Slow Foodies Mum on Labor Issues

Californians care more about animal welfare than human welfare

By Jackson West
|  Friday, Dec 4, 2009  |  Updated 6:15 AM PDT
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Grow Green to Save Green

benketaro / Flickr

While the image of organic farming is of lovably dirty hippies like these, the reality is big business fueled by poorly paid and treated migrant labor.

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While that batch of delicious eggs or bunch of delicious arugula that you buy from the farmer's market or at the grocery store may be organic -- and expensive -- that doesn't mean there aren't still hidden costs.

Namely, while the chickens may have been treated well and no pesticides sprayed on the greens, all the hard work of harvesting may well have been done by poorly paid and treated immigrants with no healthcare.

A San Francisco Bay Guardian feature on the clash between the classes does a fine job of pointing out that there can't really be environmental justice without social justice as well.

The sad fact of "industrial organic" farming in California is that in some cases, the workers are treated even worse than they are by non-organic growers.

For instance, Whole Foods, one of the largest purchasers of organic products in the country, staunchly opposes unions at its stores, and has refused to intervene on behalf of employees of its suppliers trying to unionize in order to improve working conditions.

And a survey conducted by the University of California, Santa Cruz found consumers in the state seem to care more about how the livestock is raised than how the people doing the raising are treated.

Additionally, a California Institute for Rural Studies report found that while the state's organic farms paid slightly more per hour, on average, they offered significantly fewer benefits like healthcare.

And of course, in many cases, the working poor -- including those who raise the produce -- can hardly afford to participate in the Slow Food "revolution," meaning they'll also need more of the healthcare they also can't afford thanks to the cheaper, chemical-laced industrial diet.

Ultimately, the sustainability movement could use a lot less Alice "toasting an organic egg over an open fire" Waters and a lot more Cesar Chavez.

Photo by Flickr user benketaro.

Jackson West would pay a little extra for a "union grown" sticker next to the organic label.

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