Two Buck Chuck and the Real Price of Cheap

So, I tried several times to comment in the “restaurants” discussion thread in response to people talking about Trader Joe’s, cheap wine and such, and my comment didn’t go through for some reason.  Guess it was the “anti-threadjack” filter PDD has now! (Wouldn’t that be nice!)

My thoughts were these:

A 17-year old woman died from heat exhaustion about a year ago while working in a vineyard that supplies grapes for 2-buck-chuck. Trader Joe’s dodged the responsibility by saying it was a “contractors” problem. That seems slippery ethics to me.

Here’s Food First’s Action Alert on this.

And another blog article.

The United Farm Workers is suing the state of California (partially prompted by this case), to get the state to protect workers from hazardous field conditions.

The reality seems to be that if you get to buy it cheap, someone (workers) or something (the environment) is getting exploited.

So, my question, do we and/or should we think about these kinds of things when we’re looking for a buzz to accompany our dinner?


Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Sorry Davids, your comment attempts on the other post landed in the spam folder. This happens sometimes when a comment has multiple links.

Normally an administrator would approve your comment upon discovering this, but now that a post exists around it, there seems no need for that. And maybe your thoughts deserve this separate discussion anyway.


about 10 years ago

I recently found out that my favorite everyday wines are made from UFW grapes, and that made my day.  I hadn't even thought of checking -- and I usually read the labels of everything I buy.


about 10 years ago

I highly recommend everyone watch the documentary Food Inc. Then, read every label when grocery shopping the next few times and choose accordingly. For the average american, this will likely result in improved health, weight loss, increased happiness, and lower food bills. Side effects are improved environmental quality, and improved conditions for farm animals.


about 10 years ago

I am a little taken aback at how fervently people are masturbating about potential new chain stores.


about 10 years ago

How is this lady's death in any way connected to a completely separate business that buys from them?

One business cannot tell another how to run their own separate business. Pinning this death on anyone but the specific business owner is misguided. Perhaps that worker should have been hydrating herself and paying attention to her own well-being. Perhaps you should launch a campaign telling humans that they should drink fluids or they will die.


Similar thing here. So should we sue SPAM or Hormel? Or any other businesses buying stuff from this one?

From the UFC website:

"We are not denying that Maria was paid through a farm labor contractor. As attorney Robert Perez who is representing Maria's family in a wrongful death lawsuit told the Sacramento Bee, "The reason why corporate farms hire labor contractors is not to have to deal with farmworkers themselves and to shield themselves from liability." "

So, every grocery store should own the entire supply chain or be held responsible for it?

Can you name a business that owns farms and trucks and stores? I can think of one big one with abnormally large customers.


about 10 years ago

Well, I think it's a bit of a dodge on the part of a company that sells itself as providing ethical products to hide behind "it was the contractor's fault." They make a big deal about two-buck chuck being exclusively theirs, so shouldn't they respond when their exclusive brand is using unfair labor practices, even if it's through the smokescreen of private contractors?

Regarding the campaign to hydrate yourself--that's all well and fine if you're assuming she was just too stupid to know better. The reality is that she was working in a vineyard where the nearest water was a 10 minute walk, and she probably either had to pick a certain quota every day, or got paid by the pound, both of which practices require you to work full-on as long and as much as possible to make any kind of money--and which still results in marginal pay at best. I picked apples in an orchard in Galesville, WI, and I know the racket on this front.

Yes, I do think that every major player in the grocery marketing business should do its homework about who it contracts with, and especially one that tries to cash in the "feel good" vibe of organics, fair trade, etc.  They don't have to own all their production infrastructure, but paying attention to the details is what a company like that should be doing.

Or else we consumers with any ethical impulse have to do it for ourselves (which I try to do using sites like Responsible Shopper (http://www.greenamericatoday.org/programs/responsibleshopper/).


about 10 years ago

I know nothing about the stores in question and I essentially agree with Adam here.  Duluth lost something very special and unique when chains started moving into old downtown.  By my measure, in 2005 we had a full mile of Superior St from Lake Ave eastward that had no chain stores or corporate operations whatsoever (except for Luce).  How many down towns in America, heck, in the world, could claim the same or similar. 


Now, to MevDev and davids

Major distributors actually DO have a large say in how things are gonna run down on the farm, so to speak. I have heard tell of  effective ethical pressure placed on suppliers' operations by the likes of Target and WalMart and even (gasp) McDonalds.  But its also true of even tiny businesses like ones I have been associated with ... the manufacturer or provider wants your business and they will make changes to get or keep a client.  Similarly, if the distributor says "You need to figure out a way to keep the price down" guess what, they'll figure out a way, and often that means somebody with less power and less control is gonna be working for less dough in a less safe work environment under less ethical conditions.


about 10 years ago

I will not hazard a response to something that is clearly not connected enough for any legal action whatsoever. 

