Great dinner out last night with Mrs. G, and probably a nice lunch in a little while – two examples of the luxury amidst which we find ourselves. Just order, buy, what looks good? How our food choices got there practically never enters into our thinking, but the Los Angeles Times published some extraordinary journalism earlier this week, an investigation of the Mexican farms that send us all the delightful produce we choose or ignore – all while choosing to ignore something much greater and more fundamentally wrong with this scenario:
American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.
These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.
But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.
The Times found:
- Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.
- Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.
- Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.
- Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.
- Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.
Doing anything differently begins with just knowing. So, just know. There are real people involved in the growing and harvesting of our bounty.