Two packs of “Mayan Pride” snow peas from Guatemala (a Styrofoam bed wrapped in clear plastic). Three packages of cut parsely from Holland (each bunch of three stems in a sealed plastic bag). Peaches from Spain (nestled in a topless plastic box and wrapped in a plastic net bag).
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’d like to present exhibit A: the inventory of a Friday night dumpster run. Humble but telling evidence of western civilization’s obscene culture of excess, sealed in hygienic plastic and flown to Germany for your convenience.
Peaches in Germany in May? Dutch parsley? Guatemalan peas in Germany, ever? How many miles must our food travel before it becomes too absurd to stomach?
Over the last few days I’ve been devouring a maddening, inspiring book called The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. The book goes through various absurdities in food regulatory law and describes the underground movements popping up in response. It also had a few things to say about the Guatemalan agriculture industry of which I hadn’t been previously aware.
“The United States has frequently supported the concentration of land and political power in the hands of large holders, most notably in Latin America, where large landowners in many cases have been U.S. citizens and corporations. For if one thing is worse than a fascist concentration of land, according to the capitalist mindset, it’s a communist expropriation of private property and redistribution of land.
“In 1945 more than half of Guatemala’s farmland consisted of plantations larger than one thousand acres, yet less than a fourth of the acreage of these plantation holdings was under cultivation. One U.S. corporation, United Fruit (now known as Chiquita), was the largest employer, landowner, and exporter in Guatemala, growing and exporting bananas, primarily to the United States. United Fruit prospered in Guatemala largely because it was able to secure the support of government officials there.
“In 1950 Guatemalans elected a new president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who initiated a land reform policy of expropriating uncultivated portions of large plantations and redistributing the land in small plots. Around 1.5 million acres were taken and divided among one hunded thousand families. Some of the expropriated land belonged to United Fruit, which undertook a propaganda campaign in the United States to promote the idea that this represented the spread of communism to the Western Hemisphere.
“Newly elected President Dwight Eisenhower was a Cold War warrior eager to combat the perceived communist threat. In addition, various members of his administration had direct ties to United Fruit. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hatched a secret plot, code-named Operation Success, that overthrew Arbenz in 1954, aborting the political process there and throwing Guatemala into a state of repression and violent civil unrest that has persisted ever since.”
Despite the clear anti-capitalist tone, this is not propaganda–the information is well-documented historical fact that you can read about in a plethora of other maddening sources. As are many of the U.S.’s other corporate-gains-inspired coups. (If you’d like to know more about some of them, I recommend picking up any book by Howard Zinn for further reading.) The thought sends shivers down my spine.
And what about the snow peas we’d picked out of the trash? Were they from United Fruit too? I went back to the kitchen and looked at the label. “Mayan Pride,” it said. “A Small Growers Project, www.mayanpride.nl,” the label said. Strange that they would have a Dutch web domain, I thought. Domain name not yet registered, said my computer screen when I typed the address into my browser. Sneaky marketing to trick the fair-trade organic bunch into buying the same old shit? Or project so small they couldn’t actually afford to start the website? Who grew these peas? Under what conditions? And why do we need Guatemalan snow peas to be flown in from another continent when we could grown them in our own backyards?