CIW to speak at Washington Post “Future of Food” Conference Wednesday

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Speakers include Prince Charles, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry, US Senator John Tester and more

From the Washington Post website (the source of the beautiful banner above, as well, in case you were pondering):

“Overview

This conference will bring together many of the world’s leading experts on food, including The Prince of Wales, a lifelong environmentalist and organic farmer, Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” and Wendell Berry, winner of The National Humanities Medal. How is American and international food production changing to respond to growing demand from consumers for healthier and more natural food? Experts from some of world’s biggest food companies, academia and nonprofits discuss trends in agriculture and consumer behavior that is shaping the future of food.” read more

The CIW has been asked to speak to the impact of today’s food system — in our case, the $50 billion fresh produce industry and the retail food industry to which it sells its produce — on the lives of the farmworkers who plant, cultivate, and pick our fruits and vegetables.

[Spoiler alert: WalMart makes farmworkers poor... Or, in a slightly less pithy formulation: While there are significant historical factors behind the human rights crisis in the fields today, the most immediate, and correctable, cause of farmworker exploitation can be found in the marketplace. Farmworkers toil at the bottom of a food supply chain that is every day more and more top-heavy, and this unprecedented consolidation of market power at the top of the retail food industry has created an unrelenting downward pressure on prices -- and therefore wages and working conditions -- at the bottom. And the bottom of the “bottom” in the food supply chain is the person picking fruit in the fields.]

We will also address ways to counteract the unequal bargaining relationship between the produce industry and the handful of retail food and restaurant giants that results in farmworker poverty and degradation.

[Spoiler alert ll: What the retail food giants taketh away, they can giveth, too, if properly motivated... If the cause of farmworker poverty lies, in significant part, in the overwhelming market power of the highly consolidated retail food chains, then the solution to farmworker poverty can be found there too, and the market power that impoverishes farmworkers' lives today can be harnessed and reversed to improve farmworkers' wages and working conditions.]

So, check out the Washington Post website for more on Wednesday’s conference.

And, if you haven’t seen it yet, definitely take a few minutes to read Eric Schlosser’s penetrating op/ed published in Sunday’s Post Opinion page.

Entitled, “Why being a foodie isn’t elitist,” Eric’s essay leaves the American Farm Bureau’s line of attack on the growing sustainable food movement (which claims, in effect, that all efforts to bring about a cleaner, healthier and fairer food industry are inherently elitist) in tatters, concluding:

“… The cheapness of today’s industrial food is an illusion, and the real cost is too high to pay. While the Farm Bureau Federation clings to an outdated mind-set, companies such as Wal-Mart, Danone, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Compass have invested in organic, sustainable production. Insurance companies such as Kaiser Permanente are opening farmers markets in low-income communities. Whole Foods is demanding fair labor practices, while Chipotle promotes the humane treatment of farm animals. Urban farms are being planted by visionaries such as Milwaukee’s Will Allen; the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is defending the rights of poor migrants; Restaurant Opportunities Centers United is fighting to improve the lives of food-service workers; and Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver and first lady Michelle Obama are pushing for healthier food in schools.

Calling these efforts elitist renders the word meaningless. The wealthy will always eat well. It is the poor and working people who need a new, sustainable food system more than anyone else. They live in the most polluted neighborhoods. They are exposed to the worst toxic chemicals on the job. They are sold the unhealthiest foods and can least afford the medical problems that result.

A food system based on poverty and exploitation will never be sustainable.” read more