FERN’s Friday Feed: The children who feed us

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

Child labor in the food system is out of control


“A FERN analysis of investigation data from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD)—which is tasked with enforcing child labor laws—found that more than 75 percent of recent violations were committed by employers in the food industry,” writes Teresa Cotsirilos. “The agency uncovered more than 12,000 child labor violations in the nation’s food system between Jan. 1, 2018 and Nov. 23, 2022, the most recent date for which data were publicly available. Investigators found minors working illegally at vegetable farms in Texas and California, at dairy farms in Minnesota and New Hampshire and at poultry plants in Georgia and Mississippi. Children are involved in every step of the food supply chain, working illegally from farm to table.”

Scientists don’t want to talk about ice cream’s health benefits

The Atlantic

“There’s a thing that happens when you start writing a story about how maybe, possibly, believe it or not, ice cream might be sort of good for you, and how some of the world’s top nutritionists gathered evidence supporting that hypothesis but found reasons to look past it,” writes David Merritt Johns. “You begin to ask yourself: Am I high on my own ice-cream supply? I asked the experts for a gut check. [Epidemiologist Mark A.] Pereira, the first to hit upon the ice-cream effect, told me that it just wasn’t the kind of result that goes down well in the ‘closed-minded’ world of elite nutrition.”

Fusion, forced migration and Somali food


“We Somalis are tied deeply to our land, our people, and to our traditions. The forced migration as a result of the Civil War … interrupted a generational passing down of knowledge, language, and culture,” writes Ifrah F. Ahmed. “Many Somalis living abroad must balance that interruption with the influence of the culture of wherever they’re living … In this context, it becomes complicated for someone like me to navigate the policing of the ‘Somali-ness’ of my cooking. In the last few years, there’s been an increased focus on the concept of ‘fusion’ cuisine. Food writer Soleil Ho differentiated fusion from ‘assimilation food,’ and others have referred to it as ‘in-between’ food. No matter what people choose to call this kind of diaspora cooking, the only consistency seems to be how many people question its authenticity.”

The other border crisis: bugs

Knowable Magazine

“Today, there are over 7,000 accidentally introduced insect species living outside their native range. While only a small proportion cause damage, they are estimated to cost at least $70 billion per year,” writes Helen Nahrung. “One of these, the Asia-native emerald ash borer, is among the top 10 worst invasive species, which include vertebrates and weeds (another list no one wants to be on). In the two decades since its arrival in the US — probably in imported wood packaging — it has killed tens of millions of ash trees.”

The front line in the stunt-food wars

The New Yorker

“Taco Bell’s food-innovation staff, which includes sixty developers, focusses on big questions,” writes Antonia Hitchens. “How do you make a Cheez-It snack cracker big enough to be a tostada? What are the ideal Cheez-It dimensions to guarantee that the tostada won’t crack inconveniently when bitten into? Or consider the Doritos Locos Taco: What safeguards can be implemented to prevent the orange Doritos dust from staining a consumer’s hands or clothing? Can fourteen Flamin’ Hot Fritos corn chips be added to the middle of a burrito and retain their crunch? Can a taco shell be made out of a waffle, or a folded slab of chicken Milanese? These are all problems of architecture and scalability; fast food is assembly, not cooking.”