Recipe for Change: Tomatoes, Chipotle and Food, Inc.

by lana lynne on 7-30-09
The issue of profit-over-people in the food industry is moving into the national spotlight with the movie Food, Inc. and its exposure 0f the policies and corporations that have corrupted the food supply and people's perspective on health.

One of the situations the filmmakers considered including in the film was the plight of the tomato farm workers in Immokalee, Florida and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They chose instead the equally-deserving-of-focus pork industry. Yet the film's major sponsor, the burrito chain Chipotle, is unwittingly bringing attention to the situation in Florida.

As detailed by Grist's Tom Philpott, Chipotle has refused to join other food businesses with a sustainable mindset (Whole Foods, Bon Appetit) in signing an agreement to pay one penny more per tomato, an increase that would go directly to the farm workers. The arrangement seeks to alleviate the abhorrent conditions of those currently working on the tomato farms. Coincidentally, a month ago, Chipotle received a letter criticizing its refusal to participate in the agreement, signed by activists, food writers, and Food, Inc.'s director and co-producer.

The irony of Chipotle's sponsorship of the film lies in what seems to be a typical contradiction in mass marketing: in this case, the film's distributor and production company decided how to market the film and what has resulted is profit for a company not fully behind the message of the movie.

Nevertheless, Philpott brings up a good point: "Ironically, by embracing Food, Inc., Chipotle is highlighting the whole vexed issue of how America treats the people who harvest and prepare its food—which is exactly what Kenner intended the film to do in the first place."

Read the entire article here.
Visit Food Inc.'s website here.
Visit the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' website here and read their take on Chipotle's actions and the "PR debacle."
Revisit recycled minds' post about tomato farms and slavery in south Florida here.

And go see the movie!

Monsanto Seed Failure in South Africa

South African farmers are experiencing what is being called a disaster, as upwards of 80% of the corn crop planted this year has failed to go to seed. Three varieties of Monsanto created corn have failed on over 82,000 hectares of farmland, resulting in millions of dollars of losses for farmers. Monsanto is reportedly blaming the lack of seed on problems of fertilization in the lab and is offering some compensation, although based on estimates of failure much less than is being claimed. According to an article in the Digital Journal, this is not satisfying many in South Africa: "Environmental activitist Marian Mayet, director of the Africa-centre for biosecurity in Johannesburg, demands an urgent government investigation and an immediate ban on all GM-foods, blaming the crop failure on Monsanto's genetically-manipulated technology."

Perhaps most disconcerting about this event is that one cannot tell there is a problem with the corn until it has matured and has been picked and peeled. Only then does it become apparent that there is no corn on the cob. This late-term discovery allows for no replanting and a potentially disastrous last minute shortage of a very important staple crop - a main food source in South Africa. This should be seen as a cautionary tale about the concerns of corporate control of our food supply.

The Minimum Wage, Bananas, and Coups

In an interview with journalist Nikolas Kozloff, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now exposes some interesting insights into the ousting of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya. While still in office, Zelaya raised the minimum wage in Honduras. According to,
On Dec. 23 [2008], Zelaya announced an increase in the minimum monthly wage, from 157 to 289 dollars, as of Jan. 1, except in the “maquiladora” plants that operate in duty-free zones for the assembly of exports, which he left free to negotiate with their workers.
This represents a substantial increase that threatened the viability of many businesses throughout the country. Still, this move illustrates Zelaya's commitment to the poor of his country. Again from the article:
According to Zelaya, the hike in the minimum wage “will force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.” He added, however, that “I am aware it must be raised even further.” “This is a government of great social transformations, committed to the poor,” he stated. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with a poverty rate of 70 percent according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Interestingly, Chaquita, an international corporation previously known as United Fruit Company, has significant holdings in Honduras and spoke out against the wage increase. According to Kozloff in the Democracy Now interview,
We know that prior to the coup d’état in Honduras, Chiquita was very unhappy about President Zelaya’s minimum wage decrees, because they said that this would cut into their profits and make it more expensive for them to export bananas and pineapple. And we know that they appealed to the Honduran Business Association, which was also opposed to Zelaya’s minimum wage provisions. And we also—and what I find really interesting is that Chiquita is allied to a Washington law firm called Covington, which advises multinational corporations. And who is the vice chairman of Covington? None other than John Negroponte, who your previous guest mentioned in regards to the rampant human rights abuses that went on in Honduras throughout the 1980s. So I think that’s a really interesting connection.
Kozloff goes on to discuss Chaquita's (and United Fruits') shady history in Latin America including its role in a coup in Guatemala and the funding of paramilitaries in Colombia. He further details connections between the Chaquita corporate elite and the U.S. government, raising into question the actual role and aims of Hillary Clinton in the negotiations to end the current crisis. Also disturbing in the piece is Amy Goodman's note that Costa Rican president Arias is worried that the situation could deteriorate into a civil war in Honduras.

