On October 13, 2016, Nick Lavars from New Atlas wrote a piece on the effects of climate change on food; instead of the expected exploration of devastation of climate change on food security, this article discussed the possible ways that this global issue has a silver lining.
With the advent of the negative impacts of global climate change starting to set in, people are very concerned about the future possibilities of food insecurity; the stakes are especially high as the human population continues to grow, and more available food will be necessary to support the increase. This is made difficult by the impending heating, "storms...droughts, and floods" that will impact the way our agricultural systems function and plants grow (Lavars). For instance, Iowan corn cannot reproduce if it has to withstand more than 3 days of 95-degree heat during the summer; however, scientists predict that by 2040 such heat waves will occur in "three summers out of four," if the predicted heating trajectory continues (Hertsgaard). This could be a very serious issue, especially for Americans who have a profound interdependence on the crop (Pollan 23).
Although there are severe implications of climate change on many of the crops that we depend on, there may actually be some regions of the world that benefit from climate change: for one, Ethiopia.
"A new study closely examining its effects on Ethiopia's Blue Nile Basin has uncovered exactly that in the form of projected increases in rainfall, which could spur greater crop yields and large-scale hydro-power projects in the region."
An increased access to water is very significant for the agriculture of this region, especially since Africa is often known for its arid, dry seasons. It would allow for longer growing seasons and thus increased crop yields, but this gain doesn't come without costs. Increased rainfall means increased erosion in the Blue Nile Basin, which would "reduce the capacity and efficiency of dams, reservoirs and hydro-power projects" (Lavars). This presents an interesting question; in which industries can we best reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change? It's a consideration that challenges our priorities in regards to how we think about people in their environments.
Feeding the world is prioritized over all else in most cases; it is number 2 in the UN's list of Sustainable Development Goals. As a subcategory of agriculture in general, "livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases" (Bittman). So as climate change creates obstacles in achieving the goal of feeding the world, and food creates problems regarding climate change, this paradox opens opportunities to creatively solve complex issues - and it creates even more. As with the Ethiopian example, while we will be able to grow more food in this region, efforts at using sustainable energy sources to reduce our climate impact might be thwarted. The complexity of such negative feedback loops is what makes climate change such a daunting issue. Finding ways to feed the world and addressing climate issues go hand-in-hand, and they are priorities for everyone who has to share this Earth.
McDonaldization: "Fast-food chains like KFC and Arby’s are fixing a big customer service problem — and it's paying off"
In light of the recent opening of several Chick-Fil-A restaurants in Michigan (including Lansing), I was inspired to find an article related to this company and how McDonaldization does or does not affect it. On October 22, 2016, Business Insider published an article online about the quality of customer service at this fast food chain, and how it is influencing other companies to change.
In the article - "Fast-food chains like KFC and Arby’s are fixing a big customer service problem - and it's paying off" - Kate Taylor writes that Chick-Fil-A has an increasing number of franchises and growing profits as it expands across the United States. This phenomenon is attributed to the exceptional customer service that people receive from this fast-food chain. Originating in the south, the restaurants provide exceptional service to live up to the standard of "Southern hospitality" that is stereotypically true of the region (Taylor). The quality of service has become a factor that other McDonaldized fast-food chains are using to attract more customers and improve their overall dining experiences.
This focus on quality of service is interesting in contrast to the excerpts from George Ritzer's book, The McDonaldization of Society. He argues that in many situations where McDonaldization is present, "the consumer spends an increasingly significant amount of time and energy doing unpaid labor" (72). Chick-Fil-A, to the contrary, may do a bit more work for the customer; on my visit to the Lansing location, employees continually patrolled the busy floors, and offered assistance with cleaning up when we were finished. This more personalized experience counters the often dehumanized, impersonal, and apathetic employees that consumers find in other fast food chains (Ritzer 27).
