Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Since this blog has already tainted my enjoyment of coffee, chocolate, chicken, toys, technology, and clothing, I was wondering what I could add to the list of things we love to consume as United Statesians, but destroy our planet and the lives of other people around the world. What could be dearer to the hearts of Atlantans than Coca-Cola?
I most definitely limit my consumption of Coke for nutritional reasons, but have for years sung the praises of its tastiness and unquestionable superiority to Pepsi. What I’m saying is: I drink Coke. But should I? Should you? Does the Coca-Cola company have any skeletons in their closet?
As usual, I shared my desire to ruin Coke for my readers with my husband. As usual, he had something interesting and helpful to share with me: killercoke.org. He often works at the Georgia World Congress Center, which is very close to the World of Coke museum in downtown Atlanta. He told me that he has seen an advertising truck driving around Centennial Olympic park promoting the web site and playing music and messages over loudspeakers to raise awareness about “killer coke.” Hmmm . . . Is this a health issue? Nope. To my incredible surprise, killercoke.org is trying to raise awareness of Coca-Cola bottling plant abuses in Guatemala and Colombia. Further research showed that coke has also created quite a few enemies in India as well. First, the story of Coca-Cola in India:
Coke opened a bottling plant in the Plachimada community in India in 2000. Since then, the companies practices have contributed (greatly) to a lack of water for the community (because Coke’s wells are sucking up all of the water) and pollution (because Coke’s waste and product are toxic). Local farmers have been affected the most. Aside from their water supply being depleted, they are being pandered to by the company by having Coke’s “toxic sludge” marketed to them as fertilizer. This “fertilizer” has been shown to contain high levels of cadmium, a carcinogen that can build up in the kidneys causing serious illness. The cadmium has now spread to the ground water as well. (More here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/3096893.stm)
The high levels of pesticides (yes, pesticides) that have been found IN the actual Coca-Cola products in this region have led many farmers to simply spray Coke on their fields rather than purchase the actual pesticides themselves! Other farmers who cannot take watching the destruction of their crops and land have simply resorted to suicide—over 20,000 farmers in Western and Southern India have commit suicide in the last ten years. Not all of these can be blamed directly or only on Coca-Cola, but the company is definitely playing a role in the devastation of this region of our planet. And while the people suffered, Coke’s profits soared since it was withdrawing the water for free and paying very little for waste disposal. (This situation is further detailed here: AIYER, A. (2007). THE ALLURE OF THE TRANSNATIONAL: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India Cultural Anthropology, 22, no. 4. And here: http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2010/03/coca-cola_in_india_good_till_t.php)
Stay tuned for the story of violence against union organizers in Latin American bottling plants . . .
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
As an American who celebrated the birthday of her country the other day, I must say I am disappointed. I am disappointed in myself and in the rest of this country. I read this article:
America's Bad Mood
and at first I agreed with it. Yeah, everything kind of sucks right now. Yeah, the rest of the world despises us. Yeah, we have more than anyone else has ever had. Yeah, people are still depressed. Yup, yup, yup. But why? I can give an answer--it probably won’t be very popular. I’m giving it anyway:
We are all lazy, greedy escapists who don’t want to admit that our lush lifestyle is destroying the rest of the world. We all know it in the back of our heads, though, and so we feel empty, sad, and scared and we try to claim that we don’t know why.
Are you feeling depressed? Have you lost all joy in life?