Or listen to/watch the video below - Kozloff's interview starts at about 19 minutes in.

30 Years Later: the Sandanistas in Nicaragua

We're sharing another RealNews Network video - this one that discusses the history surrounding the Sandanista victory over a U.S.-backed dictator in Nicaragua on the 30th anniversary of the event. The Sandanistas have recently returned to power, although in a much lighter version. This short video explains what the Sandanista victory meant to the people, and what remains to be done.

For a longer (52 mins) video describing the background of the Sandanista revolution and the historical role of the U.S. government there, check out John Pilger's film here >>>

Less Stuff, More Meaning

Continuing in the same vein as our previous post, a nice essay on the relationship between production and consumption, by editor Don Fitz, came through Znet this week. In the essay, Fitz lays out a counteroffer to the common cry for "Consume Less!" -- instead of consuming less, Fitz argues that the U.S. should think about producing less. In this way, he attempts to solve the ideological divide between environmentalists and social justice activists:
These conceptual problems stem from progressives using corporate economic frameworks. The error is believing that there is a connection between the amount of production and the amount of consumption. The common misperception is that an increase in consumption requires increased production, and, conversely, a fall in production means there will be less available to consume.
Accepting corporate economics, environmentalists make the false conclusion that if CO2 levels are to drop, then people must consume less. Social justice activists mistakenly believe that putting people back to work and providing basic necessities for all requires an increase in production. Neither of these are true. The greatest decrease in CO2 levels would come with a change in production and requires no personal sacrifice. Increasing production would not guarantee enough jobs; but, changing production could.
How so? For goods, it all has to do with eliminating planned obsolescence. In the interwar years, producers realized that, for the first time ever, there were enough goods for everyone -- a kink in the system that they hadn't foreseen. To solve the issue, goods became less and less durable. (On a related note, one statistic I recently read stated that we would need 1.3 planet Earths to sustainably meet the needs of our current rate of consumption.) By reducing production and increasing quality, Fitz argues, people would be consuming more meaningfully.

Fitz goes on to detail how the model of reducing production would work in terms of militarism and the consumption of security, food, shelter, health care and transportation. By reducing corporate food production, for instance, there would be more food to consume. (This argument borrows from the local food movement.)

The argument and the numbers make sense on paper. Perhaps what still needs to be discussed is the social aspect of consumerism and how identities are forged through consumption (whether this be of goods or of concepts). Perhaps simply changing or modifying the structures wouldn't entirely fix the problems.

Click here to read Fitz's article, "We Can Produce Less and Consume More."

Spend Your Money Before it Rots: An Interview with Douglas Rushkoff

In a recent interview by new media artist Peggy Nelson, posted on Reality Sandwich, media ecologist Douglas Rushkoff talks about his new book, Beyond Life Inc. Starting with the origin of the "corporation" way back in the Middle Ages -- not as dark as we might have been led to believe -- Rushkoff traces the evolution of money was based on grain receipts, which meant it had to be spent as quickly as possible lest the grain rot or get eaten. Economies were based on local movement of money. Then currency became centralized by the king, and based on gold. In the mid-20th century, money became based on belief, which, as it turns out, has been pretty powerful.

