6 Of Your Favorite Foods Made Possible By Human Suffering
For most of us, life is a lot easier if we pretend the thing we're eating was grown on a Twinkie tree and picked by a cheerful elf. We don't usually want to think about how many dissolved spiders and fingernails the industry considers acceptable in each can of Coke, even if we know it in the backs of our minds and occasionally swear we feel a little leg-like tickle in our throats. But some of the foods you buy at the local supermarket are produced not just atop a mountain of yuck, but on the backs of inconceivable human tragedy.
Buckle up, because it's about to get more than one kind of gross.
Palm Oil Is In Everything And Also Ruins Lives
You probably don't have a bottle of palm oil in your house, unless you're a weirdly specific kind of baker. You might not even know what it is or where it comes from. (The undersides of hands?) But it's in up to 50 percent of products in your local supermarket, and not just food. This stuff is so versatile that you probably ate it for breakfast, then washed your dishes with it, then cleaned yourself with it, then masturbated with it, and that's (hopefully) before you even stepped out the door.
And for the love of god, we hope in that order.
Suffice to say we import a lot of this stuff, and the people selling it are making absolute bank. That means it's no problem to them to mow down thousands of acres of rainforest and replace all those trees with insane numbers of one specific palm species. (Ohhhh, palm trees. Well now we feel dumb.) That fucks the local ecosystem in more ways than an acrobat gangbang, but fortunately, the mighty orangutan has adapted to living on palm berries. Unfortunately, the plantation owners aren't thrilled about it, so they've taken up offering bounties of as little as $100 per dead ape. Did we mention they're endangered? Super endangered. Not that they care any more about the lives of any humans in their way ...
Yeah, in Colombia, this single industry is responsible for forcing 70 percent of the population of the Narino region out of their homes at gunpoint to make room for more palm plantations. If they refuse, they're offered due compensation, but the payment is in bullets and it's deposited directly into their bodies. The indigenous tribes of the Malaysian state of Penan have filed more than 100 land rights cases due to palm oil plantations, all of which have been dismissed with derisive laughter and fake crying noises by a government that plans to expand its palm plantation coverage to two million hectares by 2020.
This is about 1/10,000th of a hectare. Two million is a lot of hectares.
That's despicable, but we can't exactly point fingers. The Western corporations lining their pockets are in no way ignorant of what's going on -- they just think large-scale atrocity is a fair price to pay for making your hair really shiny.
Your Cashews Were Picked And Processed By Heroin Addicts
Granted, you've probably never met someone who loves cashews. They're what your grandpa snacks on while he settles down to his evening Fox News report. Nevertheless, cashews have an audience somewhere, who may not be aware that almost every one of them was picked by the trembling hand of a Vietnamese drug addict begging for death.
The most disgusting thing they're involved in, other than trail mix.
All of the cashews imported by America, and most of the world, are grown in Vietnam. And the bulk of the labor is sourced from patients in the country's many drug rehabilitation camps. Apparently, at some point they noticed that there were a whole lot of heroin addicts rocking back and forth on their beds with nothing else to do, and a whole lot of cashews going unpicked. Two birds with one stone!
At first, that might not seem so bad. Anything to distract them from the dead babies crawling on the ceiling, right? Sure, except that the life of a heroin-addicted cashewer is somehow more horrible than simply lying back and swatting invisible spiders. They're forced to work 10 hours a day husking and skinning, which is more dangerous than it is mind-numbing. Raw cashews are surprisingly poisonous, containing similar toxins to poison ivy, and merely breathing inside a poorly ventilated cashew factory can do severe damage to your lungs. Coming down from heroin is hard enough as it is; no one wants to throw lung-bombs on top of it.
"But ... uhhh ... you guys are probably fine, though."
The best part is that it's perfectly legal, since the workers are classified as "patients" rather than "prisoners." Make no mistake, they're totally not allowed to leave, but the police are conveniently free to round them up and force them into nut factories without the complications of "lawyers" or "due process." True, you don't often see Western hospitals chucking kids with cancer out to work in the fields, but the way the American healthcare system is going, it may not be long.
The Shrimp Industry Has A Massive Rape Problem
Shrimp are the most consumed seafood on the planet, depending on how you classify the "crab" sticks in gas station sushi. Regardless of your personal level of snobbery, you'd better enjoy that shrimp cocktail you'll be choking down at every wedding this summer, because someone was probably raped for it. That's not a tasteless metaphor.
Or a tasty one.
The dark heart of Big Shrimp, nestled mainly in the countries of Southeast Asia, employs an average of 20 to 46 million workers being paid about $2 an hour and occasionally nothing. That's the least horrible aspect of the industry. In some of these factories, desperate workers are trapped behind barbed wire and armed guards, forced to peel shrimp until their fingers bleed. If they make a mistake or fall behind schedule, they can expect to be threatened, beaten, or worse. Female workers, well, they can expect a lot worse.
No, the barbed wire confinement somehow isn't the worst part.
