For Too Many Farmers, American Serfdom Is Alive and Well

Chicken farmers are under the thumb of an evil poultry empire.

Want to read this blog?
Well, you can’t . . . unless you first read these backgrounders and references:
From the Huffington Post
From the website of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur
From Poynter

It is my personal opinion, and not that of the representative bloomfield knoble corporation, that the media revolution started by John Stewart and his Daily Show cohorts has been a boon to American society. It is also my opinion that “watchdog” journalism has been destroyed through a combination of greed, special interests and egoism. Some of my cohorts of readers may be aware that I started my career as a journalist. My truly devoted fans also know that I left that industry in disgust after reading a lead story in the Dallas Morning News. The editorial reporting was so indicative of the Belo Corporation politics that I deemed the industry no longer worthy of my efforts and journalistic moral code.

Therefore, I now get my “in-depth” news from shows like the Daily Show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and (previously) from The Colbert Report:(. Yes, I do realize the possible irony and admitted stupidity inherent in that statement. So save your finger wagging for another time when I get on my high horse.

Anyway, what drove me as a journalist was the duty to shine a light into the dark shadows to expose wrong doings. You know, that whole “Watchdog Journalism” thing that is now called “whistle-blowing.” (Jeez, give me a freakin’ break.) Anyway, that is why I like the aforementioned shows. They live to expose – in half hour to 1 hour increments – what they can, when they can, however they can. Furthermore, they do so because it is fun and right. My same motivations as a young journalist.

In particular, I am attracted to stories that expose corporate hegemony and abuses. This happens almost daily, so it is hard to follow up on the many ways corporations seek to exploit humanity. However, I don’t blame the corporations for trying to exploit us. After all, they are the literal representation of the metaphorical scorpion in the Aesop-like tale of the Scorpion and the Fox (or frog, or turtle, or farmer and snake). It is in the nature of a corporation to exploit the masses for gains.

What pisses me off to no end is when our government representatives not only shirk their duties to protect their citizens, but the shirking is done due to graft. Politicians that accept financial reward to betray their electorate have a special, cold place in Hell. Now, add a representative fighting the turn coat representatives and now you have my full interest.

So that brings me to the story John Oliver brought to light on Sunday. This was not the first time the story was reported. In fact, it has been an ongoing issue for years. All he did was use his platform to expose something he knew would make us all feel dirty, since we all love to eat chicken. Here is the gist of the story:

Giant, evil chicken corporations – Perdue, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms – are turning American farmers into serfs, by and large. They put all the expense on the farmers, control when and how they receive opportunities to raise the chickens, but never allow the farmers to own the chickens. Any complaints or whistleblowing by the farmers results in the evil chicken corporations punishing them by giving them underperforming chickens (see the piece to understand this) or outright stop using them, driving them to bankruptcy. In at least one case, it drove one good farmer to commit suicide.

Of course, the evil chicken corporations first enmesh the farmers into buying expensive equipment by promising large contracts, which the farmers use to go to banks to take out exorbitant loans. Then the evil chicken corporations use that loan against them, threatening to not provide work or lower their numbers if they make any noise or grumble. This leaves these good American farmers at or below the poverty line. Disgusting.

See the story here:

Okay, okay. You’re thinking I’m a bleeding liberal. Or worse, you are thinking I am not doing my due diligence as a journalist or an informed citizen and taking time to read the other side of this story, the defense presented by the evil chicken corporations. Why should I? It’s the time of knee jerk reactions and believe whatever you read on the Internet, right? Well, truth is, I am a sucker for John Oliver and his ilk. I believe the show’s staff and their ability to fact check just as I once trusted the NY Times and the Dallas Morning News.

Plus, this is a great opportunity to explain what serfdom was and why it is alive and well in America.

Historians generally concur that Western medieval forms of serfdom were abolished during the 19th century following the Napoleonic invasions in Europe. The last country to have officially abolished it was Russia in 1861. At least, that is what the history books might have us believe, depending on who writes your history.

Here is the actual definition:

Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism. It was a condition of bondage which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.

Serfs who occupied a plot of land were required to work for the Lord of the Manor who owned that land, and in return were entitled to protection, justice and the right to exploit certain fields within the manor to maintain their own subsistence. Serfs were often required not only to work on the lord’s fields, but also his mines, forests and roads. The manor formed the basic unit of feudal society and the Lord of the Manor and his serfs were bound legally, economically, and socially. Serfs formed the lowest social class of feudal society.

So get on board with us. Look up Representative Marcy Kaptur and let those representatives know what you think of evil chicken corporations abusing American farmers. Or, join the ranks of the chicken f*****g congressmen and look the other way when you buy your chicken. Guilty? Not you, right? You just like chicken.

Illustration by Jeff Carrington