In the midst of this discussion, Rushkoff brings up the rise of public relations, how corporations began to mediate the public's experiences beginning in the 1920s. (Although he doesn't make the connection in this interview, this mirrors the rise of modern consumer advertising, which started in the late 1800s.)

A particularly quotable part of the interview occurs in his discussion of the "science fiction" of our reality. He writes:
We've mistaken our jobs for work. We've mistaken our bank accounts for savings. We've mistaken our 401k investments for our future. We've mistaken our property for assets, and our assets for the world. We have these places where we live, then they become property that we own, then they become mortgages that we owe, then they become mortgage-backed loans that our pensions finance, then they become packages of debt, and so on and so on. We've been living in a world where the further up the chain of abstraction you operate, the wealthier you are.
An alternative to this model, he argues, is a modern barter system -- one that redefines work outside of the corporation, one where instead of money, tangible and useful actions or goods are swapped.

It's a thought-provoking piece, and the book should be interesting as well. Particularly because the book will be absent of the after-comments that do little to dispel rumors of theory's irrelevance.

Head on over to Reality Sandwich to read the interview.

Dali & Disney? It was Destino

On a less serious note, we would like to share this really interesting animated collaboration between the famed surrealist, Salvador Dali, and the inimitable folks at Disney. Put together in the 1940s, and not released until 2003, it recently popped up on youtube. It's actually a really interesting combination of the two styles telling a somewhat touching short story. Check it out while it's still available (it has gone down a couple times already):

Destino from only one on Vimeo.

Resisting the Coup in Honduras

Here, we share a short clip (11:00) from the Real News Network updating the latest on continued violence and increasing resistance to the coup in Honduras. This offers the controversies surrounding the coup, and gives some insights into what is happening on the ground, which apparently includes a growing resistance movement that is facing crackdowns from their own national government. What's interesting is that the movement includes people who are both for and against President Zelaya, and are mobilizing in protest of such a bold military-backed affront to democracy.

Censorship in Honduras

We're going to stay on the Honduras theme today, as events continue to play out there, and a culmination of sorts about to take place as expelled president Zelaya plans his return on Sunday, July 5. The events in Honduras has sparked a flurry of interest across the net as well as in academic circles. A university listserve I belong to has been active on the topic with some defending the coup on constitutional grounds, while others, of course, denounce the anti-democratic nature of events there. One professor of archaeology has been in Honduras since may and has criticized international press coverage as incredibly inadequate and even misleading. There have been protests, crackdowns, curfews and even murders reported. I'd like to share an article forwarded over the LASolidarity listserv that details the media censorship that has been taking place:
No Press Freedom in Post-Coup Honduras
Medea Benjamin

When José David Ellner Romero heard the soldiers breaking down the door of the Globo radio station on the evening of the June 28 coup, he had a flashback. His mind conjured up the terrible images from the 1980s, when he was arrested by the military, thrown into an underground prison and tortured. “I couldn’t stand the thought of going through that hell again, so I got out on the ledge of the windowsill and jumped,” Elner told our International Emergency Delegation. His fractured shoulder, ribs and bruises were minor given that he jumped from the third floor.

The owner of the station, Alejandro Villatoro, was thrown to the ground by soldiers who put their guns to his head and demanded to know where the transmitter was. Villatoro also happens to be a deputy in the National Assembly from the governing Liberal Party, but that didn’t afford him special treatment. While Villatoro was not a fan of deposed President Mel Zelaya, he believes in free speech and always guaranteed his employees that freedom. After the military invaded and censored his station, he now supports Zelaya’s return. “If this new government says it’s for democracy, then why is it censoring the press? This is the 21st century,” he told us. “We shouldn’t have coups and censorship and thugs running the country.”

