Getting Less for the Same Amount With the Added Potential Cost of Death  

UFCW has a great new ad campaign in DC for Smithfield Justice. I'm hoping that one of us can get pictures of the ads up on this site this week, but on a similar note in terms of food, I ran across a Time article posted on Yahoo. What's interesting about this is that I noticed this last week when I went grocery shopping. I noticed that I'm paying the same for less stuff. And I mostly noticed this when I left my local union store Giant with less stuff in the bag and fewer bags than I would have just a few months ago.

So, have you ever wondered why?

Reducing the size of products as a way of increasing prices is not new. Frito-Lay cut the amount of chips in their bags and Poland Springs reduced its water cooler jugs from 6 to 5 gallons years ago, all while keeping prices the same. Still, says Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federal of America, "What's going on now is definitely reflective of rising food costs and rising fuel costs." Waldrop says he doesn't blame manufacturers for taking the step to protect their bottom lines, but says the food companies should be honest with their customers about it. "If they're transparent and open, consumers are less willing to think [manufacturers] are trying to pull one over on them," says Waldrop. The changing product sizes are part of the reason the Bureau of Labor Statistics says groceries cost 5.8% more than the same time last year. Price checkers in the department measure more than 2,000 food items to determine overall food inflation, and when they notice product size changes, they adjust the inflation index accordingly, according to Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture.

When a product amount drops below a benchmark like "1 pound" or "1 gallon" consumers often take note, according to Gourville. But after that, it's much easier for manufacturers to further whittle down amounts. It's all about taking away consumers' ability to compare apples to apples. The best way to compare food products if you're not sure if sizes have changed is to look at the "unit price," which breaks down the cost per ounce or per quart.

I always look at the unit price to compare products. I also try to shop for items that are union made, which is a bit harder in terms of food items, especially locally grown produce. However, because of these habits, I don't shop at Trader Joe's. And why is that important in terms of talking about food? Well, it has to do with the death of Maria Isabel Vasquez and how Trader Joe's sells wine produced by Frank Franzia who co-owns the farm where Isabel died:

Trader Joe’s assertion: The company employing the young farm worker has no more of a relation to Trader Joe's than they do to any other wine retailer or restaurant.

Reality: The facts in this case are clear: Maria Isabel Jimenez died a tragic death while working on a farm--West Coast Farms--co-owned by Fred Franzia. Mr. Franzia is also the owner of Bronco Winery, which produces Charles Shaw wines. It is widely reported that 5-13 million cases of Charles Shaw wine is sold at Trader Joe's stores per year.

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, Trader Joe's uses contractor's to get around unionized farms and farm labor. So, as consumers, we're paying the same for less, and the farms where Trader Joe's gets their stuff has relationships with heartless bastards who take advantage of the poor to the detriment of the men and women working in the fields. Less stuff at a much higher price, the price of a human life. It's not a perfect connection between the two issues, but when it comes to putting food on my table, I'd like to think that the workers creating it or harvesting it are at least paid a fair price and aren't toiling themselves into the grave. That's just not an acceptable cost for anything I buy.

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