10 August 2009

Bullshit (2nd in a Very Irregular Series) ~ etown.org

It has been a long time since I promised "a semi-regular feature aimed at puncturing purveyors of bullshit" flowing from the moralistic and self-righteous. You can find the first installment here. And you can find a discussion of what I mean by bullshit here ~ it is not just catchy advertising! And while it surely applies to the loathsome right, it hardly applies only to them.

This time out I want to talk about a radio show I heard for the first time this evening. It is called etown. It is hard to argue with "music.ideas.community."! You can find their website, where I lifted the logo above and the following statement, here.
about us > what is etown?

etown's mission is to educate, entertain and inspire a diverse audience, through music and conversation, to create a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable world.

etown is an exciting weekly radio broadcast
We're heard from coast to coast on NPR®/public, commercial, and co
mmunity stations. Like old-time radio variety shows, every etown show is taped in front of a live audience and features performances from many of today's top musical artists as well as conversation and information about our communities and our environment.

etown is a community builder
By featuring diverse music and interviews with a wide variety of authors, poets and policy-makers, etown creates a constantly expanding "community on the air." With the addition of inspiring e-chievement awards, listeners all over the country are reminded that individual efforts really do make a difference. etown is a place where respect for each other and our natural environment go hand in hand.

etown is a great live event

Whether at the Boulder Theater or one of the many other venues around the country where the show is recorded, etown is an entertaining, informative and downright inspiring live show. Hosts Nick and Helen Forster lead the show seamlessly, mixing music and message with humor and energy to create a one-of-a-kind live show. The show includes two musical guests, an interview guest and the presentation of the e-chievement winner. At the end of every show all musical guests collaborate on a one-of-a-kind exciting finale.

Tonight the show featured Bruce Cockburn who, while I'd not claim to be a huge fan, I generally like. And it was broadcast from Montpelier, Vermont. After singing the first number Nick Forster the show's host chatted with Bruce about his trip to Iraq and eventually noted how the point of the show was to connect the dots (or something to that effect) between ideas and music and ... well, you get the point. Also, during his intro this evening, Nick had noted to the audience that Montpelier is maybe the only state capital in the country that does not have a MacDonald's restaurant. (An observation met with enthusiastically self-congratulatory applause.) There is a point to relating this last point, but for now, back to this evening's show.

One of the things the etown folk apparently do each week is present an 'e-cheivement' award to someone who has been nominated by a listener. This week the recipient was Paul Rice. Here is what the etown web page says about him:
Paul Rice, TransFair USA: As a young man, Paul developed deep concerns regarding issues of global hunger, poverty, sustainable agriculture, and the challenges of rural economic development. Building on the broad experience gained while living and working in developing countries around the world to address these issues, he founded the nonprofit TransFair USA in 1998. It's the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. TransFair USA audits transactions between U.S. companies that offer Fair Trade products as well as international suppliers from whom they source. Annual inspections ensure that strict socioeconomic development criteria are being met. They ensure that farmers and farmworkers are paid a fair, above market price for their product. TransFair USA has certified several million pounds of coffee, providing farmers in poor countries with over $140 million more than if harvests were sold to local intermediaries.

Website: www.TransFairUSA.org
Email: info@transfairusa.org
Address: 1611 Telegraph Ave. Ste. 900, Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 510-663-5260
Well, that is terrific. And it seems as though Rice is doing good work. So, to this point I am thinking, this is not a bad show. A bit treacly perhaps, but not bad. Then came a word from the sponsors. Here is the set of sponsor logos from the etown web page:

Note the logo in the upper left hand corner. Then, go to The Rocky Mountain News and you can learn from this story that from 2001 through 2006, McDoanld's Corporation was the major shareholder in Chipotle. Yes, the same McDonald's that Nick Forster derided in this opening comments, was the underwriter of Chipotle's growth for the better part of a decade. Damn those golden arches - it makes me feel soooo good to be moralistic.

Things don't get much better, though, once you dig a little deeper. Once you've read the RMN story, go to The Nation and search on 'Chipotle.' What you'll get is this set of links to stories about how the firm - which turns out to be a local Colorado outfit, started roughly at the same town as etown itself was launched - deals with farm workers here in the U.S.A.. Let's be charitable and just say the bottom line is 'not very well.' (And, let's be clear, this is not a new issue. Chipotle has actively resisted dealing with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers which represents farm workers in Florida. In other words their exploitative behavior is not just an oversight. It is ongoing and willful.)

So, on the one hand we are giving an e-chievement award commending a fellow for trying to do right by poor farm workers in developing countries while on the other hand we re accepting underwriting funds from a corporation who not only owes their current financial well-being to McDonald's but is actively engaged in mistreating farm workers here in our own developing counties.* The RMN story relates the self-satisfaction of the Chipotle brass for purchasing free-range pork. It is more important, apparently, to worry about the welfare of animals than to deal in a fair way with the farm-workers who are putting the veggies on the table.

So, here are the questions I have for Nick Forster- when you connect the dots for us, can you explain why you are are lauding 'fair trade' with agricultural workers in developing countries while taking money from Chipotle? How about helping build community among the farm workers in Florida? Community is not just about feeling good. It is about organizing and solidarity. In other words, it is about political action informed by political principles. Next week Nick, will you speak out on the air about the way Chipotle underwrites the exploitation of farm workers? Or perhaps you could bestow an e-chievement award on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers!
* Although I am not certain about this, I believe that McDonald's has had an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers since early 2007.

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Blogger Tom White said...

Their food isn't even that good.

I have to check this, but I did hear once that MacDonalds also has a large financial stake in Pret a Manger, who are one of those chains promoting a fresh food, good ingredients, fair trade organic etc etc feel good ethical lifestyle brand along with their food. (Actually their food is not bad quality wise - though I know in England at least they pay low and work hard...)

Hypocracy is indeed our greatest luxury.

11 August, 2009 18:20  

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