Radio Globo is now back on the air, but one of its most critical programs, Hable como habla, is still banned and the host of the show, Eduardo Maldonado, is in hiding. And every now and then, like when they broadcast an interview with the deposed president, their signal is suddenly blocked.

Reporter Luis Galdamez, who hosts a show on Radio Globo, is back on the air but the military told him not to criticize the new government. He refuses to buckle, but he’s scared. “I get death threats every day. I don’t even read my text messages anymore, they’re so grotesque” he said. On our insistence, he pulled out his iphone and randomly picked from the 64 new messages he had. “We’re watching you,” the message read. “We know where you live and how many children you have. If you keep talking shit, we’re going to hang you and cut out your tongue for talking shit. Remember what happened in the 80s.”

Galdamez, a single father, is under tremendous pressure. At night, he sees cars without license plates outside his house, rifles pointing out the window. He wants to leave the country, but doesn’t know where he and his children could go.

Another radio station under attack is Radio Progreso in the city of Progreso. Four hours after the coup around 25 soldiers stormed into the studios of the community-based station and closed it down. Hundreds of local people quickly gathered to defend the station and demand that the military leave. Thanks to the tremendous outpouring of support, Radio Progreso opened the next day, Monday, but by Tuesday the soldiers were back again. The station is now transmitting clandestinely.

While the coup leaders say they are bringing back democracy by deposing an autocratic president, their first actions after kidnapping the president and flying him to Costa Rica was to keep the public in the dark. At the time of the coup on June 28, they cut the electricity and when it came back on four hours later, news programs had been replaced by music shows, soap operas, sports and cooking lessons.

By day two, most TV and radio stations were back on the air, but the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) notified cable TV operators of a ban on broadcasting certain international TV stations such as Telesur, Cubavisión Internacional and CNN Español. The pro-Zelaya Channels 36, 45 and 50 were also banned, their studios surrounded by soldiers. Another TV station not allowed to broadcast was Canal 66 Maya TV. "They've taken off the air everyone who does not support the coup," said Santos Gonzalez, a Channel 50 reporter.

The owner of Channel 36, Esdras Amado Lopez, received threats that he would be arrested and went into hiding. A week after the coup, the station was still shut and surrounded by soldiers. The government-operated Channel 8, located inside the heavily guarded presidential palace, was taken off the air but was back in business on Wednesday—transmitting the new government’s propaganda. All of the TV stations are now decidedly pro-coup, devoting significant coverage to demonstrations in favor of the new government while ignoring or minimizing mass rallies supporting Zelaya.

The only reason there is not more press censorship in Honduras today is because most of the media—TV, print and radio—is owned by businesspeople who support the coup. Edgardo Dumas, publisher of the large circulation daily La Tribuna and the country’s former Defense Minister, claims that rumors about censorship are “totally and absolutely false.” In a July 2 interview with W Radio in Bogotá, Colombia, Dumas claimed, “I don’t see any limit on freedom of the press. The four newspapers are putting out impartial and true news. No TV or radio station has been interfered with." When asked why CNN was cut, he said it was “misinforming” the public and was “on the payroll of the dictator of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.”

The more educated Hondurans are now seeking information from the internet and text messages, but most Hondurans are getting a daily dose of pro-coup propaganda and journalists who oppose the government are doing so at great risk to themselves and their families.

The Honduran people should have the right to know what their new leaders, in the name of democracy, are doing to destroy the very basic foundations of a democratic system—a free press.

Medea Benjamin ( is cofounder of Global Exchange ( and CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( <> ). She is part of a delegation an International Emergency Delegation to Honduras that includes members of Nonviolence International, Global Exchange, CODEPINK and Rights Action. For more information or to join the delegation, contact

photo from Latin American Solidarity Coalition - visit them for more pics and info.