Well maybe that is because your subconscious mind understands that while you sit in bed feeling sorry for yourself and worrying about the price of gas there are children in Africa who are starving to death or dying of AIDS. There are funerals for innocent victims of terrorism all over the world. Our own young men and women are sacrificing their lives in Iraq for you. How does that make you feel? They are there for you. So you can put gas in your car and drive to the mall and buy shit you don’t need. Aren’t you proud of them? They volunteer to go to war so they can pay for college or support their families or become citizens. Can we not offer our young people a better option? Do you think they really support the war or even understand why they are fighting it? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t--I can’t speak for them. But I can speak for myself and I say I am willing to sacrifice my lifestyle so we can end this thing. And when I say “this thing” I don’t just mean the war in Iraq. I mean the famine around the world because we are taking their corn to make ethanol, the fighting in Darfur, the AIDS epidemic, the energy crisis, pollution, global warming, poverty in our own country, the worlds’ low opinion of Americans in general. Are you willing to do that? I sincerely feel this way, which is why I label myself as a Socialist. I just don’t understand how people who live in million dollar homes that sit half empty and use thousands of dollars in energy can sleep at night. If you have more than you can use why don’t you share it with others? Now I understand saving for retirement, education, etc., but who really needs millions of dollars in boats, vehicles, electronics, property, etc.? It is ridiculous and it is destroying this country and the rest of the Earth. The decadence is disgusting. We sit in our homes and watch the horrors of the world on TV and tuck ourselves in tight and sleep soundly hoping that someone else will take care of it. Well, guess what: that ain’t gonna happen. If we don’t change our ways we are doomed. We might be doomed anyway, but we can at least try to make things better. And please don’t think I am pointing the finger at others, because I am guilty of these things myself. I don’t own a million dollar home, but I do play video games, watch satellite TV, drive my van, and buy things I don’t need. It’s my fault, too. I just wish it wasn’t.
Many people are suddenly talking and thinking about their “carbon footprints.” If you don’t’ know what that is referring to, I will paraphrase: it is the impact that your actions have on the Earth’s environment. I think it is great that people are finally thinking about their actions rather than polluting, wasting, and consuming without a second thought, but has it become just another trend? A fad? Will this conscious effort to conserve pass out of fashion with last season’s shoes? I hope not, but I already see how even the good intentions of being “green” are not so great for the planet. A few examples of pop environmentalism are telecommuting to reduce pollution and using alternative fuels in vehicles. Are these really solutions to the problems of our planet or just sound bytes that make people feel “greener?”
Living in the Atlanta area, I know what it is like to drive in traffic. And not just slight congestion and small backups at a traffic light—I’m talking stop and go traffic for 20 miles on I-75 North for hours trying to get home from the city. And that is not an anomaly, but rather the expected and everyday occurrence. Because of this and for other “environmental” reasons many people are being encouraged and are telecommuting: working from their homes, rather than driving into the city to an office. This saves fuel, time, and reduces the emissions from vehicles on the road. It also lessens the amount of repairs and maintenance needed on our roads because they are not being used by as many cars. Not driving your car to work does save you gas, but what about the energy being used to power your computer at home and at your office? What about the energy being used to cool your home and your office? What about the energy being used to power and cool the servers in the enormous building where all of your data is being stored out there in cyberspace? Because it is a real place and it is using real fuel, too. Now I do believe that working from home is a HUGE improvement to commuting to an office every day, but I am challenging you all to see that even a “green” solution is not completely without adverse effect.
And if you do need to drive your car to work every day, why not try using an alternative fuel to petroleum? How about a renewable resource—corn, for instance! Sounds great. Let’s power our cars with corn (ethanol) and we can grow more when we run out. [Cheers heard from the entire country]. CORN: solving our fuel problems, one kernel at a time. Only it isn’t. Ethanol has created a huge demand for corn, putting extreme pressure on farmers and reducing the amount available for consumption as food. This is a major problem because many people in the world rely on corn as a staple that they cannot live without. And now that we are processing it to use in our vehicles, famine is springing up all over. We are burning food in our cars. Does this sound right? I am not willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people so I can drive back and forth to Target three times a week. Are you?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
BUT then I found out that I already had another bag of coffee that was, in fact, fair trade. A friend of mine informed of that, and said that the company absolutely refused to buy anything that wasn't a few years before and it was all over the news in the UK. So...I finished that coffee too and felt better about it than the first batch. When I ran out is when the rubber truly hit the road for me.
