Monday night I listened to a presentation about the Our Harvest Union Co-op in Cincinnati. They are modelling themselves after Mondragon, but with a union twist. The goal is to put a little more justice in the food system and they are going to do it by growing and distributing food on a large scale. The hope is to be able to certify food from the ground to the market as union – living wages, benefits, not dying of heat stroke…
Once upon a time I lived in Santa Cruz and worked for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My coworkers at CASFS studied what people cared about in the food system. It turned out that they cared more about how animals were treated than how people were treated.
I can’t say that I was surprised. Santa Cruz was the first time I was exposed to people for whom food was a religion, a way to exert moral superiority. It wasn’t everyone, of course. But there were many people who thought they were better than everyone else because of their vegan, free-range, probiotic, cruelty free food choices. Self righteousness is always annoying. But to be so self-righteous about food choices and not give a shit that workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts. Infuriating.
We shouldn’t have to choose between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. And a lot of the time there is an overlap. No pesticides on organic produce means no pesticides on the people picking that produce. But when it comes down to it, if I have to chose, people come first. Sorry.
And just so you know, I will not be responding to any comments about speciesism. We are different. The fact that anyone is asking me to make a moral choice about my food is confirmation of their belief that I am different. I respect the people who make that moral choice. But nobody is asking a lion to make a moral choice about eating a gazelle.
But I digress. The point of the post is that there are people in the food system and they are often treated like crap. In fact, most of the lowest paid workers in the country work in food – from migrant farm workers to fast food cooks. And sometimes the food choices we make affect workers in ways we haven’t thought of. For instance, on Monday I learned that the poultry industry is the least unionized. So if you are buying more chicken thinking it is healthier than beef, you just upped your chances of exploiting some workers.
Minor consumer choices here and there aren’t going to bring down the whole system. And we sure as shit should not get too proud of ourselves for slightly better food choices. There is no way to extract yourself from the system completely. But if a whole lot of worker-managed, co-op, union companies started taking off…you never know.
P.S. Painting by Cynthia Vidal