Thus, chains like Arby's and KFC have been working to better train and support their employees both within and without their work lives. Since McDonaldized chains have the feature of calculability in their business models, it means that employees often obtain "little or no personal meaning from their work" (72). Instead of just telling workers what to do, they become "engaged very differently when you're telling them why'" (Taylor). Arby's has seen definitive increases in satisfaction and profits since they implemented these new trainings.
In some ways, these programs work against the McDonaldization model; they allow space for individuality and intrinsic motivation within the employees, and create a sense of being appreciated within the customers who return there. While there are many problematic things that these McDonaldized companies still do (industrial-scale agriculture and animal slaughter, promote low-quality, unhealthy foods and large portion sizes, etc.), moving away from a model in which the people involved are dehumanized is an excellent step in the right direction.
Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. SAGE Publications, 19 April 2012. Print.
Taylor, Kate. "Fast-food chains like KFC and Arby’s are fixing a big customer service problem — and it's
paying off." Business Insider, 22 October 2016. Web.
On October 7, 2016, The New York Times published an article by Sendhil Mullainathan called "Sending Potatoes to Idaho? How the Free Market Can Fight Poverty."
When people think of the free market, they usually don't think of the alleviation of poverty. Generally, poverty and hunger are issues left for governmental intervention, but in 2005 a new system of organization arose within food banks across America. Until 2005, Feeding America gave the newest donations to the "food bank that had been waiting for new supplies the longest" (Mullainathan). This sounds fair, but often the supplies were sent to the wrong food banks. So, over time, the organization realized that they could create a "virtual currency" that could be distributed across food banks, and ones with the greatest need could have the most of this "currency" (Mullainathan). This system not only allowed for greater efficiency, but its near textbook replication of an equitable free market creates a system that benefits everyone.
Although I never would have guessed that this approach would work, it seems to resolve several issues addressed by the authors of today's readings. First of all, Tracy McMillan mentions - in "Do Poor People Eat Badly Because of Food Deserts or Personal Preference?" - that the journalists play up the divide between a lack of access to food and the individual power everyone has to choose their food. The lines between "right wing (individualistic) and left wing (social) ideology" do not create a nuanced view of the problem, but instead make for "sexier headlines" (McMillan). A system like the one described in the the New York Times article not only addresses systemic issues of access, but also allows the recipients some choices for their meals.
In the Julia Guthman article, "Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice," she mentions how one of her students noticed that the organization they worked for was "too wedded to localism" (441). An organization too focused on localism can often create a "defensive, xenophobic" community, which can create stagnation within a community (Guthman 436). With Feeding America, the program is often delocalized, which allows for greater variety in each region. Instead of just keeping potato donations within Idaho, these can be sent elsewhere in the country to provide more people with this wholesome food (Mullainathan).
There is often inequity in the free market due to the Darwinist ideology that accompanies the concept. However, Feeding America has found a way to make it work. It turns out that using "the market as a tool without embracing an entire ideology" can be beneficial for all involved (Mullainathan).
Guthman, Julie. "Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice."
cultural geographies, 2008. Web.
McMillan, Tracie. "Do poor people eat badly because of limited options or personal preference?" Slate, 27
June 2012. Web.
Mullainathan, Sendhil. "Sending Potatoes to Idaho? How the Free Market Can Fight Poverty." New York
Times, 7 October 2016. Web.
On September 20, 2016, Robert Holly from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting published an article discussing the inhumane housing options provided for migrant workers, especially in Michigan.
Many investigations surrounding the working and living conditions of Latinx migrant farm workers tend to center geographically on the southwestern United States, particularly California. This makes sense because California has the largest agricultural output of any state (although this seems odd with the desertlike conditions that the state is prone to). However, Michigan is a big agricultural producer; agriculture is the third largest industry in Michigan. High levels of production require either a) lots of labor, or b) lots of mechanization. Labor is often the more convenient and economical option for large agricultural companies like Monsanto and DuPont since they invest so much in the genetic manufacture of their seeds. Furthermore, the most economic option for them is to hire cheap labor; this generally equates to the labor from South American (sometimes illegal) immigrants.
