The fast food industry is taking a few knocks lately. Eric Schlosser, author of the phenomenally successful Fast Food Nation, has just published a kid’s book, Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food. A feature film version of Fast Food Nation — slightly fictionalized, and directed by the splendid Richard Linklater — will hit theaters this fall. Troubled that Schlosser’s work is reaching a wider audience, the industry, joined by right-wing groups concerned about “anti-business” messages, is spending a lot of time and money trying to rebut his claims, according to an illuminating report in the Wall Street Journal.
Just as exciting, throughout this spring, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been pressuring McDonald’s to improve pay and conditions for the workers picking its tomatoes. The CIW represents the Florida farmworkers that organized the four-year Taco Bell boycott, which, through the organizing efforts of workers and consumers –especially students — nationwide, compelled the Bell’s parent company, Yum Brands to pay an additional penny per pound for tomatoes, the paltry amount needed to ensure the tomato pickers a living wage. The CIW is also trying targetting Chipotle, which has a “Food WIth Integrity” marketing shtick — er, sorry, I meant “mission statement ” — to expand that definition of “integrity” beyond humane treatment of animals and healthy production of vegetables to fair conditions for the workers who harvest the produce. (You’d think they could commit to treating fellow humans at least as well as animals.) Chipotle is a personal favorite of mine; I love the food, so I hope the company will sit up and take notice. CIW has a polite-but-firm letter you can send to the very rich guys who run these fast-food chains. (This is the sort of action that can accomplish something, unlike, say, not shopping at Target because you heard that the company was just as bad as Wal-Mart, which is the sort of individualistic quest for moral purity in shopping that drives me crazy.) This farmworkers’ group is one of the more effective labor organizations in the US today, winning victories despite representing some of the most marginalized workers in our economy. The CIW not only draws bad publicity to companies, but marshals consumer outrage to bring about change — not easy to do.