I usually shop at Publix despite their anti-union this or that, and they are the closest to where I live. I was convinced I didn't have to drive 30 mins away to a farmers market or a whole foods just to find fair trade coffee. I was right!
It wasn't easy though. A few employees looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them if they had fair trade coffee. I even had one tell me, "Sorry, we don't carry that 'brand.'" I had to explain... I was told by multiple people that they didn't carry it, whether it was a "brand" or not. I scanned and scanned the coffee aisle looking for, trying to distinguish by color or design of the bag which one would be fair trade or organic or something--anything other than the usual.
Hilariously enough, I found that Publix's Greenwise coffee is both organic AND fair trade! My roommate was ready to kill me and sneak a can of Maxwell house in my cart just to get me out of there. I realized that I was "killing 2 birds with one stone" to use a (less humane) colloquialism. I realized that I am able to ensure that I satisfy both of my goals: of supporting the environment and supporting the labor of those who produce the products we buy in a fair and reasonable way!
Also, the whole idea that buying organic and fair trade is impracticable and expensive is, frankly, a whole bunch of BS. The coffee was on sale too! The only disappointing part was that the Publix employees had no idea that they carried it and that it was their own brand that was the only one that was fair trade certified.
I must say that the first cup of my organic and fair trade coffee was incredible. I bought it whole bean and ground it up at home. It smelled great and really was quite exciting. It was good to know that I was enjoying a product of someone else's labor in which they were getting adequately compensated--the living conditions acceptable, possibly making education a reality, and being able to put food on someone's table. At least, I hope that if I have to have my coffee, it shouldn't come at the cost of someone else's poverty. Still, I feel myself and others still have a long way to go.
I hope that by sharing this more personal story, that others can realize it as a reality and that inaction is only a perpetuation of the conditions as they are.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
There are several interesting aspects of this situation.
First, Foxconn is a major provider of Apple products. They also supply Dell and HP and many others. But they are Apple’s primary source of products and Apple is their largest client. The company has had complaints against it in the past, resulting in an audit of the company by Apple: http://www.foxconn.com/SER_PubilcRelease_02.html All in all, the audit was pretty positive and it sounded as if all the problems that were occurring at the time would be rectified shortly. That was in 2006.
On the surface, the Foxconn campus looks like a super-cool college dorm, except instead of going to class, you work incredibly long hours (more on that in a minute).
Click on the link below to view more pictures of the Foxconn “plant.”
The line workers at Foxconn were, until recently, paid China’s minimum wage: $140 per month. Most of the workers make over double that, though, through CONSTANT OVERTIME. This is not “forced” overtime, but without it, these people are only bringing in $140/month! So, for what it costs an American to buy one iPhone, a Chinese worker has to put in crazy overtime for one month. And according to that Apple audit in 2006: “The single largest complaint (approximately 20% of interviewed workers) was the lack of overtime during non-peak periods.”
Foxconn’s employees are working incredibly hard. Unfortunately, some of them have not been able to handle the stress and since the beginning of 2010, ten workers have commit suicide. Following is an excellent look at the current situation by the Financial Times:
It is obvious that even with the amenities, free housing, and opportunities for overtime and advancement, the repetitive work is not satisfactory to many employees. What can Foxconn do to make its workers happier? The company has decided to increase wages by about 20% for most employees. And as a result of this, Foxconn is raising its prices to Apple, etc. (All the boring business details here: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE69C02P20101013 )
So, what do you all think? Is raising salaries going to stop people from committing suicide? Do you think people were killing themselves because they didn’t think they were making enough money? What else could/should Foxconn do to increase worker satisfaction? Is Foxconn’s treatment of their workers a human rights concern? Is it a violation of Chinese human rights that their labor is worth so much less than American’s? Is this communism’s fault? Is this capitalism’s fault? What say you?
