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The dark secrets of food (inc.)

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Many US farmworkers—like these North Carolina tobacco pickers—face low pay and hazardous working conditions, but a new bill called AgJOBS could help improve their situation. Photo: Liliana Rodriguez / Oxfam America

Sarah Zipkin is the project officer for Oxfam’s decent work program in the US. This is the second of two guest posts by Sarah about food, farms, and what it means to support workers’ rights in 2009.

Less than a week after I marched for workers in North Carolina–complete with tobacco leaf sign around my neck–I was back in Boston representing Oxfam at a pre-release screening of Food, Inc, a film opening soon that takes a disturbing look at the mechanized food industry in this country, from field to fork.

As I watched it, I was glad I’d eaten a veggie pizza beforehand, since I learned that a lot of our meat comes from mechanized slaughterhouses–often the site of inhumane conditions and questionable practices. I am already obsessed with looking over labels in the grocery store, but since seeing this film, I’m even more fixated. Now that I’ve actually started thinking about where our food comes from, I can’t help but wonder: what dark secrets hide behind those colorful packages?

Though it raises real questions about farmworkers’ rights, safe and healthy food, and respect for the environment, the film ends on a hopeful note. Countless ways we can bring about change, both large and small, stream across the screen–planting a garden, supporting local small-scale producers, or advocating for worker rights.

In fact, there’s a bill right now with bipartisan support in Congress called AgJOBS, which would essentially give farmworkers in this country a legal path to earn better wages and see improved working conditions. We collected over 60 signatures in support of this bill at that one screening alone.

So although some things haven’t changed, I believe the situation may be looking up for farmworkers in the US. Maybe RJ Reynolds’ CEO Susan Ivey will even come to our Food, Inc. screening in Greensboro, NC in June. Hey, it’s worth asking. I’ll bring the tobacco leaf sign.

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  1. Anna Kramer

    Hi Leslie – Here’s the info from the team: “On June 24th in Greensboro, NC Oxfam will host a screening event where partners, allies, and sustainable food advocates will attend. Oxfam America’s Senior Program Officer for Decent Work, Lupe Gamboa, will lead a brief discussion after the film from 9-10pm. This event will coincide with the annual Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders Forum where over 100 organizations and foundations will participate from 6/23-26 (www.safsf.org). Location: Carousel Cinema at 1305 Battleground Avenue in Greensboro.” Thanks for the interest and we hope to see you there!

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