Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

McMillan's The American Way of Eating lifts the veil on food system injustice

Posted March 14, 2012 by Ben Lilliston   

Our global food system hinges on secrecy. The anonymous nature of where the food in our supermarket was produced brings one layer of secrecy. But even if you can solve that puzzle, how it was produced—and more specifically under what working conditions it was produced—remains completely hidden. This is the curtain that author Tracie McMillan pulls back in her remarkable new book, The American Way of Eating.

In the spirit of investigative journalists like Barbara Ehrenreich before her, McMillan documents her experiences picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California, working in the Wal-Mart produce section in Michigan, and in the kitchen at Applebee’s in New York City. The book is receiving a ton of high praise and deservedly so, with Rush Limbaugh a notable exception.

Each section gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives and working conditions of people who produce our food. We also learn how difficult it is to live, let alone eat healthy, on the meager wages these jobs pay. The work conditions described by McMillan are very different—from the fields to the supermarket to the kitchen—but all reflect a certain powerlessness in relation to their employer, combined with solidarity as co-workers help each deal with the challenges of the work (with a disturbing exception on her last day Applebee’s).

While the book focuses on food in the U.S., food worker exploitation is an international story. Wal-Mart and Applebees (one of the world’s largest sit-down restaurant chains) are global corporations, and source food from all over the world. Many of the workers in the fields of California were forced, through economic circumstances, to migrate north from Mexico after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994. This was particularly true for families involved in agriculture. And certainly the global food system is increasingly following this U.S. model of food production.

McMillan’s book reminds us that with secrecy often comes exploitation. We wrote last week about the Coalition for Immokalee Workers’ fast for fair food to raise awareness about fair pay and treatment of tomato workers. Many others, like the Food Chainworkers Alliance, are leading other areas this work. Each initiative takes a step toward making justice for workers part of our way of eating.

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