Monday, November 1, 2010
For weeks now, I have been trying to find information on sweatshops, companies that sell products that were manufactured in sweatshops, and how I can avoid supporting these businesses. The problem is that there is not really any way to trace many products back to their particular point of origin. There is not a great way to avoid supporting sweatshops. And even if you know a particular company uses sweatshop labor, the ways to protest this fact are not clear-cut either.
Many of the things that we see on the shelves in stores are made from an array of previously manufactured items and raw materials. The varied places where these things originate from make it practically impossible to determine their exact point of origin. This fact makes it very difficult to avoid products that were made in sweatshops or similar, where humans suffer modern day slavery or severe exploitation. Sweatshops and slavery are so pervasive within the supply chain, it is almost impossible to avoid.
But say we know for sure that a company is using slave or sweatshop labor; what is the best way to show that company that we do not support their business practices? The answer usually lies in the boycott, but that may not be the best solution. If an individual person (or even a small group of people) boycotts a particular producer, store, or product, it does not make much of an impact and, according to some, can actually hurt the legitimate employers and producers in the same supply chain.
So what can we do? How can we send a message to a company that we do not approve of unscrupulous means of production? More so perhaps, how do we tell businesses we frequent that we support and encourage ethical business practices and honest means of production? Until businesses understand that it is important to consumers that their goods not be tainted by slavery and exploitation, companies may continue to emphasize lowering prices rather than behaving morally.
Monday, October 11, 2010
A friend of mine who is a first-time mother has become a huge fan of the trend of baby-wearing. She has several different styles of the fashionable wraps. I was really intrigued when I first saw them, until I saw the price tags. Some higher end slings are well over $100! While I know that the premise of carrying your baby with you in such a way that you may continue to go about your daily tasks hands-free is by no means a new idea, one website touts their line of slings as "an essential, chic accessory in any contemporary parent's toolkit." While watching the film When the Mountains Tremble recently, I repeatedly noticed the peasants working in the fields with their babies sashed securely to them. I'm sure those women felt very chic slaving away in amidst the cane fields in the hot sun with their children on their backs. This wasn't 100 years ago, either. This was twenty years ago. And there are many cultures in which women are still working while carrying their babies this way. And I'm certain they aren't paying anybody any money for the pleasure of doing so.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Do you see who makes this delicious butterfinger bar? Nestle makes it and as I found out, they also make a long line of other products. Well, that was the first thing I grabbed from the prize bag. The guys sitting with me at the table went crazy eating their butterfinger, while I stared at it. I immediately saw the Nestle brand at the top. Those guys looked at me like I was from another planet when I did not eat it. They asked, "Who does not like butterfinger bar?" I must admit that it tasted good before I knew that forced child labor was part of the work force that made Nestle profitable. I understood right away that I had to be on the lookout for products made by those types of companies.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The environment is, of course, important but I've found in several conversations that you must humanize certain things for fellow humans to become interested. Moreover, we (humans) are not separate from the environment; we may live in a metropolis or in the modern trappings of the digital age, but we still breathe the air, eat what can be harvested, and so on. Therefore, the two subjects should not be looked at so separately, but as one having an effect on the other. And it's a two way street.
Aside from the probably better known issue of overfishing, "aquaculture" can and is proving to be just as problematic. Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish, looks into this matter extensively. More recently, he published an article in The New York Times about tuna (a fish I have mentioned in particular earlier on). Citing salmon as one of the earliest victims of aquaculture exploitation, he asks some pertinent questions about the fate of tuna and recognizes the sushi eater probably wouldn't enjoy Alaskan char as much. (True statement.)
The problem with raising fish on a farm is usually that the fish being raised must be fed with something. More often than not, it requires an exponential amount of more "forage fish", relative to the weight of the fish being raised, to produce the end result. So, while it may seem a better idea to raise some fish on a farm, thereby not fishing them out from the wild, it becomes just as problematic (if not more, as Greenberg suggests). This obviously has much to do with the environment and the other organisims that inhabit it, but if we are to continue as a human species and if we want to be gauranteed an adequate amount and a respectable quality of food, this issue should be considered.
