How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Friday, September 11, 2009

We Are What We Eat - Part II

Factory Food is Immoral

American consumers are so detached from their food these days they have little if any awareness of the atrocities committed by the modern food industry. From the indentured livelihoods of farm workers to the inhumane treatment of animals on factory feedlots, our food’s history is sordid.

The mainstream magazine Gourmet in March, 2009 published an article by Barry Estabrook entitled Politics of the Plate: the Price of Tomatoes, which details the prevalence of rampant human slavery on American soil in the tomato industry in Florida*. This account is not some ranting by a left wing fanatic. It is a concise reporting of events in the tomato fields and surrounding areas of Immokalee, Florida where the average annual income is $8,500 and one out of three families lives below the poverty line.

The fact that the people who are gainfully employed harvesting our food are sweating day after day in the hot Florida sun to bring us fresh tomatoes in January and are not earning enough money to feed their own families is appalling enough, but a larger reality is far worse. Douglas Mallow, the chief assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in Fort Meyers calls the tomato fields of South Florida “ground zero for modern slavery*."

Desperate illegal immigrants from Latin America make their way across the border every year with the aim of earning a few dollars to send home to their families. Once they arrive in America, they become trapped in a vicious economic cycle paying extortionate rents for tenements with sub-human living conditions and becoming indebted to their landlords/overseers. In the worst case scenarios, they are prevented from escape and beaten into working seven days a week - all this to provide tasteless tomatoes for bourgeoisie Americans in the wintertime. Reggie Brown, the executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, abhors the human rights abuses that take place in Florida’s growing fields, but he also notes that Florida tomatoes picked by the hands of modern slaves is “not an assumption. It is a fact*.”

The treatment of factory food animals is even more abhorrent than that of indentured workers in terms of collective suffering. It is now common knowledge that cattle, chickens and pigs are raised in crowded conditions wallowing in their own manure and forced to fatten up on grain diets that are wholly unnatural to each individual species. Cattle are roaming, grazing animals, happy chickens need to walk around and scratch at earth for bugs, and pigs are some of the most intelligent creatures on earth. Putting these animals in confinement where they cannot even turn around is beyond cruel. Anybody who treated a pet in such a fashion would be arrested for cruelty to animals, but for some reason, our laws and society turn a blind eye to the suffering of animals destined to be food.

Some people reading the above passages will react by assuming the facts stated above are exaggerated or false. Part of our mass delusion is our national ability to either ignore facts that are unpleasant or pretend they are untrue. When we knowingly eat food that is tainted by the stink of slavery or animal cruelty, we are complicit in the crimes regardless of our ability to deny and ignore the reality of our food’s origins.

We have the power to put an end to the Florida tomato slave trade simply by not eating tomatoes out of season, or by buying locally-grown hothouse tomatoes, usually sold as cluster tomatoes on the vine. Florida growers will either become humane and fair or they will be out of business. We can end the cruel treatment of food animals simply by making educated choices when purchasing meat products and by buying only free range, pasture fed, organic beef, poultry and pork. Visiting the farm that produces your meat is even better. Most Americans are so disconnected from the fact that their meat was once a living creature, it would be good for all of us to reconnect with this reality and become truly conscious consumers thankful for the life sacrificed in order to provide us with a meal. If everyone participated in the procurement of their meat the old fashioned way, many more would probably convert to vegetarianism. At the very least, humane treatment of livestock would certainly become more prevalent.

Denials and ignorance of the immorality of our food only serve to perpetuate food crimes. We are all responsible whether we admit it or not, and nourishing our bodies with food propagated on human and animal suffering is not nourishment at all.

*Quotations and excerpts from:

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