Monday, May 5, 2008

Why Are Children Picking Our Food?

My friend Anne once asked me if it was hard for my family to find places to eat when on vacation. The answer is yes if I want to live up to my values and if I want Caroline to eat. When we were in Arizona, we ate incredible meals of rattlesnake beans, tepary beans, and buffalo. Caroline mostly picked at these unfamiliar foods. Given twenty more introductions, she might have decided to eat them enthusiastically or at least give them a try. But we didn't have the luxury of spending three weeks trying cactus paddle cooked three ways. At every buffet and airport quick-stop, we did however, manage to find a colorful mix of watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and grapes. This no-fail fruit medley became my go-to food for our 9 days in Arizona. I knew that Caroline would eat it but, as I learned from Norma Flores, a speaker at the 2008 Food and Society conference, it did not align with my values. Not only was it not locally grown or organic, it most likely was harvested by children. What are children doing picking our food? Congress has specifically authorized an exemption to child labor laws that makes it legal in this country to exploit children of migrant farmworkers so that we may all enjoy supposedly cheap food. According to the Association for Farmworker Opportunities Programs, these children work to supplement their families' incomes which average $12,500 - $14,500 - far below the poverty line. In about a month, when school lets out for the summer, many children 12-17 years old will be working in the fields under harsh and dangerous conditions, exposed to 100 degree heat, chemicals, and dangerous equipment. This reality is a direct result of a food system in which the true cost of food remains unknown to most eaters. The director at the childcare center told me that she cannot afford more than $1.00 per pound for any type of produce. How much of this gets into the hands of migrant farmworkers so that their children don't have to work in the fields? Child labor laws in the United States must include the children of migrant farmworkers. But this is not enough. Migrant farmworkers and others who work day in and day out to put food on our table must be paid a living wage so their children do not have help supplement their families' incomes. Grapes are on the menu tomorrow but I will send blueberries with Caroline. Besides the fact that grapes tend to have high pesticide residues, I don't know any grape farmers. But I do know that my blueberries were grown by Bruce Walton, a biodynamic farmer in Frankfort, Michigan. When I bought the blueberries from Bruce last summer, I didn't know to ask questions about his labor practices. But when blueberries are in season, I will ask him if he uses migrant labor, if they are paid a fair wage, and if he uses children to pick his crop. It is virtually impossible, at least for me, to be able to ask these questions to every farmer that grew the food that my family eats. But when I can, I will.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, May 6: Breakfast - pearsauce, whole wheat bagel, sunflower butter; Lunch - tofu cubes, 100% whole grain bread, blueberries (frozen, Walton Orchards), mixed vegetables (frozen, Stahlbush Family Farms); Snacks - banana bread, Minneola tangerine

Childcare Center Menu, May 6: Breakfast - applesauce, wheat bagel, cream cheese; Lunch - hard shell turkey tacos with lettuce, cheese, and salsa, grapes; Snacks - watermelon, pound cake

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