Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Farmworker Victory Makes Fast Food a Little More Appetizing

Greetings from the Seattle-Tacoma airport!  I've just finished a training with the CRS Fair Trade program and a series of meetings with colleagues and allies who make the Pacific Northwest their home.  In addition to business meetings, I got to catch up with my artist friend Krissy Maier, who helped me and others at the Fair Trade Federation and Fair Trade Resource Network pull off the Fair Trade Futures conference  a few years ago.  Krissy now owns her own jewelry making business, Orange Box, and I proudly sported one of her rings while sipping the mandatory latte in this city of java.  It REALLY is true that Seattle is a coffee town-- I ended up my stay with quite an appreciation for latte art.  It is a amazing--even a bit scary--what a Barista can do with a cup full of foam.

Beyond a caffeine buzz,  I was also jazzed by time with the likes of Scott James, who runs Fair Trade Sports, a socially responsible enterprise that personifies the ethos of doing well by doing good.  Scott and his team work to make sure that athletes can embody the values of good sportsmanship by using adult-made sports balls that are environmentally friendly.  My CRS colleague, Katy, and I were also treated to a tremendous amount of chocolate and a tour of the factory of Theo Chocolate, the first roaster of Fair Trade certified cocoa beans in the United States.  Founder Joe Whitney got involved in the chocolate business when working with cacao farmers.  When he didn't get any response to a letter-writing campaign asking major chocolate companies to source their cocoa beans responsibly, he decided to start his own company.  If you are in Seattle, be sure to get a reservation for the factory tour.  

But what does this have to do with fast food?  Well, after a great trip enjoying the highest quality coffee and chocolate, I am now faced with dinner from a food court.  I love to travel and I know many people are struggling for one meal these days, so please don't hear this as complaining.  But for somebody who tries to avoid encouraging industrial agriculture, eating out can be a challenging experience.  Now, thanks to the advocacy campaigns of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers   major fast food chains such as McDonalds, Taco Bell and, most recently, Burger King have agreed to pay a net penny per pound more to farmworkers for the tomatoes they harvest.  That makes digesting the 7 layer burrito I just ate a little easier. 

One more penny a pound for grueling work doesn't totally solve my current version of the "Omnivore's Dilemma," but it does give us an example of how grassroots activism can make corporations do the right thing.  That's thinking outside the bun I can get behind. 


  1. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Supporting Fair Trade is important but the concept can be taken a step further. At Peruvian Chocolate, we import chocolates from Peru. They are made in the same region as the farmers who farm cacao. Large chocolate companies are more interested in getting people talking about the health benefits of chocolate instead of the dark side to chocolate present in Africa.

    Our brand, La Orquidea, is sold at Whole Foods on River Road in Bethesda, MD. We are trying to take the next step in Fair Trade. Firstly, the factory was built in Tarapoto Peru in 1998 when the international market was not paying a fair price for cacao (most companies still do not pay a fair price). The factory pays a fair price for the cacao to the farmers and has training sessions for farmers to improve their growing practices.

    By making the chocolates in Peru, fair paying jobs are provided in a region of Peru that needs sustainable alternatives to coca farming.

    Fair trade is a good start, but does it really enable those in developing countries to move beyond a farming economy?

    Most "Fair Trade" chocolate is manufactured in Europe. Your posting has the first roaster in the US, which is nice. Nice does not enable communities to develop, though, and this is what we want to change.

    La Orquidea chocolates use local ingredients from Peru. There is a Milk Chocolate and Quinoa variety, one with Kiwicha, another with Brazil nuts and another with pecans. Making the chocolates where the raw materials are reduces the impact on the environment as well. We are a small company that is trying to do what is right not what is easy.

    Peru has a history of exporting raw materials, not finished products, and this has caused the economy to stagnate somewhat. Exports increase and the economy is said to be growing, however the people of Peru do not feel the growth in their pocket books and wallets. Jobs outside of Lima are hard to find outside of agriculture so Peruvians flock to Lima where they have a poorer standard of living, since so many come in search of work but there are not enough positions. Keeping jobs in the provincial parts of Peru allows for a decentralization from Lima, preserving the special cultures and customs of provincial Peru.

    Cacao originated in the Amazon region, which covers much of eastern Peru, and was brought north to Mexico. There is no local chocolate on the market, the cacao at least has to come from the tropical region of the world. We are as local as you can get with chocolate.

  2. www.peruvianchocolate.com

  3. Dan,

    Thanks so much for telling the story of Peruvian Chocolate (which I will make a point of checking out at the River Road WF) and articulating so well the potential of models beyond Fair Trade. I agree that Fair Trade can be taken a step further...several steps actually. Your model of in-country production, the farmer ownership model of Divine chocolate and Oke bananas, and even some versions of "direct trade" are what we need in order to create companies and use our consumer dollars in a way that addresses injustice in the supply chain and the economic system.

    Thanks for posting!