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Michael Pollan: Consumer Boycotts Are 'Achilles Heel of American Capitalism'

Food

Trump has dumped family farmers.

That's right, President Trump, who once claimed he's "fighting for our farmers," is passing policies that mostly benefit the big agribusiness corporations—not small farmers, and certainly not rural communities.


Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, recently sat down with [see video above] Michael Pollan to discuss food and agriculture policy and inequality under the Trump administration. He also talked about how far food corporations will go to protect their brands' images.

Pollan, a food policy expert and author of several books including The Omnivore's Dilemma, didn't mince words when it comes to Trump's impact on food and ag policy, or where the president's loyalties lie. Pollan explained how Trump is rolling back anything initiated under the Obama administration, including Michelle Obama's standards for school lunch. So instead of nutritionists deciding what kids should eat, we're back to allowing the food companies to decide.

So basically, we're back to anything industry wants, Pollan said.

Pollan pointed out the irony in Trump's agricultural initiatives, noting that the rural vote helped get him elected, but now he's taking steps that will be a disaster for American farmers. He talked at length about NAFTA and how if Trump pulls out of this trade agreement it will greatly impact the industrial farming industry.

Pollan didn't discuss the impact NAFTA has on small, independent and/or organic farmers or workers, but dairy farmer Jim Goodman from Wonewoc, Wisconsin, sure did in this recent blog post. He sums it up this way:

"Anyone who supports the continuation of NAFTA without questioning who actually benefits really has no concern for the best interests of farmers or workers in the U.S., Canada or Mexico."

After talking a lot about what's gone wrong with our food system, Reich shifted the conversation in a more positive direction, asking Pollan what gives him hope. Pollan said he's "taking a lot of encouragement from some new developments in the labor movement around food." He spoke about the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food Program that has helped Florida tomato growers obtain humane wages and safe working conditions.

In explaining how the program got started, Pollan said:

"They tried negotiating with the growers, they got nowhere. They marched across Florida, they got nowhere. They had a hunger strike, they got nowhere."

Finally, Lucas Benitez, a farmworker who helped start the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, said, as Pollan related:

"Then we found the door in the castle wall. That door was the brand of the big companies, the consumer-facing big companies, that bought the tomatoes from the growers, everybody from Whole Foods to McDonalds and Burger King, and they went after the brands with boycotts and threats of boycotts. What they did was they created a pledge, called the Fair Food Pledge and they basically said you will sign this or we will shame you. One by one all the big brands in food signed it. And it's working."

Reich and Pollan agreed that big companies are spending a fortune on brand image and, now more than ever, if you organize or threaten a consumer boycott you can have a real impact. Pollan said:

"It's the Achilles heel of American capitalism. They are not afraid of the government anymore, but they are afraid of their consumers attacking their brand."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.