Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
For an end-of-year playlist, I was tempted to focus on the glittering dance tracks, hip hop ballads, and crashing rock numbers that propelled 2014's late-night bar crawls and caffeinated road-trips. Much of the past year's standout music packed momentum and pizzazz; new songs by TV on the Radio, Spoon, Taylor Swift, Run the Jewels, the Black Keys, and St. Vincent come to mind.
But for when you're at home during the grayest and shortest days of the year, none of that will do. Here's a playlist for afternoons spent hibernating in sweatpants and flipping through photo albums while the snow piles up outside. The best introverted music of 2014. Songs that pair well with nostalgia, daydreaming, the settling feeling of having nowhere to go but the kitchen for more tea. In the words of Axl Rose (as quoted on featured band Luluc's website): "Said woman, take it slow and things will be just fine."
You can also listen to the playlist nonstop via Spotify (embedded at the bottom).
1. The Barr Brothers, "Love Ain't Enough"
This playful and eclectic Montreal-based group experiments with obscure instruments like the African ngoni, dabbles in Delta-inspired blues, and knows how to really bang it out during live shows. But this tender track, with Sarah Page's hypnotic harp and front man Brad Barr's ragged voice laid out bare, is a clear standout on the band's new album Sleeping Operator.
2. Brandi Carlile, "The Eye"
This song is steeped in regret and remembrance, and it rings with simple and assured harmonies. Singer-songwriter Carlile's forthcoming album The Firewatcher's Daughter is set to land March 3, 2015. "Vulnerability is all over this record," she told NPR, and maybe nowhere more than in "The Eye."
3. Luluc, "Small Window"
Australian duo Luluc has opened for the likes of Lucinda Williams and Fleet Foxes. In this gentle tune, singer Zöe Randell murmurs of dreamy reflections from an airplane seat. The echoey blend of her voice with partner Steve Hassett's will make you want to float away.
4. Marissa Nadler, "Drive"
Nadler released a burst of new music in 2014: An album July, and then Before July, an EP full of unreleased songs including a fresh take on Elliott Smith's "Pitseleh." Like much of her music, something about "Drive" feels haunted—Nadler's delicate voice and the track's minor chords swirl together and summon dark woods and lonely highways.
5. James Bay, "Let it Go"
Breakout crooner James Bay perfectly evokes the torturous process of untangling from a lover. This song helped make the soulful Bay a Brit Awards Critic Choice Winner of 2015, and all before releasing his full-length debut, Chaos and the Calm, due out in March.
6. The Staves, "In the Long Run"
Combine the sounds of folksy trio Mountain Man and the ever deep Laura Marling and you get The Staves, a perfect answer to midwinter melancholy. Their angelic voices, flawless picking, and thoughtful harmonies make me want to listen to this bittersweet song on repeat.
7. Sharon Van Etten, "Our Love"
Moody yet transcendent, "Our Love" showcases Van Etten's vocal control. Paired with this steamy video, the tune is the ideal backdrop for an afternoon make-out session.
8. alt-J, "Warm Foothills"
One of the songs off of alt-J's latest album, This Is All Yours, samples Miley Cyrus, but I prefer the velvety female vocals of Lianne La Havas and Marika Hackman on "Warm Foothills," a song braided together with glimmering guitar, silky violins, and hopeful whistling. The lyrics are full of playful poetry: "Blue dragonfly darts, to and fro, I tie my life to your balloon and let it go."
9. José González, "Every Age"
"Some things change, some remain, some will pass us unnoticed by," González chants in this pulsing paean to life's journey, the first single off of his forthcoming album. "Every Age" is a "beautifully spare, existential meditation," writes music critic Robin Hilton.
Michelle Tea skipped college and spent her 20s and 30s in grimy houses, drinking herself unconscious and getting herself fired from every entry-level job she took. She eventually sobered up, landed a teaching gig, published several books, and won over the love of her life—a polished businesswoman named Dashiell. Her "meandering and counterintuitive" path may not inspire imitators. But Tea's candid and colorful writing, chronicling her emotional wedding, stabs at Buddhism, devotion to eccentric fashion, and attempts to get knocked up with "sperm shooters," speaks to her ability to function as an adult without losing sight of her wackier self.
