Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

Ignorance is bliss. And then I start reading about the long reach of corporations across the globe and their history of abusive labor practices. Without the watching eye of labor laws and unions which we take for granted in this country, workers in so-called developing nations work and live in inhumane conditions. Now I wonder how many of my clothes and shoes are made in sweatshops. Probably most of them.

And then there is the question of food. We now enjoy the availability of most fruits and vegetables regardless of whether they are in season because they come from all over the world. Do we know where our food comes from and the labor practices of the companies that produce them?

For example, Bananas are not grown in the United States and come primarily from Central America. For most of the 20th century, the banana business was vertically controlled by two giants: United Fruit Company and National Fruit Company, which later became Chiquita and Dole respectively. At one time United Fruit Company owned most of the land and transportation infrastructure in Central America.

To quote one source, United Fruit Company had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the banana republics (a term coined by O. Henry).

I have heard many times over the years about how buying bananas from companies like Chiquita or Dole rewards those companies that exploit workers, not that that had ever stopped me from buying bananas. But the more I learn, the more conscientious I am trying to be about buying “green”. So I got excited when I saw some bananas at our local natural food chain, PCC. Here I can buy some bananas guilt-free. And I felt obliged to blog about it.

But before I could congratulate myself on finally going “green” on bananas, I decided to do some investigation before writing this post. It turns out that Chiquita is now highly regarded for its fair trade and labor practices. But there is also debate on this. How can we know the truth?

All of this has raised my consciousness about the source of all items that I consume. Do I consume responsibly? How do I know what brands to buy? Or at the very least, do I know which brands to avoid due to their persistence in exploitive practices? (Nike comes to mind.)

So I am now on the hunt for good resources to know who is naughty and who is nice. I still need to eat and clothe myself but I can make a difference to the health of our planet by the purchase choices I make. By refusing to buy products from companies that exploit workers and trash the environment, they will either be forced to change their practices or go out of business. (If only we could do this when it comes to buying gas.)

A step in the right direction is to stop making price the primary criteria for which brand I buy, but rather how “green” the supply chain is.

Here are some links:

Information is power. Since I desperately wish to educate myself further so I can make good choices, I encourage readers to comment back with additional resource suggestions.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

  1. mlshiira

    One of the hardest things about trying to support only good companies is that a supplier in another country might create goods for several brands. For example, a Nike shoe manufacturer (ie., sweatshop) might also sew shoes for New Balance and/or a generic store brand; a pita chip found at Trader Joe’s might be made at the same factory as a more well-known national brand; and an orchard might sell its cashews to both Planters and Emerald. To support fair labor practices, you have to boycott all end-outlets of that good, because they are all profiting from the abusive working conditions. And then there are labeling issues, where something says “Made in America”, but is really only assembled here from parts made in other countries. And then there is the illegal worker issue at US companies to further complicate matters. Supporting small, local businesses and/or farmers is usually the best way to go, but it can be hard to give up the bigger selection and good prices found in the chain stores.
    I personally like to buy Kirkland brand products from Costco when I can–I know that Costco works directly with its suppliers to promote fair trade and other worthy causes.

    • Thank you so much for your insights. Yes, I know that it is pretty impossible go totally green, but I think that we are at least responsible for the things we know, and the rest we just have to the best we can. Wouldn’t it be great if more things were made or grown locally? I’m hoping things move in that direction.

      • mlshiira

        I think it would be great if we went back to making more things for ourselves. I’m kinda nostalgic for the corner bakery and the old butcher shop and trading veggies at the farmer’s market. It’s sad how far we’ve gotten from the origins of our food.

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