In Kelsey Timmerman’s book, Where Am I Eating, he travels the globe in search of answers about where our food comes from. He travels to Columbia, where most of our coffee is imported. He travels to West Africa, in search of where cocoa, one of the main ingredients in chocolate, is imported. He travels to Costa Rica, where most of America’s bananas are imported.
He travels to Nicaragua, where most of America’s lobsters are imported. He travels to China, where two-thirds of apple juice sold in America is made from Chinese apple concentrate. Timmerman 199). During his travels, he searches for information about the living conditions of these men and women who produce these goods, how much do they earn as opposed to what the product sells for, and how can we improve society’s way of acquiring these goods. After reading this book, I have come to the conclusion that society is in desperate need of a change. The methods by which these imports are harvested and acquired are very disheartening.
American society needs to address how our imports outweigh our exports so heavily, how corporate giants are taking advantage of these less privileged regions, and how the living conditions and working environments in the places mentioned above are immoral and unethical. In any strong economy, an appropriate export to import ratio is needed. Growing up in America, I have seen the struggles of farmers in America, and have also seen ways in which society should change. My father and uncle both farm, and members of my family have farmed for a living for many generations.
My father farms bell peppers and many other types of vegetables, but his main crop are bell peppers. I have witnessed firsthand how hard it is for American farmers to make a living due to the strict regulations held here in America that do not apply in other countries that produce the same product. If America was to have maintained the domestic market share of produce it held from 1998-2000, it would have created $4. 9 billion in additional farming income and created 89,000 more jobs for our communities in 2012; also, U. S. GDP would have been $12. 4 billion higher in 2012. renewoureconomy. org).
In America, we have a minimum wage that is much higher than some competing countries that ultimately end up making American produce more expensive. For example, the American minimum wage is $7. 25 an hour, while a typical laborer in Mexico, which is a large producer of bell pepper, typically earns eight to twelve dollars per workday (graphics. latimes. com). Due to the lack of standards enforced globally requiring fair wages for workers, countries such as Mexico, can produce their product for much less than American farmers.
Some may ask, what is wrong with importing a product for less as opposed to paying more and buying local; well, with cheaper prices comes cheaper products. Less than three percent of imported produce is inspected before being sold to American consumers. (Timmerman 201). There are stricter guidelines that must be followed by American farmers that do not apply to other countries. Standards such as pesticides, proper planting and growing of produce, and treatment after the produce is picked is much higher in America.
American farmers dedicate their lives to feeding America, yet are struggling to operate and survive due to companies choosing the cheaper product over a quality product. The American government offers subsidies to American farmers, although seventy-five percent of these subsidies go to the wealthiest farms in America. Your local farmer who brings his harvest to the farmer’s market is struggling. He’s struggling to provide for his family while trying to provide a better quality of food to the American population; however, our government sits back and watches silently.
How do we keep American farmers in business and provide a better quality of produce to America? We start by demanding a fair wage be paid to workers globally. The corporations who prey on less privileged nations for their product should be taxed accordingly. In America, we place an emphasis on quantity over quality in today’s time. Change will not occur until the society demands it so. Another way society would benefit from change would be to implementing economic democracy, which lends more control to the workers, consumers, and holds corporations more accountable.
Corporate giants, such as Starbucks, take advantage of lesser-privileged and developed regions. Starbucks is the one of the most recognized coffee industries throughout the developed world. You see celebrities, TV show host, and normal people every day drinking their products. However, what people do not see is the way by which Starbucks acquires their coffee. In Timmerman’s book, Where Am I Eating, he discusses the astonishing truth to how Starbucks acquires their coffee. Since 1991, global coffee revenue rose from 30 billion to nearly 70 billion. Yet percentages kept by the producer have fallen from 40% to 10% (Timmerman 25).
Coffee consumption has risen dramatically over the years, however, the people who produce this product, such as those in Colombia, see less and less reward for their product. I believe there should be a minimum placed on the price per kilo of coffee. Right now corporations can pay almost anything they want due to the need of money by these individuals producing coffee. By placing a minimum, which is a set price that states a product cannot be sold below, would provide better lives to those producing this coffee and give them an ability to negotiate prices based on the quality of their product.
Starbucks prices their coffees at a quality price, however, they pay much less than a quality price for their coffee beans. How these corporations are allowed to take advantage of such less privileged people and are not held accountable is baffling to me. Then I remember we live in a society that has a mindset of if it doesn’t affect me, why should I care? Until consumers and their governments hold these corporations accountable, change will be a word with meaningless value.
It could be agreed upon that slavery and the mistreatment of human beings is unacceptable and immoral, yet slaves and mistreated people provide the products we consume. This brings us back to how society doesn’t feel the need for change if they are not witnessing the despicable treatment of others. When is one considered a slave? I would use Solo’s story, who is the man from the Ivory Coast in Timmerman’s book, as an example of a slave. Yes, he is paid, and yes, he is not whipped and beaten, that we know of, in order to gain compliance; however, what is taken away from him are his basic human rights.
He is not allowed to leave unless given permission from his master; he is told when and how much he will work, and ultimately, his livelihood resolves around the needs of his master. The people of the Ivory Coast provide Fifty-two percent of cocoa used for chocolate in America (Timmerman 74) There is a high possibility that the chocolate bar you may have had last week, yesterday, or will eat tomorrow was provided by a slave or someone who is mistreated and not valued as a human being.
Why is there no outcry for these individuals? In David G. Myer’s short story, “In-group and Out-group”, he speaks on how we can consider ourselves better than others that are not in our group. In his story he says, “Because we evaluate ourselves partly in terms of our group memberships, seeing our own groups as superior helps us fell good about ourselves. ” (Myers 105). There is no outcry because we as a society are not inclined to care about someone we do not know or do not consider to be in our group. In China, where two-thirds of America’s concentrate for apple juice is imported, the average worker makes around $2 per day, and works in less than acceptable conditions.
Every year in China, there are thousands of deaths due to the lack of education of technology, machinery, and working environments (csmonitor. com). If America is going to continue to import these goods instead of growing them ourselves, we must educate others and not allow our imports to come off the backs of slave-laborers. By continuing to import goods from countries whose values are immoral and force their workers to live in horrible conditions, we are enabling them to continue to do so. In order for society to change, we must demand better from corporations in America and the U. S. overnment.
In Milton Friedman’s short story “The relationship between economic freedom and political freedom”, he says, “It is entirely appropriate that men make sacrifices to advocate causes in which they deeply believe. ” (Friedman 64). I believe what Friedman is trying to say is that what may need to be done for change is not always comfortable and easy. After reading Where Am I Eating, there is no doubt that society is in need of change. America’s import and export ratio, corporate greed, and the working and living conditions of individuals providing these goods must be improved upon.
America, since the 1900s, has always led from the front and given the rest of the developed world standards by which to follow. Not only has our government closed their eyes to the people who provide these imports, but also so have the American people. The American people have to become more vigilant and aware of these issues or we are no different from the people taking advantage of others. Buy local, be conscious of what you are buying, demand change, and change will eventually come.