Friday, August 20, 2010

Gluten Free and The Man

Before founding Against The Grain, we'd done a number of different things: we’d worked in academia, big business and small business, and sold our souls on Wall Street. Despite over three decades of work experience, nothing much had prepared us for the kinds of issues we deal with as a wholesale gluten free food manufacturer. Fundamentally, we jumped into this business for two reasons: 1) we developed a premium bread product that we thought should be available to all who wanted it; and 2) we didn’t want to work for “The Man” ever again—we wanted to build a business with a conscience and provide a positive, growth-oriented work environment.

The other day I read a story in The New York Times about the striking workers at Dr Pepper Snapple Group Mott’s apple juice plant near Rochester, NY. Talk about “The Man!” Despite reporting record profits (net income of $555 million in 2009,) management is attempting to cut its labor costs by reducing workers’ annual salaries by $3,000, freezing pensions, eliminating pensions for new hires, reducing retirement
contributions, and making employees pay more for health benefits. The real corker, however, was a union bargainer who said of the plant manager, “He said we’re a commodity like soybeans and oil, and the price of commodities go up and down. He said there are thousands of people in this area out of jobs, and they could hire any one of them for $14 an hour.” Boy, I can’t wait to drink apple juice made by people treated like soybeans.

Sometimes I wonder whether customers really care (or even think) about the people behind the products they eat. A lot of attention has been given to fair trade, and the market has shown that consumers are interested in buying imported foods for which the workers are fairly compensated. But, does anyone think about production workers in an apple juice plant or production bakers in gluten free bakeries? Do consumers care if their food is made by workers who don’t make livable wages and work without any
benefits? Is cheap gluten free food more important than food made and handled by caring workers? I sincerely believe that there is a certain energy, a sense of mission that goes into every product we produce. We’re not cutting corners on any of our ingredients, and believe me, in a GF bakery, caring workers are very much one of the ingredients.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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