I love pineapples. When I’m working in Thailand, I find nothing more refreshing than a frothy, cool pineapple shake.
But more than pineapples I like the idea of thinking about our food and where it comes from – who picked it? How? How did it get to my hands? What happened to the environment along the way?
Sometimes those questions can be overwhelming. In the United States, and much of the “developed” world, the complex systems that bring food to people’s tables are ones that largely harm the environment and put the humans who handle the food at risk. From meat grown on factory farms to fruit picked by exploited migrant laborers, so much of the food we consume has ethical implications. And even if the food is grown sustainably, and harvested at fair trade wages, what does it mean to consume food that has traveled hundreds or thousands of miles on fossil fuels to land on our plates?
It’s a lot to consider, and I frequently fail to make the most ethical food choices. But I know many inspiring people who are leading by example in the movement for more sustainable food. (Like the Women’s Garden Cycles.) And Mark shared an inspiring thought with me recently:
Walking by the fruit seller on 6th Ave, he said to me, “Won’t it be great when we can no longer buy pineapples on the street in New York?”
I thought for a moment about what he meant, and realized I whole-heartedly agreed. It’s not that I have a personal vendetta against pineapples, or that I want them to be impossible to procure in Manhattan. But it shouldn’t be quite so easy to pick up a piece of the tropics in temperate climes, no matter how delicious. Pineapples travel too far, pineapple workers suffer too much, and pineapple production is connected to environmental degradation.
But my aim isn’t to pick on pineapples. As hefty items with documented labor and environmental concerns, they are simply easy targets. Anyone who’s ever eaten a mango ripe off a tree can tell you not to bother with one from a New York grocer. And, having tasted an apple in Mali, I realized I could wait till I returned to harvest season in the US. What I’m really getting at is what so many great food writers & thinkers are talking about lately (Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver & others). When we eat food that’s local and in season, not only do we reduce our carbon imprint, we have the ability to better monitor labor standards, and we get produce that is healthier and tastier. It doesn’t mean we should never eat pineapple, but it does mean thinking twice before consuming, and savoring those rare bites as special, not standard.
Of note – For more information on how much farmworkers have suffered from the corporate pineapple industry, check out The Sour Taste of Pineapple by the International Labor Rights Forum.