As Greenberg suggests, "Perhaps, in the end, this is what the Atlantic bluefin tuna might really need. Not human intervention to make them spawn in captivity. But rather human restraint, to allow them to spawn in the wild, in peace."
After seeing this photo on a Facebook post, I knew that I had to investigate where chicken comes from and the human and animal rights involved in the processing of chicken products. This is "mechanically separated chicken"--a main ingredient in chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc.
So what is “mechanically separated chicken”? Is this really what it looks like? Really? I went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspections web site to find out how our government defines “mechanically separated chicken.” Here is what they have to say:
“Mechanically separated poultry (MSP) is a poultry food product produced by high pressure machinery that separates bone from poultry skeletal muscle tissue and other edible tissue by first crushing the bone and then forcing bone and tissue through a sieve or a similar screening device. The result is a blend of soft tissue with a paste-like consistency and a cake-batter form. The final paste-like material, has a physical form and texture that differs materially from other boneless chicken and turkey products that are deboned by hand.
In November 1995, USDA's FSIS issued a rule requiring labels to list mechanically separated poultry as an ingredient in processed products such as hot dogs and bologna as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" instead of simply "chicken" or "turkey." This requirement went into effect on the labels of products that include MSP as an ingredient in November 1996. MSP is a safe and wholesome food product with nutritional characteristics similar to ground poultry. Because of its cake-batter texture, it is ideally suited for use in hot dogs, bologna, nuggets, patties, sausages and luncheon meat-type products.” Copied and pasted from the USDA web site: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/ground_poultry_and_food_safety/index.asp
“Wholesome”!? That sounds pretty disgusting to me and confirms my staunch position against nuggets and hot dogs.
As revolted as I was by this knowledge, I needed to learn more about how chickens go from live creatures with feathers to food. I found this undercover video of a Tyson plant:
The chickens in this video are destined to be butchered and kept on the bone—I wonder if that means they are being treated even better than the ones who will be pressurized into paste. Searching YouTube, I found video after video showing that these practices are the norm in the chicken industry. That means there is no buying Perdue instead of Tyson to ease your mind.
Yes, some of these videos are filmed by animal rights activist groups that have a very strong agenda to show the worst of the worst, but the extent of the evidence presented, regardless of its source, shows that these are normal, routine practices in poultry processing. However, as awful as this situation is—is this a human rights violation?
I will argue that yes, it is. And here is why: first of all—regardless of whether you believe that animals have rights, I, as a consumer, have the right to know that the food I am purchasing in the store has been handled appropriately and respectfully during processing. Obviously, this is not happening at every poultry processing plant. Secondly, the people who are working at these plants have the right to a decent work environment and I would not describe what I saw in these videos as such. Poor working conditions, low pay, and the emotional stress of pressure to perform horrific acts may directly contribute to animal cruelty and abuse occurring—not to mention the passive aggressive act of urinating in a supposedly clean environment (or perhaps not being given adequate breaks to use the restroom). It is easy to blame the employees for their abuse, but many are forced to work as quickly as possible to meet quotas, get paid, and keep their jobs. It is also very common for poultry processing plants in the South to employ undocumented immigrants to lower their costs. It is easy for these plants to find cheap labor, allow ICE raids to remove up to a third of their employees for deportation, and then rehire new undocumented immigrants to fill the positions of those deported. One such incident can be read about here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27091738/ Finally, it is personally disturbing to me that such a lack of respect for life occurs in this industry. Animal cruelty and abuse abound unchecked—even encouraged—in the slaughterhouses. Are you willing to ignore this fact when you sit down to eat a bucket of KFC or some Tyson “Any-tizers”? Not me, but to each his own, I guess . . .