If the worries of being an undocumented immigrant aren't enough, imagine dealing with the "difficult and dangerous working conditions" migrants face in the fields each day, "including high risks of heatstroke, dehydration and exposure to toxic pesticides" (Holly). Furthermore, these people have to deal with the wretched labor camps offered by these big ag companies. Many migrant workers describe them as cramped, uncleanly, and ridiculously priced. Many residents face insect infestations, limited bathing/showering opportunities, and have little access to cooking areas. In conjunction, these conditions create a sweet spot for health problems.
While there have been several reforms (or at least attempts at reform) since the 1960's, little has actually been improved for these invaluable workers. They suffer low wages, poor health, and discrimination/racism, all for the benefit of large agriculture companies (Holly). Although many of these companies could claim that inexpensive labor by exploited people is what keeps food prices down, this has actually been contested by journalist Tracie McMillan in her book, The American Way of Eating. (It seems odd to me that we need to contest this statement on economic terms, rather than on the complete immorality of the position.) She says that "increasing farm wages by 40 percent would increase the average American family's produce bill by about sixteen dollars a year" (McMillan 29). This is not a steep price to pay for rights for migrant workers; in all, it equates to about four cents a day.
However, it seems that companies like DuPont and Monsanto have no real incentive to change their ways and improve the lives of their workers. Holly closes his article with a message to state governments (and the everyday people who elect these leaders): "The big picture is that states must hire more inspectors, impose heftier fines and allocate funding to build better housing for farmworkers." This is the only way to move forward and improve the lives of the people that move much of our American food from farm to table.
Holly, Robert. "Inside DuPont and Monsanto's Migrant Labor Camps." In These Times, 20 September
McMillan, Tracie. The American Way of Eating. Scribner, 2012. Print.
On September 9, 2016, Sadie Stein contributed an article to the New York Times that looks historically at the dietary changes that occurred at the American dinner table during the Depression Era.
Many Americans suffered from hunger during this period, as may be infered from the "some 85,000 meals a day" handed out in New York bread lines by 1931 (Stein). These bread lines were not a stable infrastructure, however, with their "dubious nutritional standards and uncertain supplies" (Stein). Stein writes, "[Diseases] of malnutrition were rampant. The effects of vitamin deficiency could be felt into the war years, when a startling number of young draftees failed their physicals." Since the country was in desperate need of nutrition, "domestic scientists, recipe testers, efficiency experts and nutritionists" - all food scientists of sorts - banded together to innovate and educate American homemakers (Stein). These discussions of influencing homemakers made me think of Laura Shapiro's Something from the Oven; now, instead of industry trying to change the consumption habits of female homemakers, U.S. administration was trying to encourage women to serve nutritious foods while stigmatizing meals served for purposes of "'flavor satisfaction'" (Stein).
Of course, this shifting emphasis on nutrition over taste was especially practical during a period of malnutrition, but it makes me wonder if it has a lasting influence on the near-obsession with fortification that takes place in American markets today. In Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox, she discusses the fortification of cereals with vitamins and the increased use of supplemental vitamins by Americans. These vitamins are synthesized inorganically, which means that many complementary nutrients that might be found in natural sources of these vitamins are not being supplied (Warner 89). These nutritional additives are not only incomplete, but can actually have adverse effects in large dosages (Warner 86). From the Depression Era when people did not receive complete nutrition, to today, where most Americans receive the vitamins, etc. that they need, it seems that there is still a gap in our knowledge about what we need to eat to live our healthiest lives. Misinformation about or shortages of food have contributed to the narrative of America as a place where unhealthy eating habits are fostered (whether intentionally or not); science and technology can be named as the reasons we have reached this point.
Only science and technology can give us the information to move us forward in the story.
Shapiro, Laura. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950’s America. Viking, 2004. Print.
Stein, Sadie. "The Depression Radically Changed the Way Americans Ate." The New York Times, 9
September 2016. Web.
Warner, Melanie. Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. Scribner:
New York, 2013. Print.