Sometimes, sexual assault is a side effect. One female factory worker in Thailand's Suphan shrimp factory recalled being forced to walk for a week to the shrimp farm through dangerous territory, where many female workers were raped along the way. At another factory, if any workers so much as sneezed wrongly at their boss, they'd be subject to public punishment. For women, this involved taking off their clothes and getting their heads shaved.
Luckily for your conscience, a lot of the shrimp you eat comes straight from the USA, and our factories are ... oh, also horrible places, staffed by undocumented immigrants suffering under terrible workplace conditions and an epidemic of sexual harassment. So, um, next time you go to Red Lobster, maybe just get the cheddar biscuits. The dairy and wheat industries are probably fine.
Though you can get them from Walmart, and that place is no bed of roses.
The Pineapple Industry Has Poisoned A Whole Country
The pineapple is one of the more controversial fruits, and not only because of the age-old debate over its business being on a pizza. We're talking "slave labor and birth defects" controversy. See, global production of pineapples has risen by almost 50 percent since 1998, and a lot of those tart-sweet stab-fruits come from Costa Rica.
The two biggest pineapple producers, Del Monte and Dole, get their pineapples from plantations there. Many of the workers don't earn a living wage, and those who do end up working 14 hours a day and six days a week, so it really depends on your definition of "living." Seventy percent of these workers are Nicaraguan migrants, so you don't hear a lot of complaining, because even sighing a little too loudly can mean deportation.
The unlucky ones are left to wander the pineapple fields, never to be seen again.
Pineapples also require a lot of pesticides to grow, and plantations owners give approximately negative craps about the ramifications of that. They drench their pineapple fields in poison like they're trying to root out the Viet Cong, causing an epidemic of skin diseases, respiratory problems, and birth defects. In the Southern Atlantic zone of Costa Rica, over 6,000 people have had to rely on government tanks to deliver drinking water to them because their rivers are so toxic. Think about how desperate you'd have to be to get excited when a tank rolls through your neighborhood.
"SOMEBODY ORDER SOME MOTHERFUCKING WATER?!"
The pineapple industry is so important to Costa Rica (it brings in around $700 million a year) that they don't mind looking away from what is essentially incidental chemical warfare against their own people, and as Western supermarkets battle with each other to reduce prices, the wage problems and collateral poisonings only get worse. But hey, as long as your tropical dessert is labeled "Hawaiian," you can still trick yourself into believing it's all-American.
The Meat Industry Relies On Dismemberment And Government Cover-Ups
No matter how you feel about the practice of killing animals to improve the taste of your sandwich, the beef industry is rather horrifying. For one thing, much of the U.S. meat industry relies on the work of undocumented immigrants and refugees. Yes, the people who think it's un-American not to barbecue once a week are often the same people who want to deport everyone who makes said barbecues possible.
Those toothpick flags were made in China, too.
Delicious irony aside, this means that meat processing plants don't have to adhere too strictly to workplace safety standards, because undocumented immigrants are much less likely to raise a fuss when they get hurt on the job, for some reason. As a result, meat packers suffer from workplace lacerations, illnesses, and loss of limbs at rates much higher than the rest of the manufacturing industry -- but we don't know how much higher, because the workers are afraid to complain and the industry takes great pains to avoid reporting the incidents.
Band saws go through pig asses with no problem; Bob's handing hand isn't going to be a challenge.
Even weirder, meat packers are subject to special laws that criminalize whistleblowers. So-called "ag-gag" legislation in ten states make it illegal to film inside meat facilities, pretty much just because it makes them look bad. The legislation was introduced after the animal rights group Mercy for Animals filmed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating and sexually abusing cows in 2012 (no, really). Obviously, those poor workers were the ones who needed protection.
Chopsticks Are Manufactured By Political Prisoners And Are Potentially Toxic
Chopsticks are the go-to utensils for Westerners trying to feign respect for Eastern cuisine at the expense of respect for themselves. Even if you feel no shame playing mouth-hockey with a California roll, there's another reason you probably should go for the fork instead: Those chopsticks were likely produced by political prisoners, drug addicts, and other undesirables in a Chinese forced labor camp.
Who ironically have fingers so mangled from hard labor that they can't even use them.
In China, these prisoners are held in what they call "reeducation camps" where their "misguided ways" are "politely corrected" by the state. Big fans of sarcastic air-quotes, the Chinese government. Naturally, a big part of the "reeducation" process is backbreaking labor producing cheap trinkets and minor exports. Somehow, the glory of Chinese communism can only be truly understood after packing chopsticks for hours on end. The working conditions are about as unsanitary as you would expect, with chopsticks routinely dropped and stepped on. Maybe they're the ones you'll be using at Panda Express tonight. Maybe they're not.
"Yeah, but ... they make the orange chicken taste so much better, you know?"
If that doesn't put you off enough, Chinese-manufactured chopsticks are often produced using toxic chemicals, because Western consumers like their chopsticks the same way they like everything else: super white. The market gets what the market wants, and what it wants is potentially toxic utensils produced by political prisoners in an overseas factory with little to no worker protections, which might have been dropped in a toilet at some point. Enjoy!
For more reasons to just never eat any kind of food again, check out 6 Horrifying Things The Nutrition Industry Won't Tell You and 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today.
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