People in the United States have been going to Planned Parenthood for nearly a century, ever since Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. But it wasn't until 1977, after the US had already celebrated Roe v. Wade, that Colombian women had any equivalent organization to turn to. That was the year Dr. Jorge Villarreal started Oriéntame, a women's reproductive health clinic now credited with inspiring more than 600 outposts across Latin America "and for reshaping abortion politics across the continent," writes Joshua Lang in a story about the Villarreal family, out today in California Sunday.
In the 1950s, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of Colombia's maternal deaths.
Jorge Villarreal Mejía graduated from medical school in 1952 and soon took the reigns of the obstetrics department at Colombia's national university. During that time, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of the country's maternal deaths. "Women in slum areas were putting the sonda (catheter) inside of them without any sonography," his daughter Cristina Villarreal told Lang. "They used ganchas de ropa (coat hangers), anything." When these women showed up at general hospitals, they were shamed and quickly given basic medical attention at most.
So in 1977, Jorge opened a stand-alone health clinic in Bogotá called Oriéntame. Abortions were illegal, so Oriéntame had to focus on helping women who were already suffering from bad abortion attempts, or "incomplete abortions." Colombians had to wait another thirty years before their mostly Catholic country legalized abortion, under pressure from a coalition that included Cristina Villarreal. (Abortion is now legal in Colombia when a mother's physical or emotional health is in danger.) In the meantime, Oriéntame continued its mission to heal and empower women, using a sliding-scale payment model in order to reach poorer clients. In 1994, Cristina assumed leadership of the organization, which had grown to include a second nonprofit to help doctors around Latin America open their own Oriéntame clinics.
Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction."
Lang's story, an eye-opening and educational read, details the Villarreals' persistence in the face of police and priests, health administration raids, legal battles, money troubles, and social stigma. Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, writes Lang, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction," making Oriéntame's success "all the more unlikely." Today, the organization continues to struggle for funding. But fortunately for the estimated 4.5 million women seeking abortions every year across Latin America, and countless others looking for reproductive guidance, Oriéntame's network has already laced together a much-needed safety net that will be difficult to undo.
Her pack was too heavy, her boots too tight. She didn't know how to read a compass. But that didn't stop first-time backpacker Cheryl Strayed, then 26, from embarking on a soul-searching 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, from Southern California's Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.
Yet the physical feat of the hike is not the true star of Strayed's 2012 memoir about the journey, Wild. Rather, Strayed's recovery from a near-addiction to heroin, a young divorce, and her mother's death from cancer take center stage. The story so resonated with readers, they kept it at the number one slot on the New York Times' bestseller list for seven weeks straight.
Wild also captivated Reese Witherspoon, who purchased the rights and portrays Strayed in the film version directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), out on December 3. Novelist Nick Hornby signed on to write the screenplay after reading the book and writing Strayed a tender fan letter. The film has garnered early praise, and speculation that it could lead to Oscar nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who plays Strayed's mother in the film. After Wild premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August, the New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote: "Ms. Witherspoon is both an entirely believable modern woman, defying conventional categories and expectations, and also, for that reason, an excitingly credible feminist heroine."
I caught up with Strayed to talk about Oprah haters, backpacker backlash, and her Hollywood mind meld.
Mother Jones: The movie version of Wild opens soon. Is Reese Witherspoon the first person you would've thought of to portray you?
Cheryl Strayed: It's funny, it never occurred to me that a movie star would play me. But now that she is playing me, it's like, of course, it couldn't be anyone else! I don't know if you've seen pictures of Reese and me and Reese and my daughter Bobbi, who's named after my mother, and also plays me. There's a kind of resemblance. What's interesting is how much more perfect she's become over time. Watching the movie for me is uncanny, because they have her wearing the clothes I wore. They put her hair in a barrette the same way I put my hair in a barrette. She just became me in a way that's like, shocking.
MJ: How involved were you in the production?
CS: I was involved from the beginning. Reese was always very concerned that the film would honor my life and the book. And Nick Hornby, who wrote the script, had read Wild before he was involved, and out of the blue had written me the kindest fan letter. That just blew me away. When Jean-Marc Vallée, the director, came on board, it was just this wonderful piece of luck, because we have a similar artistic sensibility. The film was shot in Oregon and California, and I was welcome on the set. If the director had his way, I'd have been there every day. I'd give Reese tons of advice about the character and backpacking, and teaching her how to do this, that, and the other thing. The art department looked at pictures of my family and the prop people took my backpack. The gear I had on the trail—I have most of it still—they re-created for the film. I probably saw seven or eight versions, and I offered feedback, and Jean-Marc listened very seriously. [Unlike] every bad story you've ever heard about Hollywood from writers, with this everything was fun and golden.
