The Global Food Chain: Farmworkers and Fast Food
University of South Florida
It is May 1, 2001. I pull into a Taco Bell on Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) decided that today is the day to kick off the nation-wide boycott of Taco Bell to protest the wages of the workers that pick the majority of the tomatoes for the corporation. I have been preparing for this for weeks by learning radical cheers and educating myself about the situation of the farmworkers. I am not prepared for how I feel when the Immokalee workers themselves arrive at the fast-food restaurant. This is my first time at a protest with the people that are actually being affected by unfair labor practices. “One penny more!” The spirit that the farmworkers demonstrated was enough to make me commit to active involvement in the boycott.
It is March 1, 2003. I am on the fifth day of a hunger strike outside of Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, California. For the past week, both farmworkers and allies have been spending the day marching along the sidewalk and sleeping both on the sidewalk and at a local church, refusing food as a protest against the meager wages the farmworkers receive for picking tomatoes. Today is the big rally, so the protesters spill onto the street in front of a small portable stage. The stage is graced by speakers, including farmworkers, hunger-strikers, church and community leaders and activists, authors and other writers, and musicians. There is street theatre, music, dancing, and chanting. “I’d rather starve than eat Taco Bell!” But the Taco Bell representatives stay inside of the tall mirrored building.
Can Cuba Offer An Alternative to Corporate Control Over the World’s Food System?
(paper presented at the 20th Conference of North American and Cuban Philosophers and Social Scientists, Havana, June, 2008)
Give us this day our daily bread. (The only prayer Jesus is reported to have taught his followers)
With all the authority of hindsight, it is important to analyze and criticize the methods Cuba has chosen to eradicate hunger…. But we should never lose sight of the fact that the Cuban revolution declared, from the outset, that no one should go malnourished. No disappointment in food production, no failed economic take-off, no shock wave from world economic crisis has deterred Cuba from freeing itself from the suffering and shame of a single wasted child or an elderly person ignonimously subsisting on pet food. No other country in this hemisphere, including the United States, can make this claim” (Benjamin et al.189)
This paper draws on an ongoing research project that compares the human development experience of Cuba and the state of Kerala in India, two well known success stories that have achieved an impressive measure of human well being without waiting for the so called trickle down effect of industrial development or wealth creation. Their remarkable achievements (as measured by UNDP’s human development (HD) indictors) have been hailed by many scholars and policy makers. Our research project seeks to identify common patterns in the development experience of these cases and to explore possible lessons for the world, especially for the one fifth of humanity still suffering from chronic poverty and endemic deprivations.
The paper explores the theme of food security in Cuba. Although the UNDP’s measure of HD does not directly factor in food security it is obviously at the very foundation of any system of human development and well-being. The issue of food security has assumed a new urgency in the context of the current world food crisis that is threatening to plunge as many as 100 million people into hunger in addition to the 850 million already in a situation of chronic hunger. As is well known, faced with an even more serious food crisis some two decades ago, Cuba launched a daring and unconventional agricultural revolution, regarded by some as the very “anti-thesis” of the Washington consensus and labeled as an “anti model” by a spokesperson of the World Bank. Many experts who have studied the Cuban experience (including some from Oxfam, FAO, and the WFP) now believe that Cuba may offer some lessons to those searching for alternatives to the current world food system that has failed so miserably in providing food security to vast numbers of people and has destroyed the ability of communities and countries to exercise any control over their food system.
The remainder of the paper is divided into 3 parts: A brief overview of Cuba’s post- 1990 agricultural revolution is followed by the main part of the paper that discusses some important elements of what may be called Cuba’s alternative paradigm. The concluding part will raise questions about sustainability and food security.