Ricky Hass, one of the Slow Food Portland coordinators of the recent Farmworker Housing Development Corporation tour, recently wrote about his experience for Culinate.com. His account hits right at the difficult question that remains after witnessing present-day farmworker conditions: where do we go from here? He writes,
“Many of us know that the ways in which we typically grow, process, distribute, and consume food in this country are harmful to our health and the environment. As a nation, we are coming to understand that the production and consumption of a “conventional” tomato, for example, means degraded soils, polluted waterways, poisoned air, and toxins in our bodies. Given the state of our health-care system, as well as the threat of global climate change, this conventional tomato affects us in ways that are increasingly difficult to ignore.
It’s no wonder, then, that the “good” and “clean” elements of [Slow Food Founder Carlo] Petrini’s ethic have become major preoccupations in the American mind. And because of our increased awareness, I think, we’ve already developed some relatively good ways to address our concerns; on the West Coast, at least, it’s easy to find fresh and locally grown organic produce almost any time of year.
The problem is that this doesn’t necessarily account for how “fair” the food is.”
Fair food can be an maddeningly difficult goal to achieve, as even many farm owners hardly earn wages that would be considered “fair.” Additionally, as the transparency surrounding chemical inputs and fertilizers has greatly increased over the past few years, labor conditions remain veiled from sight. For too long, consumers have falsely equated “organic” labeling with equitable working conditions, and as a Mother Jones article exposed, shopping at farmer’s markets may not even guarantee good practices; in some communities, the vendors may be the same large, single-crop producers that supply the nearby grocery store. Essentially, the movement for fair food is plagued by an assumption that worker’s rights in the American food industry were solved in 1906, when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. Sadly, this is not the case.
Hass ends his story on an upswing by suggesting some of the potential avenues for the future of fair food. Whether we lobby for domestic fair trade certification or rely on our own yards and labor to produce more of our food, we can no longer ignore the realities of who raises our food. As Hass implores,
“Start by learning where your food comes from. Enable yourself to make it better, cleaner, and fairer, even if it can’t be perfect. Go out to the farms near where you live; try to meet the people who grow your food. Better yet, buy directly from farmers you know, or grow your own and share your bounty with neighbors.”
You can read the article in its entirety here.