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The Ugly (and Glorious) Truth About American Supermarkets

  • September 24, 2020

Mr. Lorr interviewed immigrants from Burma, some of them former prisoners forced to toil unpaid on fishing boats. One worker, identified in the book as Tun-Lin, recalled watching his best friend beaten and tossed overboard when he became delirious from exhaustion. Others were whipped with stingray tails.

But there is not much that Americans can do as consumers to improve working conditions abroad, Mr. Lorr said.

“A boycott sounds compelling, but because of the volume and complexity of the supply chain, it’s overly simplistic,” he said. “There are so many good actors caught up with bad actors. Also, you boycott Thailand, or any country, and market pressures lead to the same problems cropping up somewhere else.”

He felt overwhelmed, but also awed, when he sneaked into a windowless, warehouse-sized industrial egg farm in California, and saw thousands of chickens stacked in cages. “I walked away thinking, ‘This is exactly the misery I expected,” he said. “But it also wasn’t a hellscape.”

More than anything, it seemed like an apt metaphor for the agricultural-industrial complex that keeps our supermarket aisles stocked with an endless array of grocery options at the lowest possible prices.

“I thought, ‘This is what it looks like to feed seven billion people,’” Mr. Lorr said. “The human project has reached an absurd level, and our food supply reflects that absurdity.”

He added: “ I had eggs the next morning.”

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