Reese Witherspoon on the set of WildFox Searchlight
"It never occurred to me that a movie star would play me. But now that she is playing me, it's like, of course, it couldn't be anyone else!"
MJ: Were there any scenes you lobbied for or against?
CS: Let me think. I wanted to make sure that the love and respect was there that Cheryl felt for her mother, who's played by Laura Dern. I weighed in pretty strongly that, even amid some tensions between mother and daughter, there's a lot of love and tenderness. It mattered to me that they portrayed that accurately.
MJ: Your epic solo walk on the Pacific Coast Trail came more than a decade before Wild. How did you reconstruct it?
CS: I liken it to when you run into an old friend from high school and you get to talking and suddenly you're remembering things you'd thought you'd forgotten. There are different patches that open up in the brain. I also kept a journal, not just because I was on the hike, but all through my 20s and 30s. When I would meet somebody, I would write the way a fiction writer or a memoirist writes about them. And I did research, the good old-fashioned, "Let's see, what flowers were growing in that field when I might have passed by that time?" Obviously memoir is subjective truth: It is my memory, my perspective, that's the beauty. But I still wanted to be as factual as I could.
MJ: You wrote, "I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told." What had you been told about the wilderness prior to setting out?
CS: I grew up in northern Minnesota on 40 acres of wooded land 20 miles from the nearest town, and so the wilderness was home. It was not an unsafe place. I had that advantage. But there are so many representations of the wilderness being dangerous. You know, depictions of wild animals attacking people. It's like, "No, we kill those animals in far greater numbers than they kill us." So on one hand, because the wilderness was familiar to me, it really helped me be brave. But it still was scary sometimes. I had to say to myself: "Chances are, you're not going to be mauled by a bear."
MJ: The people who get rescued from wilderness areas often turn out to have been ill-prepared. Do you worry that some people might take your book too literally and set off on a three-month hike with little preparation?
CS: If you want to read anything nasty about me, just go to the backpacker websites. I mean, lots of outdoor people love Wild, but there's this kind of elitist branch where they really believe that I had no business going backpacking. I get blamed: "Oh, Cheryl Strayed, it's her fault if somebody needs to be rescued." First of all, things have gone awry in the wilderness well before Wild was ever published. [Laughs.] But I actually don't have any fear of people reading Wild and going out unprepared. Because one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I went out unprepared. And when you really think about it, all I did wrong was that I took too much stuff, which is the most common backpacker mistake. The part that I wasn't prepared for is the part you can't prepare for. You can't replicate walking 94 days through the wilderness by yourself with a really heavy pack until you do it. I had to learn how to do a lot of stuff on the trail, that's true. But I was the one who suffered the consequences.
MJ: So you'll be cool with it when your kids announce their plans to hike the Appalachian Trial alone?
CS: That would make me so happy! I would feel like I had parented them well. I would take full credit. [Laughs.]
MJ: NPR did a segment on a woman who read your book only to realize that you were her half-sister. Have you met her?
CS: I knew her first name, but she doesn't have our father's last name anymore, and I don't either. [Strayed chose her new surname in her early 20s after divorcing her first husband.] When I got the email, she didn't say in the subject line, "Hey, I think we're related." It was just like, "Wild," and it seemed like just a fan email, and I sometimes will sort of skim those. She said what a lot of people say: "Oh, we have so much in common. Your life is so much like mine." And just when I was about to move on, she says, "You know, I actually think we share a father."
MJ: Way to bury the lede!
CS: Exactly! In the second or third paragraph, I'm not kidding you! I almost missed it. And I knew the moment she said my father's name. So I wrote her back, and we bonded. I haven't met her yet. She lives across the country, and we've not had occasion to get together because life is complicated. But yeah, isn't that crazy?
MJ: Yeah! So let's talk about Oprah. As someone who had gone through an MFA program and been to writers' conferences, what was your view of Oprah's Book Club before she asked to feature you?
