Your [Big Chain Cardboard-Tasting] Pizza is Killing Farmers

Via Mitch Wagner, you must read this (yes, fairly longish but well worth it) article on the global social and economic consequences of Big Pizza. I’ll extract just a few snippets:

“But what if that large pie delivered to your doorstep costs more than you think? A number of economists, sociologists, and food scholars claim that the $36 billion-a-year success of Big Pizza has ominous undertones and implications that reach far beyond weighty matters like deciding between extra cheese and anchovies. They argue that the unrelenting push for ever-cheaper pizza ingredients is hurting the planet and driving small and medium-size farms out of business. Some of these farmers feel they have no choice but to move to the megacities sprouting across the globe. Once relocated to urban slums, many find themselves among the estimated 1.1 billion people earning less than $1 a day, an amount that makes it hard to survive, let alone afford Domino’s recent special offer of $5.99 a pie for two medium pizzas. Of the farmers that decide to stay put, some opt for a quicker death, at their own hand.

“We are faced with two possible futures,” says sociologist Harriet Friedmann, Ph.D., a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto. “One is a diversity of crops, of cultures, and of cuisines that can inhabit ecosystems sustainably and produce healthy food for urban centers. The other is long-distance food from nowhere, monocultural systems that aren’t sustainable, and simplified diets, especially for the poor. Global pizza typifies the second option.”

Another outspoken opponent of the circumstances underlying the worldwide pizza trade has been Philip McMichael, Ph.D., a professor of development sociology at Cornell University. He believes that the combined processes of bioindustrialization, the ever-increasing reliance of agro-industry on fossil fuels, and the relentless search for the most rapidly expanding overseas markets has led to a phenomenon he calls “the food regime.” The machinations that lie behind this new world order perform very well when it comes to churning out profits for transnational corporations, but that success comes at considerable social and economic expense, says McMichael. “It’s undermining people who make their living off the land everywhere.””

Sheesh, leave it to the sociologists to be wet blankets. And like Cassandra, they’re never believed, so, the reporter decided to investigate the whole “Big Pizza” process himself.

Tomatoes:

“It may come as no surprise that the customer base and the economic challenges that concern Peters and Paradise Tomato Kitchens belong to Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars–not to the world’s tomato growers. Indeed, as Big Pizza’s preference for globalized sauce has matured, many of the other farmers who used to make a living growing and selling tomatoes have been pushed out of business.

In Ghana, for example, locally harvested tomatoes were once a staple. But tomato concentrate has destroyed the market there–not to mention the lives of the nearly 2 million people involved in tomato cultivation in one region of the country. Despite Ghana’s farming tradition, it has become the world’s second-largest importer of process tomatoes, after Germany. As a result, according to the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, more than 700 tomato farmers have gone belly-up.

“We do not get good prices for the little harvest,” said Comfort Mantey, a tomato farmer in the Ghanaian community of Matsekope, when she was interviewed for a report on poverty in the region. “The traders tell us their customers now mix fresh tomatoes with imported tomato paste.”

Another tomato farmer, Martin Pwayidi, defaulted on the $2,000 loan he had secured from a bank and sunk into his 4 acres in 2008; no one would buy locally grown tomatoes from him. “I lost everything,” said Pwayidi to one African news outlet. “There was absolutely no reason to live.”

Sadly, this is the same conclusion arrived at by many of Pwayidi’s neighbors: Annual waves of suicides have washed across Ghana’s northern growing regions as some desperate farmers ingested the insecticide they no longer needed for their tomatoes.”

Cheese:

“About half the U.S. milk supply is used to manufacture cheese, and last year’s 10 billion pounds broke all previous production records. Mozzarella recently topped Cheddar as the most popular cheese variety. And where does all that mozzarella go? Onto your pizza, of course.

(…)

According to the most recent data, Leprino must buy an astonishing 5 to 7 percent of the total available U.S. milk in order to supply mozzarella to Domino’s and Pizza Hut and everybody else in global pizza.”

And, of course, mozzarella comes from milk and milk farmers are being squeezed by Big Cheese:

“”Farmers have never received less money for their milk,” says John Bunting, a dairyman from the western foothills of the Catskills, in New York State, who also writes a blog that focuses on the plight of dairy farmers. For instance, the area where Bunting lives used to be rich in milk production; as the price of milk has touched bottom, though, it has been plagued by debt and bankruptcy. “There is no one in the country making a living milking cows,” he says. “Not this year, and not last year, either. I get calls every day from just plain desperate farmers. Nobody knows what to do.”

Of course, as the country’s small dairy farmers head into bankruptcy, the largest producers of cheese have prospered. “Kraft and Leprino are on tight margins,” says Bunting. “But they have so many units running past the cash register that Jimmy Leprino can get rich.”

Last year was the worst in at least 30 years for small-scale dairymen, who lost money on every cow on every day of every month, says Bunting. Despite the losses, one upstate New York farmer, Dean Pierson, refused to let go of the 51 milking cows on the land his father had bought. Instead, Pierson took a small-caliber rifle and went through the barn he had built and shot each of his cows through the head. Then he sat down on a chair and put a bullet through his chest.”

And pepperoni:

“”Meat has moved from the periphery of human diet to its center,” says Tony Weis, Ph.D., a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario. “The least efficient converter of feed-to-flesh output is beef cattle,” he adds. He points out that this inefficiency means cattle have much larger land, water, and energy budgets than most people realize. Diverse small farms tend to be much better converters of land and resources into protein and other nutrients than are the grain-fed cattle. As more than a billion farmers in the developing world are going broke, more than a billion cattle are reared on the backs of subsidies. And as the world’s desire for cheap meat increases, so does the need for more acres of corn and wheat for feed, along with devastating increases in all the accompanying diesel fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. In fact, overall, agriculture is responsible for about 30 percent of total emissions of greenhouse gases, and livestock accounts for more than half of that.

“You have an increasing global demand for pepperoni pizza,” says Weis. “How is this going to be sustained with near-term rising energy costs when so much fossil energy is embedded in the pepperoni?””

And, of course, this does not even take into account the health consequences of this. For instance, the fact that more and more people are acid reducers on a permanent basis, the obesity issue due to eating that stuff. So, cheap pizza comes at the price of increased health care costs.

And as a French person, I would add that it comes at the cost of younger generations not knowing what real food tastes like, which is a shame.

Anyway, as they say, go read the whole thing.

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