Sunday, December 2, 2007

Weekend Update

Not one penny more!

That's what Burger King is saying to the lowly tomato pickers of Florida, who have negotiated with other fast-food chains to be rewarded 1-cent-per-pound raise for their work supplying the nation's tomatoes.

Florida farm workers had gotten McDonald's and Yum! brands on board with this tiny recognition of the work performed by mostly immigrant and poor workers. But Burger King has balked, joining the Florida Tomato Growers Association in opposing the deal.

Florida workers earn about 45 cents for filling a 32-pound bucket. That can mean upward of $11 an hour for those who hustle to fill more than 200 buckets a day. But work is not guaranteed, and tomato pickers get neither health insurance nor overtime. Most field workers are immigrants, many of them here illegally.

So what would one little penny cost the corporate fast-food giants?

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, weighed in at the New York Times with a scathing rebuke of the food robber barons:

Three private equity firms — Bain Capital, the Texas Pacific Group and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners — control most of Burger King’s stock. Last year, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd C. Blankfein, earned the largest annual bonus in Wall Street history, and this year he stands to receive an even larger one. Goldman Sachs has served its investors well lately, avoiding the subprime mortgage meltdown and, according to Business Week, doubling the value of its Burger King investment within three years.

Telling Burger King to pay an extra penny for tomatoes and provide a decent wage to migrant workers would hardly bankrupt the company. Indeed, it would cost Burger King only $250,000 a year. At Goldman Sachs, that sort of money shouldn’t be too hard to find. In 2006, the bonuses of the top 12 Goldman Sachs executives exceeded $200 million — more than twice as much money as all of the roughly 10,000 tomato pickers in southern Florida earned that year. Now Mr. Blankfein should find a way to share some of his company’s good fortune with the workers at the bottom of the food chain.

Marc R. at Ethicurean was equally outraged:

According to Burger King’s most recent proxy statement, CEO John Childers received $4.1 million and North American President Charles Fallon received $1.8 million in total compensation for fiscal 2007. The tomato pickers earn an average of $10,000 per year — or less — without benefits like health insurance (you can be sure that Burger King’s executives receive top-flight insurance for themselves and their families). At the current per-pound rate, workers must pick more than 2.5 tons of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical backbreaking 10-hour day.

What do you suppose would happen if we all ordered our Whoppers without the tomato. Or maybe, just don't eat at Burger King...


Elsewhere on the how-can-we-screw-the-little-guy front...

While Congress is scurrying to find the cash to fund all those famous crop subsidy payments in the U.S. Farm Bill, it has has been little noted that the big losers in the Big Ag money grab may be mothers with small children. They normally are the beneficiaries of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a program that provides nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating, and health care referrals to millions of low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and hungry children under age five.

The problem is, WIC is not an entitlement program. Congress sets aside a certain amount to fund the program. But if the cost of food goes up (and it has) and the number of people seeking help rises (it has) someone has to get squeezed out.

We've already seen how U.S. food banks and international food aid programs are failing to keep up with the rising cost of food versus need (thanks again to the ethanol and bio-fuel craze for jacking up the price of food).

Now the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--the most authoritative voice in the country on federal nutrition assistance policy--issued a report describing how budget pressures and rising food prices may deny WIC benefits to hundreds of thousands of low-income women and their babies. (Thanks, Mulch Blog.)

For two years in a row [FY 2006 & 2007] the per-participant cost of WIC foods had actually declined. Since the budget was developed, however, dairy prices have soared, and they are expected to remain elevated in fiscal year 2008. Milk and cheese account for about 40 percent of WIC food expenditures. Prices have also risen to high levels for juice and eggs, which account for another 25 percent of WIC food costs. As a result of higher food prices, it will cost significantly more than the Administration had anticipated to serve each WIC participant in fiscal year 2008.

Based on current food prices (and the latest estimates of food prices for the rest of fiscal year 2008), the funding level provided in the President’s budget would serve an average monthly caseload of only 7.97 million participants, significantly fewer than the Administration intended. Moreover, participation has risen somewhat in recent months as WIC food prices have spiked, making it more difficult for low-income families to afford these foods without assistance, and as unemployment has started to climb. The program served 8.48 million participants in the final quarter of fiscal year 2007, the most recent period for which data are available. Thus, the number of women, infants, and children that the program serves is 510,000 above the number who could be served under the funding level in the President’s budget.

Given a choice between maintaining subsidies to big farmland owners or continuing food support to women and children, which way do you suppose Congress will vote?


The Center for Science in the Public Interest says you should be worried about the food your child is eating at school. Very worried.

The CSPI recently gave 20 of the nation's 50 states a big fat "F" for food nutrition policies that either fall way short of what's needed or don't exist at all.

Only two states--Kentucky and Oregon--earned the best grade giving by CSPI: an "A-."

Meanwhile, only 2 percent of all children eat a healthy diet and obesity rates have tripled in the last 20 years. Still, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that sugary drinks, snack cakes, candy and chips continue to be sold at about one-third of the country’s elementary schools, 71 percent of middle schools and 89 percent of high schools.

“Over the last ten years, states have been strengthening their school nutrition policies,” said Margo G. Wootan, the CSPI’s director of nutrition policy. “But overall, the changes, while positive, are fragmented, incremental, and not happening quickly enough to reach all children in a timely way.”

“You would think that with all the concern about childhood obesity that getting junk food and soda out of schools would be easy,” said Mary Lou Hennrich, who led the effort to improve nutrition in Oregon schools. “But, it took us six years of hard work to pass our school nutrition legislation.”
Hennrich is executive director of the Community Health Partnership: Oregon’s Public Health Institute.

The CSPI report card graded states as follows: A-minus (Kentucky, Oregon), B-plus (Nevada, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Washington, New Mexico), B (New Jersey, Arizona, Tennessee), B-minus (Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida), C-plus (Hawaii), C (Maine, Mississippi, Illinois, District of Columbia), C-minus (Colorado, South Carolina), D-plus (New York, Maryland, North Carolina), D (Oklahoma, Virginia), D-minus (Indiana, Georgia), F (Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming).


But you can get a healthy meal at a restaurant, right?

Well, maybe not.

Researchers at Clemson University recently surveyed some 300 professional chefs and found that most of them not only have no idea what a healthy portion size is but think that calories in food don't matter nearly as much to diner's health as fat content.

The study, published in the August issue of Obesity, found big differences between what chefs consider a regular portion compared to the standard serving sizes dictated by the United States Department of Agriculture. For instance, when chef's were asked to describe a portion size for penne pasta, it was often six to eight times as large as the 1-ounce size recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Further, nearly half the chefs say they typically serve 12-ounce steaks, when the USDA says daily meat consumption should not exceed 5.5 ounces. Only 41 percent said calories consumed are the biggest influence on a person's weight.

And are we to infer that these chefs were professionally trained?


And while chefs are serving up huge slabs of meat to a grateful restaurant clientele, hardly anyone is bothering to eat their whole grains

The USDA (they're just about everywhere, aren't they?) has published a report finding that only 7 percent of people are eating whole grains the way they should be. Mostly, those are the same people who read food labels and worry about nutrition. In other words, those people you saw in line at the last Barbara Kingsolver book signing.

Apparently, most Americans are sticking with those nasty refined grains that put the puff in Kispy Kreme donuts. And could we have another slice of white bread to go with those pork ribs?

Bon appetit...

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