CS: Oh, I have always been a great fan. I guess I got kind of politicized about it when that whole Jonathan Franzen thing happened: He was picked for the club, and then in interviews said things that seemed to be disparaging. I was really offended by that. I really hate snobbery, especially in literature. And I do think it's funny: People get away with criticizing Oprah: "Her book club is low-brow," or whatever. They forget that many of Toni Morrison's books, two of Franzen's books—Faulkner is an Oprah Book Club pick! I'd say 98 percent of the criticism directed at her, what they're [really] saying is, "Well, her audience is female. So if women like it, it must not be high art." Any time you have a group that is primarily women, there's gonna be a whole bunch of snobs who step in and say, "Oh, that's beneath me." Is it such a terrible thing that a bunch of people read novels that no one would've read had it not been for her? Wild was a bestseller before she came along, but some books wouldn't have ever had the audience they got. And it was all because of Oprah. That's the first thing I said to her. I said, "Thank you so much for being such a supporter of literary fiction."
"If you want to read anything nasty about me, just go to the backpacker websites. There's this kind of elitist branch where they really believe that I had no business going backpacking."
MJ: So are you feeling hungry for your next project, or do you just need a break?
CS: Both. To me, a bit of a break would be getting to write again. My life has been so outward—the book is still on the best-seller list and all that stuff. So that's been busy enough. But now with the film everything's amped up even more. I am hoping 2015 is all about me going back into the cave and writing.
MJ: What are you working on?
CS: I'm sort of working on a novel and a memoir. I don't want to talk about it too much. It's kind of a prequel.
MJ: For a time, you also had a gig as Sugar, the advice columnist for the Rumpus, the online literary magazine. Is Sugar on hiatus, or has she retired?
CS: I don't know. I really did mean for it to just be a hiatus when I took off with Wild and the book tour and all that stuff, but I've never not been busy, so I don't know what's gonna happen. I also started to reach a point where I feel like I've spoken my piece. If you read [the "Dear Sugar" collection] Tiny Beautiful Things, I so universally answer so many questions, there'd be a point where I'd start repeating myself.
MJ: If you were to seek advice from Sugar, what would you ask?
CS: "How do you say no?" It's so much easier said than done. Because I'm being asked to do so much, and my friends are saying, Cheryl, you just have to say no. I like to be generous; it's truly part of my personality, so to have to manage that in a way that keeps me sane and healthy has almost been impossible.
MJ: As Sugar, you're frank and validating without being snarky. How do you avoid the snark trap, given how the internet puts a premium on humor with an attitude?
CS: That's why I thought I'd be a failure with Sugar: I'm not funny and I'm not going to be able to be glib and all the stuff the kids like these days. I said, if I do this, I'm just going to have to be what I am, which is direct and candid and very sincere and very loving—and not hiding behind a kind of mask of cunning witticisms. Ultimately, Sugar makes you cry more than she makes you laugh. I was so afraid that people wouldn't like the column because I wasn't snarky, and it turned out that's the reason they like it so much. People really were hungry for sincerity. And not just people, but young San Francisco hipsters who read the Rumpus. People who you would think would just roll their eyes. But no. They were like, "Oh Sugar, please help me."
Food Chains opens at the break of dawn, as tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, hustle onto buses and out to the fields where they spend long hours trying to pick enough fruit to survive. Late in the evening they return to cramped trailers, with barely enough wages to purchase groceries for a family meal. Though Florida's rich soil generates hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tomatoes, those harvesting them make around $12,000 a year. And the worst part, as tomato picker Gerardo Reyes Chavez points out, at the end of the day there's only the realization of "how little you mean to the people you are working for."
"We're not poor in this country—we're screwed," remarks farm advocate Lucas Benitez in Food Chains, an illuminating documentary about ag workers that hits theaters today. Directed by Sanjay Rawal (Ocean Monk), the film sheds light on how our produce depends on the labor of workers who are paid by the piece and are twice as likely to live beneath the poverty line as salaried employees.
But Food Chains isn't just a typical tale of helpless peons getting swallowed by an oppressive system. The film, produced by Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Eva Langoria and narrated by Forest Whitaker, highlights the progress that's been achieved. Much of the movie traces the arduous and ultimately triumphant push by Florida's Coalition of Immokalee Workers. After years of organizing, the CIW convinced consumers and companies to pay a "penny-per-pound" premium to tomato pickers and established a code of conduct that bans on-the-job harassment and unpaid labor.
Since 2011, national brands like Burger King and Subway have signed on to the CIW's Fair Food Program. In January, Walmart joined. And last month, a "Fair Food" label debuted on tomatoes in Whole Foods. Ninety percent of tomato pickers in Florida now benefit from the program. In a state once deemed "ground zero for modern-day slavery," the CIW reports finding no incidents of forced labor since the program's inception. So far, buyers have funneled $15 million into the Fair Food Program through the premium, which shows up as a bonus on each worker's paycheck. "The fact that the CIW was able to create this program in the most hostile environment for farm workers in the US shows me that it's a model," says Rawal. "If it works in Florida, it can work anywhere else."
