FERN’s Friday Feed: Legal child labor in U.S. farm fields

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Pacific Standard

Farmwork “is a job that no one wants. It’s the definition of stoop labor, and it frequently leads to life-altering consequences,” write Karen Coates and Valeria Fernández. “[A]mong farmworkers, injuries are common, sometimes disabling, occasionally fatal.” Yet across the country, “hundreds of thousands of these workers are minors—and it’s perfectly legal.” Children as young as 12 are allowed to work unlimited hours in the fields, in part because of an agricultural exemption from the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.

With several San Francisco food critics stepping down from their posts at once, Soleil Ho wonders whether the end of restaurant criticism is approaching. “It certainly gnaws on me when I think about how the pool of folks who can afford the high-end restaurants I’m looking at, even as once-in-a-lifetime splurges, is shrinking,” Ho writes. “There is an aspect of aspiration to food writing, but does it have to be that aspirational? What does it say about a city’s food culture where it excludes even dedicated restaurant criticism?”

The cost of agriculture production along the Mississippi

The Wall Street Journal

A graphic of the Mississippi River illustrates how nutrient runoff begins at the river’s top in Minnesota and stretches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. “The farmland that surrounds the Mississippi is more productive than ever, supplying the world with cheap crops and meat,” write  Jesse Newman, Renée Rigdon and Patrick McGroarty. “There is a cost. Fertilizer and manure used on farms contain nitrogen and phosphorus. Flushed into waterways, they can taint drinking water and foster algae that chokes out marine life.”

‘Authenticity’ fight over Chinese food is rooted in ‘cheap and dirty’ image


“While Chinese food is tied up in personal identity for many, the current intensity of the conversation is partly rooted in a history of viewing Chinese cuisine as cheap and dirty,” write Andrew R. Chow and Suyin Haynes. “As Chinese food rises in stature and price, a new wave of white restaurateurs are realizing there’s money to be made in the field,” and “Chinese communities in the U.S. or the U.K. now have the ability to critique the work of these chefs, thanks in part to social media. And when leaders across industries perceive a disrespect toward their community or heritage, they have used their platforms to voice discontent.”

First, meatless meat. Now, fishless fish?

The New York Times

“Impossible Foods … is joining a crowded field of food companies developing alternatives to traditional seafood with plant-based recipes or laboratory techniques that allow scientists to grow fish from cells,” writes David Yaffe-Bellany. “The fishless-fish project is part of Impossible’s grand ambitions to devise tasty replacements for every animal-based food on the market by 2035. Whether that aim is achievable, either scientifically or financially, remains to be seen.”