Of Kitchen Trouble, Oedipus and Chicken Feet

Aug. 11, 2022

Sometimes the news comes so thick and fast that all you can do is sit back and marvel. And make snarky comments, of course.

Sometimes the news comes so thick and fast that all you can do is sit back and marvel. And make snarky comments, of course.

Amy Has Some Unhappy Kitchen Helpers

Amy’s Kitchen, as is evident from the name, strives to present a warm, benign image of happy people making healthy food. That image is taking a bit of a beating lately.

Workers there have been looking into unionization, complaining about inadequate equipment, low pay, sped-up work and sexual harassment. The complaints reached a crescendo when Amy’s announced the closure of a plant in San Jose, Calif., resulting in the loss of about 300 jobs.

The workers and the union they’re trying to join promptly claimed that this was “retaliation” for unionization efforts. I’m not sure I believe that. Closing down a factory is a pretty drastic and expensive step to take out of pure spite.

But Amy’s probably will want to get its labor situation smoothed over sooner rather than later. Labor problems are never good, but they’re an especially bad look for a company whose major consumer base is vegan-leaning, aware of nutrition and sustainability – the kind of socially conscious people, in other words, who are especially likely to care about how the companies they buy from treat their workers.

Ben & Jerry’s & Oedipus

Speaking of social consciousness, Ben & Jerry’s is launched in an epic struggle with Unilever, its parent since 2000, over the issue of whether it can and should sell ice cream in the Palestinian occupied territories.

Long and strange story short, Ben & Jerry’s declared it would stop selling there; Unilever reversed that decision; Ben & Jerry’s board then sued Unilever over the issue.

I’m not sure which family model this fits: Oedipal, or a simple matter of not getting along with a stepparent (“You can’t tell me what to do!”). And I’m certainly not going to get into the merits of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. But what interests me more is the basis of the lawsuit.

The agreement between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s specifies that the latter’s board can continue to make decisions on its social mission, but that Unilever “reserved primary responsibility for financial and operational decisions,” according to a statement from Unilever quoted in the Wall Street Journal. So now the courts get to decide whether selling ice cream, or not, to Palestinians is part of a social mission or a simple financial decision. I’m glad I’m not the judge who’ll have to split that baby.

Chicken Feets, Do Your Stuff

KFC has begun selling chicken feet in China. And I’m joining what apparently are a lot of Chinese in asking: What took so long?

Chicken feet (“paws” in industry parlance) have long been a delicacy in China that you can’t give away here. Chicken processors routinely sell paws en masse to the Chinese market, getting money for something they would have to landfill in America.

Yum China, the parent company, is struggling with a combination of inflation and disruption from China’s stringent COVID lockdowns. That situation is motivating more efficiency, including using every part of the chicken “except the feather, I guess,” the CEO told CNN a few weeks ago. That’s why chicken feet have started appearing on KFC menus in China.

Well, I hope Chinese consumers enjoy them. But if chicken feet start popping up on American menus, we’ll know that Yum is really in trouble.

HELP US CHOOSE THE GREEN PLANT OF THE YEAR

Help choose the most sustainable food or beverage plant of the past year or two in Food Processing's Green Plant of the Year poll. This year, we have three nominees: Flowers Foods' Lynchburg, Va., bakery; Tyson Foods' Joslin, Ill., beef complex; and Vital Farms' egg facility in Springfield, Mo. Read their persuasive essays and vote for your fave through Aug. 29. The plant with the most votes wins and will be profiled in our October issue.

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