Food Chains' underlying message is that foodie-ism must encompass more than just a concern for how dinner looks and tastes. People always ask, "Where was the pig raised? What food did it eat?" says Rawal. It's time to start asking: "What were the conditions of the workers who slaughtered that pig?"
Sanjay Rawal Courtesy Food Chains
I caught up with Rawal to discuss the social cost of cheap food and his own connection to where our food comes from.
Mother Jones: Your dad has a career as a tomato geneticist. Did you guys grow tomatoes?
Sanjay Rawal: My dad worked for Del Monte and then for Monsanto as one of the chief scientists on the Calgene Flavr Savr Tomato. But it was a huge disaster because the tomato didn't taste good. And then my dad started his own genetics company and I began doing that with him. He and I ran a genetics company for 10 years. And so I sold seeds to Florida.
MJ: The tomato your dad worked on was all about taste, right?
SR: Yeah. The Flavr Savr wasn't about taste at all; that was just the name. It was about the shape and the shipability of it. My dad's company was all about flavor. His tomatoes are some of the best selling at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Other people grow them and sell them. My dad was a breeder. Most of his work happened in little test plots and didn't require much labor. He tried growing them for a while, and realized that farming is hard. It's just brutally hard. We didn't have the interest or fortitude to farm.
MJ: Why do you think you started to pay attention to workers' issues when you did?
"Farming is hard. It's just brutally hard. We didn't have the interest or fortitude to farm."
SR: I worked on human rights projects in Haiti, Cameroon, and East Asia, and the bigger ones tended to do with agriculture. My role was to make sure that there was equity that remained at the base of those projects, with the workers. I had a couple of different lives. I had the human rights life, and I had the family business life. I remember being at this tomato seed conference in Fort Meyers, Florida. This was like three months after Barry [Estabrook's] book came out. So I'm reading Tomatoland, and I'm literally 30 minutes away from Immokalee, Florida. It all hit home.
In Florida, then, and for farm workers for the most part in the US, there's a real sense of economic segregation. In the South, the structures of economic segregation still existed. Now those people are no longer African-American; for the most part, they're Latino. In California, it's different. We saw people sleeping in homeless encampments in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Horrific ones in Watsonville. It's different because you're looking at homelessness and the lack of housing, less than something that's institutionalized.
MJ: The Immokalee workers are central to the film and their story is so rich. Why did you feel the need to also include voices from all over the country, especially California, for this film?
SR: Farm work is a very difficult job, no matter what state you're in. California is an important state in the history of farm work because it was the only one that let unions flourish. California is the largest agricultural state in the country, in terms of fresh produce. You can't make a movie about farm labor without including California.
At the same time, what's happening in Florida is revolutionary. César Chavez and Dolores Huerta spent 20 years building the United Farm Workers. A lot of the progress they achieved has been rolled back slowly. Florida was deemed by one prosecutor from the Department of Justice as "ground zero for modern-day slavery in the United States." Horrific. And this is seven or eight years ago. But the Coalition, with a couple of farmers, and now a lot of farmers, started the Fair Food Program. They've gone from ground-zero for slavery to no slavery. There hasn't been a case of slavery in the last four years since the Fair Food Program's been in action.
Now, four years into it, they've got data, which showed initially a huge spike in sexual harassment complaints. That meant that, for the first time, people felt like they could complain. And now they're showing a pretty steep decline [in complaints] because the perpetuators of those abuses are now not in the system anymore. The fact that the CIW was able to create this program in the most hostile environment for farm workers in the US shows me that it's a model. If it works in Florida, it can work anywhere else. It's a beautiful thing.
MJ: How is this Fair Food Program different from past efforts to reform agricultural labor standards?
SR: California state law is better than any other state law, but no one will say that the enforcement of labor laws in California is up to par with the law itself. There's the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, but that's a code of conduct developed by politicians. In Florida, the code of conduct was written by the farm workers. In Florida, when you harvest tomatoes, you put them in a bucket. And that bucket holds 32 pounds with a flat top. But in the old days they made you "cup" [overfill] the bucket. So you were getting paid for 32 pounds, but you were putting in 35 pounds. And if you didn't cup it, they would throw it back at you. So one of the first things the farm workers said was, 'We don't need to have a single tomato above the rim of the bucket.' There's no way anyone in Tallahassee or Sacramento would have been able to figure that out. But it's critical for the workers.
