Beefer Madness

Eric Schlosser talks Taco Bell, mad cow, Bush

I just read an article saying that an Arkansas meatpacking plant wants to test all their livestock for mad cow disease using a new testing method just introduced in Japan. You'll know whether a cow is infected within an hour. The USDA is threatening them with criminal charges. This one company is saying that they want to test for mad cow, and the USDA is saying they want to prosecute them? The USDA should be insisting that everyone should adopt that test. But they won't do that—they don't want to embarrass the rest of the meatpacking industry. The food industry continues to operate in this Alice in Wonderland world where the one company that wants to reform will be sued by the agency in charge of it.

Nevertheless, you endFast Food Nation with the hopeful statement "Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic." In light of mad cow, bird flu and exploitation of workers, do you still maintain high hopes of reform within the fast food industry.?

I have high hopes that people are becoming much more aware of the food they eat and the consequences in eating it and demand changes in the system. I think that the system is obsolete and its either going to profoundly change or vanish. Most fast-food chains are already cutting back on operations. In the years to come, you're going to see them shrink.

You're speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has been advocating a boycott of Taco Bell for more than two years. Although you advocate boycotting fast-food chains in your book, don't you find it self-defeating for the workers to ask consumers to refrain from buying from the very company whose profits ensure their livelihood?

That issue has been a tough one from the beginning of labor organizing. But I think that the short-term harm that may be caused by a strike will be offset by the long-term causes of ending slavery. This is 2004, and ideally, you'd think that labor laws would help the CIW folks. But Governor [Jeb] Bush has done next to nothing in helping the workers, and the federal government only marginally more. In the absence of that, you have to hold [Taco Bell] responsible by boycotting.

How do you think the CIW's campaign against Taco Bell is shedding light on the fast-food industry as a whole?

I think that they've done a great job. They're reached out to universities and spread the word. If any change is going to come, it's coming from young people. It's easy to get people to care about what's inside their taco, but it's so hard to get the general American population to care about those at the bottom of society, especially if they have a different skin color and speak a different language. There aren't many other groups who have been doing, so the CIW deserves that much more praise.

What do you think, then, is the most effective strategy Taco Bell lovers can take in order to ensure better working conditions for the Immokalee workers?

People should stop frequenting Taco Bell and should write a letter to Taco Bell's president telling them why. Anyone who cares enough should contact the CIW and find out what they can do to help.

Where will you be eating Friday? (Laughs)I have no idea. I don't plan my meals that far in advance. But I can guarantee you it won't be at Taco Bell.

ERIC SCHLOSSER WILL SPEAK IN FRONT OF THE TACO BELL CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS, 17901 VON KARMAN AVE., IRVINE. FOR INFORMATION ON THIS AND OTHER COALITION OF IMMOKALEE WORKERS EVENTS, LOG ONTO WWW.CIW-ONLINE.ORG.

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