Food Justice Many Facets Essay

Pages: 6 (1763 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Freshman  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Food Justice

Many Facets of Food Justice

Background on Gottlieb and Joshi's Food Justice.

Background on Garcia's The Future of Food.

Introduction of the broader issues of social, economic, and political justice.

Labor Issues (mainly related to Food Justice)

Modern-day slavery

Pesticides

Need to introduce labor issues into the food justice discourse.

Consumer Issues

Awareness, knowledge of pesticide content, GMOs.

Awareness of social justice issues

Labeling of products

Ecological Issues

Control over life itself

Disempowerment of people

Related to Omnivore's Dilemma.

Food Justice Politics and Power

Power over food = power over life

Power over the genetic content of food = power over life on a grander scale

Power over workers' lives

D. Knowledge is power; keep consumers and workers in the dark

Food justice issues became highly complex in the twentieth century. Issues related to food justice continue to grow more complicated with advancements in science and also with the permeability of geo-political borders. Several issues related to food justice intersect, including labor rights, consumer rights, and ecological rights. In Chapter One of Food Justice, Robert Gottlieb and Anupuma Joshi examine some of the core labor issues that have emerged in response to the global agro businesses that blossomed throughout the twentieth century. Labor issues have become largely background issues in food justice discourse, taking the back seat to ecological concerns and consumer advocacy. However, Gottlieb and Anapuma stress the importance of re-introducing labor rights into the conversation about food justice. In the documentary film The Future of Food, Deborah Koons Garcia focuses on quite a different facet of food justice: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Advancements in science have been capitalized on as tools to bolster the business interests of agricultural, food, and chemical conglomerates worldwide. By tinkering with the genetic structure of organisms, companies can promise everything from an alleviation of poverty to the curing of disease. None of these claims, even if fulfilled, come without cost. Food justice spans a wider range of political, economic, and social issues than ever before, including issues related to labor, consumer, and environmental rights.

The sleeper issue in the food justice debate is certainly related to labor and workers' rights. Globalization has led to the mass migration of poor workers, whose labor is critical for producing products for the trans-national food industries. Ancillary industries, especially the chemical industries, also benefit from cheap labor. A modern form of slavery, migrant labor in agro-business raises a host of questions related to food justice.

Gottlieb and Joshi point out, "farmworkers have been exploited in the United States for more than a century," (4). However, exploitation of farmworkers extends far beyond that and includes the enslavement of multiple generations of African-Americans. The exploitation of farm labor in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries manages to disguise itself as legitimate labor relations when in fact, slavery continues under a different name. A full third of migrant laborers in the United States are classified as illegal immigrants, enabling employers to take advantage of them and their political disenfranchisement. Flouting labor laws is relatively easy and commonplace in the United States, as working conditions for farm laborers in places like Immokalee, Florida are every bit as deplorable as they were during the late nineteenth century. Exposure to toxins is only one of many workplace hazards faced by farm laborers, who have insufficient means to organize or defend their rights. Fears of deportment or financial retribution hinder efforts to improve working conditions. It is only because of organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), formed in early 1993, that some awareness has been raised. Unfortunately, most food justice whistleblowing focuses on issues other than labor rights (Gottlieb and Joshi), impeding efforts at revealing the connection between such things as pesticide use and labor rights. "When food is purchased for home consumption or ordered at a restaurant, the conditions experienced by the farmworkers are not a visible part of the consumer's experience," (Gottlieb and Joshi 6). This is an ironic but direct contrast to the trend in American consumer spending on "fair trade" items from countries outside of the United States.

Labor rights and consumer rights intersect in key areas, especially with regards to the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Exposure to toxic chemicals on the part of laborers might be the most pressing matter related to food labor justice. Even chemicals have been banned in the United States are still in use in countries with few safety standards and weak labor laws. Moreover, food grown in countries with looser laws related to agro-chemicals can be legally imported to the United States. Neither workers nor consumers are safe.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) might be touted as a means to reduce worker exposure to toxic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers. However, consumers remain unaware of the long-term effects such products might have on human life or ecological integrity. By fiercely protecting access to information related to GMOs, agricultural and chemical companies wield a great deal of political and social power. Political power allows trans-national chemical corporations like Monsanto to impact the level of control elected officials have over agriculture and food production. As Garcia points out in The Future of Food, the chemical industry has power over academia and seemingly independent research organizations, too. Studies related to the health and safety of GMOs cannot be trusted because they are too often funded by special interest groups, if not the chemical companies themselves.

The ongoing debate over GMOs may be more related to consumer rights than labor rights, but laborers are consumers too. All people are impacted by the political collusion between governments and chemical or agribusiness. In fact, the connection between consumer and labor rights is directly related when the structure of food production is taken into consideration as an organic whole. When Monsanto and similar companies wrest control over food and eating from the consumer, these companies actually control life itself.

Power over food is power over the substances that enable the continuation of life. The control Monsanto has over plant life is similar to the inhumane treatment of animals that Pollan addresses in The Omnivore's Dilemma. In the case of genetically modified organisms, power over the genetic content of food substances means grandiose power over nature itself. The situation with Monsanto evokes the frightfully prescient imagery of authors like Mary Shelley and Upton Sinclair. Control over science and nature equals a type of fundamental and immutable power. Companies that control life at the molecular level, and companies that control how, where, when, and by whom food is grown have indeterminate power over the lives of human beings. The situation is sinister. As Nienhiser puts it, "These companies have deep pockets and considerable influence…they pack the top jobs at the regulatory agencies with former attorneys and executives friendly to their agenda, and they can pay for the best lawyers."

There are inherent dangers in both the use of chemical substances in agriculture such as pesticides; and the use of genetically modified organisms. Building viruses into food, as a means of forcibly inoculating an entire populace, could have unforeseen consequences. At the very least, tampering with food in this manner is likely to diminish nature immune system responses to environmental stressors and could lead to the proliferation of superbugs. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers have a more immediate impact on workers and consumers exposed to toxins; whereas GMOs leave a more long-term effect.

Moreover, agribusiness and the chemical industry have control over non-human life. The control over non-human life is evident in the issues that Garcia addresses related to GMOs in The Future of Food, and also in the issues that Gottlieb and Joshi point out in Food Justice. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and artificial fertilizers wreak havoc on ecosystems. The problems with carcinogenic and other toxic effects on human life are well-known; and the impact on local ecosystems can be far-reaching. Entire communities of people, fish, and birds are impacted by the unbridled control chemical conglomerates have over life. Similarly, chemical companies that manipulate the genetic content of food have unprecedented control over what is literally the substance of life itself: DNA. Garcia also points out that owning the rights to certain seeds has become the political issue of the twenty-first century. Controlling what can be grown, when, and how leaves the majority of the human population powerless over their own physical destinies. "Letting new life forms loose on the land without long-term testing of the health effects and real government controls, especially labeling of foods," (Ness).

The food justice debate is about knowledge and power. Linked directly with economic and social justice, food justice raises questions related to race, class, gender, and power. Gottlieb and Joshi allude to the ways governments and agribusiness work together to ensure a large segment of the population remains in a state of slavery. Garcia points out the ways government and agribusiness collusion have an even broader and more sinister control over life itself with genetically modified organisms. Food justice issues extend into… [END OF PREVIEW]

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