Monday, January 14, 2008

The Price of Sugar

The other night I saw a disturbing documentary called The Price of Sugar.

The film examined human rights violations of Haitian immigrants at a sugar cane plantation in the Dominican Republic and followed a Catholic priest's quest to improve their lives. It described how sugar companies smuggle Haitians across the border, strip them of identification papers, and essentially turn them into slaves. Literally they live in deplorable conditions under armed guard and barbed wire. With no papers, they can't leave without facing arrest. Without proper food and healthcare, many live, work, and die on the plantations.

In addition to addressing several issues related to immigration and Dominican nationalism, the movie points out, without going into enough detail, that the United States has lucrative trade agreements with the sugar companies.

Since I joined a CSA, I've been thinking about food differently. For the most part I am more conscious of where the food comes from and how far it travels to get to me. I'm trying to buy and eat more food that was grown in an environmentally friendly way.

But there are only so many kinds of crops grown in the midwest or in this country, for that matter. This film reminds us that some of our favorite foods, like sugar and coffee, are grown elsewhere in the world and often have a human cost.

One way for American consumers can strike back at these sugar companies is to buy fair trade items. I admit that I have never felt that compelled to do so. It always seemed like this abstract concept. But after seeing this movie the last thing I want is for these sugar companies to profit off of me.

I won't pretend to cut sugar from my diet. I love ice cream too much. But greater awareness can go a long way at the grocery store when I am making decisions about what to buy.

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