MJ: Why do you think the largest grocery store retailers have been slower than fast-food chains and food-service providers to adopt the Fair Food Program?
SR: Walmart's been the only big one that's signed on and that doesn't even represent a quarter of the whole market. The grocery store business is different. They have a control over the supply chain that no other business is allowed to have legally. It's the concept of "monopsony." There are clear laws to indict a company for monopolistic practices. But a monopsony means you control the supply chain. You control the terms under which you do business. A farm is not a direct employee of, let's say, Kroger. And Kroger might only buy a quarter of that farm's cucumbers. But if that farm wants to have any hope of selling to Kroger, they've got to make sure that every single cucumber meets Kroger's terms. So that means Kroger effectively sets the terms for every single farm that wants to sell to it. That's why when you go to any single store, all the cucumbers look the same. All the tomatoes look the same. This uniformity is key.
There is a law against monopsonies. And according to one economist in our movie, Shane Hamilton, it's the most confusing law in the entire US. No one can even understand it, much less enforce it.
MJ: The film focuses on the Publix grocery store chain in Florida, which still hasn't signed on to the Fair Food Program. You mentioned that Publix has never even agreed to speak to the CIW. You have to wonder about the psychology behind refusing to talk to a group of people who have been protesting so long.
SR: Publix is a private company. It's still owned by the Jenkins family that lives in Central Florida. Corporate cultures are slow to change. In my opinion, one of the hardest things for Walmart to do in joining the Fair Food program was pay the extra penny. It's not because the people that ran the program on the side of Walmart didn't know that it was the right thing to do. But Walmart's philosophy is shave pennies off of everything. Everyone's measured by shaving pennies. You're not taught to add pennies to anything.
"Walmart's philosophy is shave pennies off of everything. You're not taught to add pennies to anything."
MJ: You navigate some pretty depressing territory in this film. What were some of the moments of light during the shooting process?
SR: We really struggled with including immigration as a reality on the ground, and not just as a political reality. We were at a camp of workers in Watsonville, and this one guy started talking to us and he spoke really good English. He said, "My wife and I have a chicken farm. You should come see it." He told me about his border crossing—super depressing—but he was like, "My wife is American." I'm thinking, "Yeah, she's Mexican-American." We go to his house, and she's blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It's not your usual story. It wasn't like she had some sympathy towards a certain class of immigrants; it was just love. Their first date, he didn't speak English. If degrees weren't an issue, he could have a very high-level job like doctor or lawyer. He's pouring his energy into organic chicken farming. Hopefully people will go like, "Yeah, he should have a future in this country." His wife said it: "We should feel gratitude towards the people who bring us our food. It's hard work."
MJ: Why were Napa's vineyard workers a group you wanted to include?
SR: If we pick on any issue in the film it's inequality. The progressive liberals in Napa just happen to be extremely rich. Their attitudes towards farm workers are more a function of class rather than party. You see multi-million dollar homes ringed by vineyards with people who can't make a living wage and who live far away. There are Mexican farm workers everywhere, Latinos in every restaurant in Napa Valley, but they aren't part of the narrative. It's as if the narrative of Napa Valley wine can't be cheapened by the notion that somebody poor contributed to it.
That to me is emblematic of the tremendous interest we have in food these days, where we take pictures of it. I was at a screening with Chef Jose Duarte, a well-known chef in Boston, and he was saying that in the six years he's had the restaurant, he's been asked every question: "Where was this pig raised? What kind of food did it eat? Where did this lettuce come from?" Nobody ever asked: "What were the conditions of the workers who slaughtered that pig?" When you look at the pinnacle of foodie culture that drives the foodie networks, that drives the "Top Chefs"—the question isn't being asked. Which is unusual, because Alice Waters and Michael Pollan are passionate about food-worker rights. The elders of the food movement are all about labor, and it hasn't trickled down yet.
MJ: Did your eating habits change after making this film?
SR: I've always tried to buy local, and I only occasionally shop at grocery stores. Unfortunately, it's impossible to buy everything certified fair labor. I think I've changed more in terms of attitude: a deeper sense of gratitude. Am I grateful for the food? Will that make me more connected to workers? Yeah, it does. Will it make me more receptive to hear that there are certain programs that workers are doing that I can support? Yeah. The first step is gratitude, as wishy-washy as that seems.