Thursday, January 18, 2007

Where does your food come from?

In Costa Rica, I took tours of coffee, banana, and pineapple farms.

While I've read a lot about these industries in the past, I've never seen them up close or met many people who work there. On this trip, my eyes were open to where my food comes from.

Coffee, bananas, and pineapples are back-breaking crops. Coffee berries don't ripen all at once, so each berry has to be picked by hand when it's ready. Since bananas and pineapples are so easily bruised, each fruit has to be carefully grown, picked, and packaged by hand. This labor-intensive work means lots of jobs, but jobs where the worker is bent over, in the sun, for twelve hours each day.

Thanks to organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance, working conditions have improved a lot since the 80's, with higher wages, protective gear from harmful chemicals, and independent inspections of the farms and factories. But in a place where $15/day is a good wage, it's hard to justify supporting these industries by consuming exotic fruits way up North.

But these harsh conditions aren't going to go away just because I stop eating bananas, and I'm not sure I want these jobs to be taken away from Costa Ricans, either. I can understand the argument that although these are awful jobs, they are jobs that allow people to subsist in a poor country.

Right now, I'll continue to do what I know how to do.

First, buy locally at all times. Wonderful fruits and vegetables are grown right here in New England, even throughout the winter, and these farmers deserve my support as well. Plus, locally grown foods mean less transportation costs, which means less impact on our environment as a whole.

Secondly, when I do buy coffee, bananas, or pineapples, I look for fairly traded, organic products. Fair Trade means higher wages and better working conditions for the workers. Organic means less chemicals used, which means that much less exposure to the workers every day. Also, organic earns a higher price, often translating to a higher price for the farmers. (Here's a great piece by Oxfam America on organic rice farmers in Cambodia.)

You can also learn more:
Rainforest Alliance's Sustainable Agriculture program
TransFair: Fair Trade Certified


zoltan strigan said...


I live in Quito, Ecuador, which is as close to paradise one might get. In fact all of Ecuador is unique. There is probably no other country like it in the world. The climate is great, the people are wonderful, and there are four very distinct climatic areas in the country. It is one of the few travel secrets left in the world.

Unfortunately this paradise is slowly being destroyed by a few multinational companies who have absolutely no regard for this fragile environment.

Several years ago companies such as COCA-COLA, PEPSI-COLA, INBEV (BECK’S BEER, BASS, BUDWIESER)
SAB-MILLER (MILLER BEER, CASTLE BEER, AMSTED LAGER), started introducing most of their beverages in non-returnable containers. The soft drink manufacturers now produce a wide range of non-returnable plastic containers of all their products.

The beer manufacturers also are now producing non-returnable drinks in bottles and cans.

These products include soft drinks, bottled water, beer, fruit juice drinks and energy drinks.

Unfortunately no where in Ecuador is there a refund law requiring these multinational companies to accept responsibility for their irresponsible marketing strategies.

Because of this total disregard for the environment and only their concern for high profits, the country is literally becoming choked by the non-returnable containers.

The garbage generated by these products is becoming a very serious problem.


These are not the only companies selling these non-returnable containers. Included in this list are whiskey manufacturers such as Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Chivas Regal, most of the California wine companies, Chilean wine companies, Heineken Beer, Budweiser. etc.

All these companies are not allowed to carry on these type of irresponsible marketing practices in North America or Europe, but because there is a lack of laws in countries such as Ecuador, they do whatever they want and feel no obligation to correct these criminal practices.

If you go to the web pages of these soft drink companies or liquor companies, they all talk about their social responsibilities. Believe me this is only a farce. Not only do they pollute the country side with their products, they illegally sell to establishments that do not have permits to sell liquor, they sell their products close to local high schools and churches.

They also openly sponsor amateur and professional sports teams. Again, in North America and in Europe this would not be permitted. What kind of message are they sending to the youth that it is alright to mix alcohol with sports?

I am asking your support to put pressure on these companies. I would like you to first start a worldwide boycott of products manufactures by AMBEV, SAB-MILLER, COCA-COLA, PEPSI-COLA, JOHNNY WALKER WHISKEY, CUTTY SARK; CHIVAS-REGAL.

I would like you to start an email campaign sending a clear message to all these companies that they cannot carry on with unacceptable marketing practices such as they do in Ecuador.

The people and the country of Ecuador are no different than the people of North America and Europe. We deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity.
This country cannot be used as a personal dumping ground for these types of multinational companies. If their marketing and sales practices are unacceptable in North America and Europe, why should they be allowed to do as they please in a small country such as Ecuador?

Finally, I would ask that you send this letter around the world to all environmental groups, politicians, news media, and anyone who can pressure these types of companies into permanently stopping these types of environmentally destructive practices.

Thank you;

Zoltan S. Strigan

Alicia said...

For those of you who are interested in the issue of Fair trade, there is a powerful documentary out called “Black Gold,” that documents the lives of Ethiopian coffee farmers and clearly demonstrates why all of us should be asking for Fair Trade coffee. The film was recently released in the theater but is now available to the public on DVD via California Newsreel. You can read more about the documentary or pick up a copy of it here at

Anonymous said...

Lobby your government for better laws. Your countryment are consuming the product. The companies are providing jobs for your countrymen. All of life is a tradeoff. Don't be so quick to point a finger.