So, you crazy foodies, write your letters, protect your workers, but realize that this woman died because of her own ignorance. If she would have been fired for taking a water break, then she should have done that. Her life was worth more than some farm job. Also she probably could have contacted Trader Joe's and they might just have listened. 

She was not in a forced labor camp with shackles on her ankles and she did not work for Trader Joe's.


about 10 years ago

I love my horn section


about 10 years ago

Hicks love chains.


about 10 years ago

You don't need shackles to be a wage slave.


about 10 years ago

True MevDev there weren't any chains on Superior Street from Lake eastward for a mile.

We did have however a huge dump of a magazine store, a nasty casino, several greasy spoons, a worn down theatre owned by a local ringwraith, a head shop with porn in the back, and several other savory spots. 

I'm not saying that getting huge corporate concerns would make it any better BUT I sure was not proud of that stretch of street. 

Downtown DLH has an amazing array of beautiful old buildings that are crying out for upkeep and vibrant businesses. I would love to see some things come in (along with some historic preservation $$) that would clean up this district and make it vibrant! If some of them happen to be chains so be it. That's a small price to pay in exchange for rejuvenating the area.


about 10 years ago

Historic preservation $$ doesn't shoot rainbow beams and clean blight. It often even can impede upkeep, since being designated "historical" means modifications and new development have to be done to match the period... and approved. Think electrical faceplates and work your way up.


about 10 years ago

Well, we're gonna have to disagree on this one mevdev (and usually we play harmony parts!) but the world you´re describing, where "bosses" and economic pressures can't serve as "chains" on worker behavior is not the same one I see when I look at farm labor practices. 

No, I don't think that 17-year old was too stupid to know she needed to drink water, but I do think circumstances could make her afraid to be a squeaky wheel in any way--I do think you have some illusions about individual power in agricultural work environments, but that's just my opinion.


about 10 years ago

Digit3 and especially Adam,

I don't understand what your respective points are, and I can't tell if I agree or disagree with you.

Tony D.

about 10 years ago

Adam: Historic Preservation dollars, if by that you mean federal tax credits, come from exterior rehab of a historic building according to the Secretary of Interior's standards; the building's interiors can still be adapted for reuse. The hold-ups come when folks go ahead without approval, do something outside of the standards, and then decide they want tax credits. You have to do it right from the start, so it requires some foresight.

There are also local standards for buildings designated as "Landmarks" that dictate what someone can and cannot do to a historic building, but they have nothing to do with gov't money. And again, usually always concerned with the exterior.


about 10 years ago

As someone who's worked on two historic tax credit projects, I can tell you that they're much more complicated than Tony D. implies. The Sec. of Interior/National Park Service DOES care about the interior of buildings and frequently their requirements are so stringent that they would cost more than the project would recoup in tax credits. (Not to mention the months and months spent waiting for NPS approval, filing multiple amendments when you don't get approved the first time, and tens of thousands paid to historic consultants, accountants, and lawyers to do all this extra paperwork.)

I don't scorn Rob Link at all for tearing down old buildings. That route is often faster, cheaper, and easier than historic preservation, even with tax credits.

Tony D.

about 10 years ago


I hope I didn't imply that going after federal historic tax credits was a simple process--nothing in the US Gov't ever is, is it? I knew the Sec. of Int. was concerned with some aspects of interiors, but didn't think it was as involved as you indicate.

I don't believe every old building should be saved. But if that building is in relatively good condition and is historically and architecturally significant to a town, then all ideas for adaptive reuse should be considered before demolition (and hey, if you don't ask for gov't money and the building is not a protected landmark, you don't have to follow any guidelines).

But is it really cheaper to demolish an old building when you consider the waste of existing materials. Think of the environmental costs as well. How "green" is it to knock down a  building that is structurally sound, move its remains to a landfill, and build with new materials?  And consider the loss of our culture and identity: Downtown Duluth has one of the most unique collections of buildings in the US. Let's face it: you go up over Skyline, and Duluth could be Anywhere, U.S.A. If we keep knocking down old buildings just because it's cheaper, Duluth will just be another ugly midwest town. Just because something is easier, faster, and cheaper doesn't mean it's the best way to do something. Just because you had some trouble filling out paperwork and had to be patient with the Feds does not discount the argument for reasonable, responsible retention of our cultural assets.

So yes, I do fault Rob Link for knocking down buildings such as the Costello, which was in much better physical condition then the Hayes & Weiland, but at the same time I am grateful for A&L's work on the Hayes & Weiland and the Bridgeman-Russell. I just wish they'd have included some lower-income housing to attract younger folks to live downtown instead of high-end condos and class-A office space, both of which downtown Duluth already has too much of. (Keep in mind that the folks A&L is moving into the Weiland Block, like P.S. Rudie and Associates, paid rent in other downtown Duluth buildings--in this case, the Medical Arts Building--so while this move helps A&L it hurts the Medical Arts Bldg. and really doesn't help downtown Duluth as a whole. And the Medical Arts building pays property tax, while the Weiland Block, because of a DEDA-awarded TIF zone, is tax-free.)

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