Illustration by Valentina Quiñonez.
A professor of mine once brought up the importance of fruit and vegetables in the diets of humans. He brought up studies which highlighted the benefits of increased consumption of green vegetables, the countless nutrients in a variety of fruits, and most of all how ignorant most people are to these wonders. He shifted the conversation to say that people would rather consume a Big Mac than a McIntosh. Unaware of the potential consequences, I immediately fought back against his argument.
I argued that these food groups are not accessible to the poorer class as they are quite expensive, and that these fruits are harvested on what is essentially the colonized labor of big fruit companies. He shut me down and humiliated me very publically, advising me to read a book or two. Dr. I-Grew-Up-Next-To-Apple-Orchards, here is my proper rebuttal and public humiliation of your argument as well as personal faults. You’re welcome for making you sound much more coherent in text than you ever were in your own lectures.
The argument one often hears is dependant on specific geographic locations. For many people, the idea is of fruit production is in the vast valleys of California, or in New Jersey’s tomatoes, or the agricultural overproduction in Midwestern farms. What is not recognized is the work of workers in countries that have been economically colonized.
Big fruit companies such as Dole and Del Monte have made spheres of influence in countries in Central and South America. These monetary monopolies have pulled tropical fruit to everyday grocery stores in almost every area of America. It’s the reason why pineapples are always available at prices extraordinarily low considering the energy put into bringing it there. In the dead of winter, how are there mangoes in New York City?
In occupied countries where the demand for jobs is higher, there are local people who work on farms in their own country for unacceptably low wages. Their work is tough, with long hours and nearly unsustainable conditions. In return to this injustice, company offices in the continental U.S. are collecting huge profits without seeing any of the implications of the system. It is what allows the perception of a seemingly endless supply of tropical fruit in every supermarket. Kiwis in Montana, papaya in Chicago, coconuts rolling on countertops in Ohio. This influx is sustained through the unjust conditions in countries occupied by companies from the U.S., which is invasive on the local economy and people. The saturated consumption of foreign fruits depends on the toil of people being exploited for their land and work.
There are also people within the U.S. who do not have access to the produce intake. Despite the high amount of imported fruit and vegetables, much of it is wasted upon entering the country, as many supermarkets will waste foods that are not aesthetically pleasing, while maintaining prices at a level both too high for poorer people and low enough for middle class citizens to feel content. This comfort range keeps the balance of power in favor of those who can afford the luxury of fresh foods, which in itself is a classist structure that specifically leaves people of color out of the group of consumers. This phenomenon is defined as a “food desert”, in which low-income communities have little to no access to fresh food. These communities are often majority people of color. This is elevated with the recent movement against GMO’s and the rise of organic produce, which only serve to hike prices and further exclude poorer people.
The answer to these issues is not a white flight of produce consumption. These power structures will not magically disappear with the cease of avocadoes and guava. Just as any economist will say, there will always be a supply if there is a demand. With more awareness and with conscious consumption, people can begin to shift the harvesting and importation of these wonderful crops to more reasonable distribution as well as better conditions of work for the people and the economies of countries being financially exploited by the U.S.
Some say that more fair trade movements can spark within the communities of fruit and vegetables a decrease to prices that are more available to poorer people, although the legal ban on food stamp usage for fresh produce only hurts the cause as well. These suggestions alleviate the issue, but they are nowhere near real solutions which can change the structures of power. We may begin with a discourse on the issues at hand, as a resolution to conflicts that have been brought forth here, and as a platform for reform on production and in turn, consumption. It all stems from a willingness to listen and a fighting chance against say, a classist, racist professor.