We need to start evaluating choices through the lens of how it affects the producers—not just the consumerby Jonathan Nunn / October 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
When Ohashi Tetsuo, a southern Japanese tea and rice farmer, first used pesticides at agricultural school in the 1970s, he struggled to breathe. As he started spraying the crops, his eyes would water and he would choke from the fumes, even with protective gear around his face. He vowed that when he went back home to his house and family, he would never use pesticides again.
Since then, Ohashi-san has run a tidy, self-sufficient farm that has indeed never once used pesticides. I’ve drunk his tea and tasted his rice, now exported globally, and admired the toasted, nutty kernels that form the backbone of his genmaicha tea. I’ve recommended it to other people and told them how, 45 years later, he has kept his promise.
But often the questions that come back—is it organic, is it pesticide-free, is it healthy?—evaluate his decision through the lens of how it affects the consumer, rather than the person actually behind the product’s making. While there are people with pure and virtuous pesticide-free diets who might be able to sense their absence, many of us would not notice a single thing if we ate products with a few pesticides in them, let alone feel our chests tighten and our throats narrow in the same way a farmer (or his labourers) would. Yet to say this isn’t enough: there must always be something in it for us.
I thought about this recently as I read the case of Valentina Passalacqua, the Italian vintner behind the trendy Calcarius wine range, whose iconoclastic bottles—labelled like an element on the periodic table—adorn the shelves of every wine shop where customers ask “what do you have that’s natural?” Passalacqua’s wines are “natural”—in so far that they are made biodynamically and contain minimal sulphites—which is why the news that her father, the landowner Settimio Passalacqua, has been arrested for alleged caporalato has caused an uproar in the wine world. Caporalato is the practice common on larger wine estates in Italy where agricultural workers, mainly migrants from poorer regions in Europe or Africa, are recruited through intermediaries often linked to organised…