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Winter 2016

Inquiry Magazine Archive

  • Spring 2016

    Spring 2016: Premium Blend

    Found in everything from space shuttles to dental fillings, composite materials have thoroughly infiltrated modern society. But their potential is still greatly untapped, offering researchers ample opportunity for discovery.

  • Fall 2015

    Fall 2015: Collision Course

    Within the particle showers created at the Large Hadron Collider, answers to some of the universe’s mysteries are waiting.

  • Spring 2015

    Spring 2015: Almost Human

    Model systems like pigeons can help illuminate our own evolutionary and genomic history.

  • Fall 2014

    Fall 2014: Small Wonder

    UT Arlington's tiny windmills are bringing renewable energy to a whole new scale.

  • Winter 2014

    Winter 2014: Overdue for an Overhaul

    The stability of our highways, pipelines, and even manholes is reaching a breaking point.

  • 2012

    2012: Mystery solved?

    Scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle that is crucial to understanding the universe.

  • 2011

    2011: Boosting brain power

    UT Arlington researchers unlock clues to the human body’s most mysterious and complex organ.

  • 2010

    2010: Powered by genetics

    UT Arlington researchers probe the hidden world of microbes in search of renewable energy sources.

  • 2009

    2009: Winning the battle against pain

    Wounded soldiers are benefiting from Robert Gatchel’s program that combines physical rehabilitation with treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • 2009

    2007: Sensing a solution

    Tiny sensors implanted in the body show promise in combating acid reflux disease, pain and other health problems.

  • 2006

    2006:Semiconductors: The next generation

    Nanotechnology researchers pursue hybrid silicon chips with life-saving potential.

  • 2005

    2005: Imaging is everything

    Biomedical engineers combat diseases with procedures that are painless to patients.

Grapes of Math

From the Farm to the Fruit Tray

How our demand for fresh produce year-round changed the face of agriculture in Mexico By Christian zlolniski, director, center for mexican american studies; associate professor, department of sociology and anthropology

Restructuring commercial agriculture made produce like tomatoes available to customers year-round—and brought new hardships to farm laborers

American consumers are used to buying their favorite tomatoes, berries, grapes, and tropical fruits at local supermarkets for reasonable prices. But only one generation ago, this grocery store cornucopia would have been a cause for wonder. Back then, our parents and grandparents either consumed the in-season produce available where they lived or paid dearly for other, limited options.

What explains this change? Consumer demand. Middle-class Americans wanted healthier foods and more vegetables in their diets, which fueled a grand restructuring of commercial agriculture. Large corporations consolidated, outsourcing vegetable production to developing countries. Technological innovations such as greenhouses allowed for the development of "counter-seasonal" agriculture, where crops can be grown almost year-round in protected micro-environments.

As a consequence, fruits and vegetables have become a central piece of "green capitalism," with growing concerns about food safety and quality leading to the standardization of farm produce to ensure the uniformity of foods for the international market.

While the economic and technological forces behind this agricultural consolidation are well-understood, little is known about the social consequences for the farmworkers who grow our vegetables abroad. In the book De Jornaleros a Colonos: Residencia, Trabajo, e Identidad en el Valle de San Quintín (From Migrant Farmworkers to Settlers: Residency, Work, and Identity in the San Quintin Valley), I and an interdisciplinary team that includes a demographer and a sociologist address this question by focusing on farmworkers employed in the San Quintin Valley, a major agro-export enclave in Baja California.

The valley transformed from a small, socially isolated region in the 1970s into an agricultural powerhouse that grows produce for international markets today. Its population exploded from 8,500 to 74,000 in just 30 years, with most farmworkers there being indigenous immigrants from the poorest regions in southern Mexico.

The changes to the region brought some positive consequences for these workers, with the more stable jobs allowing them to settle in the area with their families.

Yet their evolution from seasonal migrants to wage workers has come at a steep price. Companies have reaped high profits, but the workers have seen their wages increase only modestly (the average pay is $8.50 a day). Further, despite working almost year-round, most farm laborers are treated as "permanently temporal" workers and do not have health insurance or other labor benefits. As a result, poverty is widespread.

In spring 2015, soon after our book was published, a major labor strike broke out in San Quintin, bringing international media attention. The event allowed consumers, often for the first time, to see the plight of the farmworkers who make it possible for them to enjoy fresh produce year-round.

All these developments demonstrate the stark structural contrast between consumer demand for healthier food in the Global North and the precarious working and living conditions of the laborers tasked with meeting those demands in the Global South.

More articles from this issue

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