditions in which meat, vegetables, and fruit are manufactured and transported to our grocery shelves affect the workers and our own health and wellbeing, but we don’t know it because we cannot point to a specific pesticide and/or additive the factories or agricultural companies use as a direct result of autoimmune diseases we’ve developed, cancers, diabetes, allergies, skin disorders, etc.  These are two of a growing number of well-researched books critically taking to task our food industry.  I offer you an excerpt from each of these two books: 

"Maria Lopez will never forget that day.
It was 2004, the middle of an ordinary shift on the line at Hormel Foods—a sprawling brick-and-concrete complex, just across the Union Pacific tracks on the southern edge of Fremont, Nebraska.  The worker beside fed pork shoulders one after another into a spinning saw, just as he did every other day of the week, while Lopez gathered and bagged the trimmed fat to go into Spam.  The facility in Fremont was just one of two plants in the world where Hormel made its signature product, so the pace of work had always been steady.  But the speed of the line had jumped recently, from 1,000 hogs per hour to more than 1,100, and Lopez was having trouble keeping up.  As her coworker reached for another shoulder, she rushed to clear the cutting area—and her fingers slipped toward the saw blade. Lopez snatched her hand back, but it was too late.  Her index finger dangled by a flap of skin, the bone cut clean through.  She screamed as blood spurted and covered her workstation. 

Later, a surgeon was able to shorten both ends of the bone and stabilize it with a screw before delicately repairing the tendons and reattaching the nerves and blood vessels.  A month after that, Lopez needed another surgery to insert a second pin to straighten a crook in the bone.  In the end, she lost all feeling in her finger—but missed just two months of work.  It was only after she returned to Hormel that Lopez discovered a stomach-turning truth: that while she sprinted to the nurse’s station and was taken to the Fremont Area Medical Center, while she waited, finger wrapped, in the emergency room for the surgeon to drive in from Omaha, the cut line at Hormel continued to run.  That hour, like virtually every working hour,  without interruption, the plant processed 1,100 hogs—their carcasses butchered into parts and marketed as Cure 81 hams or Black Label bacon, the scraps collected and ground up to make Spam and Little Sizzlers breakfast sausages.  Her coworkers were instructed by floor supervisors to wash the station of her blood, but the line never stopped. 

 Maria remembered all this while she fried papas in the kitchen of her house on the outskirts of Fremont, her index finger pointed straight as she gripped the spatula.  She told me that her numb finger made her clumsy at her job at Hormel, and she grew worried that her fumbling might lead to a more serious injury.  In 2006, when the speed increased yet again—this time to more than 1,200 hogs per hour—Maria quit.  Her husband, Fernando, who still worked at the plant, told me that the line was now moving at more than 1,300 head per hour, and the injuries were increasing and becoming worse."

"After months of crisscrossing Florida, speaking with growers, trade association executives, owners of tomato-packing companies, lawyers, federal prosecutors, county sheriffs, university horticulturalists, plant breeders, farmworker advocates, soup kitchen managers, field workers, field crew leaders, fair housing advocates, one U.S. senator, and one Mexican peasant who came here seeking a better life for his family only to be held for two years as a slave, I began to see that the Florida tomato industry constitutes a parallel world unto itself, a place where many of the assumptions I had taken for granted about living in the United States are turned on their heads.

In this world, slavery is tolerated, or at best ignored.  Labor protections for workers predate the Great Depression.  Child labor and minimum wage laws are flouted.  Basic antitrust measures do not apply.  The most minimal housing standards are not enforced. Spanish is lingua franca.  It has its own banking system made up of storefront paycheck-cashing outfits that charge outrageous commissions to migrants who never stay in one place long enough to open bank accounts.  Food is supplied by tiendas whose inventory is little different from what you’d find in a dusty village in Chiapas, only much more 

expensive.  An unofficial system of buses and minivans supplies transportation.  Pesticides, so toxic to humans and so bad for the environment that they are banned outright for most crops, are routinely sprayed on virtually every Florida tomato field, and in too many cases, sprayed directly on workers, despite federally mandated periods when fields are supposed to remain empty after chemical application.  All of this is happening in plain view, but out of sight, only a half-hour’s drive from one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with its estate homes, beachfront condominiums, and gated golf communities.  Meanwhile, tomatoes, once one of the most alluring fruits in our culinary repertoire, have become hard green balls that can easily survive a fall onto an interstate highway.  Gassed to an appealing red, they inspire gastronomic fantasies despite all evidence to the contrary.  It’s a world we’ve all made, and one we can fix.  Welcome to Tomatoland." 


Giora said...

Tomatoland seems like an important book to read. Thanks.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thanks Amelia for introducing us to these two important works. The best tomato I had in recent years was one that Maritza grew in a pot from organic heirloom seeds. I hadn't tasted a tomato like that since childhood.

Amelia ML Montes said...

Gracias Giora and Olga-- Every year, I plant my own non-gmo heirloom tomatoes and you're right, Olga--they are just so delicious! Hopefully there will be changes to these human rights violations.

msedano said...

tomatoes from the backyard, each a glorious jewel! one year a friend gave me a tiny jitomate she'd collected in oaxaca. it did not survive.

ferguson's library showed me police are irrelevant, libraries essential.

liz said...

Thank you so much for this important information, Amelia. I love your posts.