Food for Thought

We recently put our subscription to the New York Times on hiatus for the summer. In the summer, we just don’t get around to reading the Friday-Sunday papers. What this means, in practical terms, is that I am reading the other newspapers we do get much, much too carefully. Our local paper, the Ann Arbor News, has an absolutely horrible reputation among readers for inaccuracy and lack of in-depth reporting. We also get The Forward. When we subscribed to the Times, I glanced at The Forward. Now, I read the weekly issues cover-to-cover, much to the chagrin of the paper’s editor, I am sure. As you know, I am one of those people who writes letters to the editors. I am on a first name basis with the opinion editor at the Ann Arbor News, and in a typical week (mostly for work), I write half a dozen letters to the editor about newspaper and magazine pieces I read.

(There is a connection here, I promise.) Last August, as a family we decided to eat only regional foods (food produced and/or grown in any state that touches one of the Great Lakes) until Thanksgiving. We have a large vegetable garden, and so we had carrots and potatoes, garlic and some other late crops, but for the most part we relied on our local Farmer’s markets and asking way too many questions when purchasing items at the local grocery store where we shop, as well at the local food Co-op. There is a local Whole Foods market, as well, but the layout is as confusing, and aisles are as narrow as the side streets in Venice; Whole Foods makes me cranky.

Add to this quixotic regional eating quest the fact that we keep kosher. A quick definition of keeping kosher from my children: “you can’t eat anything without some rabbi says you can.” This includes meat. There is plenty of regional meat for sale in out town; there are nice organic, free range chickens (probably named Maurice) raised by even nicer Amish farmers. There’s organic beef from the farm just outside town. Organic, however, is not kosher because, yes, some rabbi has not given the ok. So, for our family, we took a “Papal dispensation” on the meat situation, and ate from our kosher meat stash in the freezer. We did this knowing full well none of it came from anywhere near Michigan, but it was already paid for.

Then I got wind of the situation at AgriProcessors from an article in The Forward. It seems that the ills of the meatpacking industry were not influenced by rabbinical supervision. The company produces half of the kosher meat sold in the United States. The information was like a fly buzzing around my ear. It was September, and I was getting worried about the dangers of eating Lake Superior White Fish more often than my once yearly brush with danger, not to mention serving my kids Lake Michigan trout. Could eating regionally kill us all?

Our Thanksgiving dinner was the break fast from eating locally. My kids got thoroughly sick of apples. Apples are the only locally grown fruit available in November in Michigan. The summer grapes were long gone, as were the fresh local pears (we’d canned several jars full, however). We bought a kosher turkey, and surrounded it with all kinds of side dishes that were produced far from the Great Lakes region, including stuffing made with celery from California, a salad with lettuce and tomatoes from Florida and a pumpkin pie in a crust with flour grown and milled in Iowa. We kept a journal, and we all learned that we live in a really great region for such an experiment. We ate bread baked in Detroit, and cheese from a dairy in Ann Arbor, not to mention cheese from Michigan and Wisconsin. We got other dairy products each week from our milkman, who brings them from his farm about 50 miles from our town. We found pasta made in a factory one town away from ours, and tomato products from a company in Indiana (touches Lake Michigan). We ate steel-cut oats grown in Michigan, and even drank wine we’d bought on our last vacation to Pelee island, in Canada, (in Lake Erie).

All the while, The Forward kept publishing pieces about AgriProcessors, in Iowa. As a result of the stories of abuses of animals, not to mention abuses of workers, a few months ago, we decided to stop buying any kosher meat produced and sold by the company, owned by a family in New York. The closest kosher butcher is 40 miles away from where we live. He gets all of the meat from AgriProcessors. The local grocery stores carry kosher meat—many of the brands from AgriProcessors. We found kosher meat from Canada; it comes to Detroit from Montreal. Then I read The Forward two weeks ago. The INS raided AgriProcessors with arrest warrants for over half of the plant’s employees. Illegal immigrants had been hired to work, given false social security numbers (or none at all), paid below minimum wage and otherwise abused. The headline of the article was “Raid on Kosher Slaughterhouse Sparks Fears of Meat Shortage.” Fear of meat shortage? I was speechless. So, you guessed it, I wrote a letter to the editor. Check it out here.

So what has all of this got to do with anything related to adjunct faculty, Adjunct Advocate, or the price of tea in China (“so way not local,” as my son might say)? Well, I want to encourage all of you to join me in writing letters to the editor when you read pieces that touch on issues of import to NTT faculty. Comment on the pieces you read online, and share your opinions and stories. I think the time has come for part-time faculty to speak for themselves in the education media, as well as in the national media when those publications write about higher education. Take a few minutes and tell the world what you think; it’s an important first step in the march toward much-needed equity for the majority of this country’s college faculty, and the millions of college students whom you teach.

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