Thursday, May 29, 2014

Where’s Cesar Chavez when we need him?

Forget worrying about the military-industrial complex. We’ve got a food-industrial complex on our hands that’s going to kill us – or at least make us sick as dogs – a lot faster.

The latest gag-inducing bit of news on that front: “The Dirty Truth Behind Fast Food Lettuce.” In this case, the fast food lettuce was produced by one Taylor Farms, which has:

…partnered with the finest companies in North America to provide excellent quality salads and fresh cut vegetables for our loyal customers.

Those loyal customers include Green Giant, Popeye Brand, big-box retailers, grocery chains, and our fast and not-so-fast food friends at Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden), Chipotle, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, et al.

It’s likely that somewhere along your personal food chain, you’ve eaten something that came through Taylor.

We constantly innovate with new products and improve production methods to continue to earn our customers and consumers trust. As North American's take greater interest in enjoying healthier diets, we will continue to work to offer more convenient, great tasting choices in more points of access for consumers like you to enjoy.

As North Americans (apostrophe removed) take great interest in healthier diets, we’ll be no doubt taking greater interest in the likes of Taylor Farms, including what sanitation worker Federico Lopez claims to have found in a Taylor Farms storage area:

“I went into the hallway that they expected me to clean,” Lopez remembers. “There was pigeon feces, dead pigeons, dead bats and black mold. I’m certified for that, but the rest of my coworkers weren’t.” The crew had only been given dust masks for the job by the temporary labor contractor who employed them. (Source: Huffington Post)

I guess the good news is that Taylor was cleaning up that pigeon scat, the dead pigeons, dead bats, and black mold. Kinda/sorta.

I feel fortunate that the worst thing I ever found in my food supply was some sort of dead lizard when I was bagging up some green beans, years ago. (That dead lizard kinda/sorta looked like a green bean…)

But the fact that Taylor Farms hasn’t gotten the message that cleanliness is next to godliness is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

They’re also a major employer of temp workers – some of who have actually worked for Taylor for five to ten years -  using labor contractors to keep wages down, keep workers from enjoying any benefits and protections, and keeping their latter-day braceros under their green thumb. (Lopez was fired from his temp job shortly after he raised the flag about the dead pigeons and bats.)

One of the subcontractors that serves Taylor Farms, Mendoza, has something of a “Load Sixteen Tons” aura about it. In addition to supplying temp workers to Taylor, it:

… also supplies temp field labor, sells its own $7 boxed lunches to its field hands and even rents cash-only apartments to its mostly undocumented workers.

Talk about “I owe my soul to the company store.”

Hey, here’s your boxed lunch and your cash-only apartment.

For its part:

Taylor Farms has policies in place to prohibit the use of forced labor, human trafficking and slavery.

Phew, that’s a relief.

But just because you’re not using “forced labor, human trafficking and slavery” doesn’t mean that, in order to keep costs for our bags of Popeye greens down and company profits up, you’re not engaged in exploiting the most vulnerable among us.

Makes me want to start growing lettuce and tomatoes on my windowsill. And makes me wish that Cesar Chavez were still around.

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