Commentary: Going vegetarian, buying Fair Trade are starts – Daily Pilot

By Katie Bick, March 2, 2015

I was every father’s worst nightmare. My dad had sent his little girl to college, and I’d come back a vegetarian.

He didn’t know what to do with me during our Thanksgiving dinner. Believing firmly that the human brain evolved from red meat consumption, he could not understand why I would sacrifice my neural functioning and our Thanksgiving turkey just because I’d gone off to what he likes to call “commie camp,” more commonly known as college.

I had taken a course on the livestock industry, and I was completely convinced that by living off quinoa, veggies and beans, I could save the world. In my mind, our precious agriculture sector was flawless.

Then I learned the truth. Our agriculture industry is just as corrupt as our livestock industry, and what’s worse, the damage being done is to our own species. We get half of our tomatoes from Mexico each year, but where does that produce actually come from?

A recent Los Angeles Times investigation examined Agricola San Emilio in Mexico, a farm responsible for much of the produce found at Walmart, Olive Garden and Safeway. The journalists found that farm workers are held in labor camps for months while camp bosses illegally withhold pay.

Workers were told they would be paid after three months in order to keep them working during peak harvest, but many returned home to their families without having received the promised wages. While many U.S. apparel and footwear retailers use independent auditors to regulate worker conditions in low-wage countries to meet with social corporate responsibility, there has been no consumer pressure to increase regulation in the agriculture industry.

I tended to think the U.S. was immune to the problems uncovered in Mexico, but it has similar issues. In the U.S., the agriculture sector is considered a hazardous industry. Farm workers are exempt from most minimum wage and hour guarantees found in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and they are not entitled to overtime pay or mandatory breaks.

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