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Meet Ai Jian Huan, formerly known as Johnny Appleseed

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A very cool site called MandarinTools.com has a page wherein you can find "your Chinese name." So I put in "Johnny Appleseed" (with my birthdate since it insisted on one) and found that maybe when Loud Obbs has a minute he might want to look into the story of Ai Jian Huan. Since the Philadelphia Inquirer is on the story too:

Farmers have been growing apples here since before the Civil War, and as times have changed, they have changed with them, planting smaller trees to speed up harvests and growing popular new varieties to satisfy changing tastes.

Like farmers in the bigger apple-producing states, they are becoming increasingly anxious about the prospect of China flooding the U.S. market with their fresh apples - an event many believe is inevitable, even if it could be years away.

Why is a country which for thirty years has been imposing a draconian population-control program--presumably at least in part because it has concerns about remaining able to feed its own people--taking over the fresh apple trade?

Well, because with labor policies like this, it can:

Fifteen years ago, China grew fewer apples than the United States. Today, it grows five times as many - nearly half the apples grown in the world.

China's advantage is its cheap labor. A picker makes about 28 cents an hour, or $2 per day, according to the U.S. Apple Association. In 2005, workers in Pennsylvania made $9 to $10 per hour, and those in Washington state about $14 per hour, the association said.

This ties in with the new Farm Bill currently under consideration, which is only going to impact not only everybody who grows food or fiber in the US but everybody who eats, and is therefore less interesting than a Murdered Missing Fetus in Ohio and oh yes the unfortunate White Fetal Vessel as well. The news business must have priorities after all.

The US apple growers' response has been to work feverishly to eliminate as many of those $9-10/hr apple-picking jobs as they can, although they phrase it as

With the Farm Bill up for renewal this year for the first time since 2002, apple growers are pressing for an unprecedented amount of federal funding to develop technologies to make harvesting less costly and aid to develop overseas markets.

Does this strike anybody besides me as breathtakingly silly? We have to reduce American wages to Chinese levels so we can sell apples...overseas?

Here's a radical thought, and I'm not even the first one to have it:

Even before new questions were raised this year about how well China enforces food-safety rules, some growers were also pressing the U.S. government to require country-of-origin stickers on all apples.

Howzabout people in China eat Chinese apples? And people in America eat American apples? You at least stand a chance of finding out if the apples from Gettysburg have chemical gunk on them, eh?

Sure there will always be importing and exporting of foodstuffs. I like having fresh fruit and vegetables available in January as much as anybody else. "Eating by the seasons" sounds very hip and romantic until you really try it; read some of my 19th century cookbooks and see what people used to be stuck with come about February and March. Those Germans did not invent all those cabbage-and-smoked-pork dishes because they liked them all that much but because those are the foods that will last the longest with the least preservation.

But we've tried going gung ho in the opposite direction and as we're increasingly seeing, that isn't working real well either.

'scuse me now, I have to go clean the batch o' green beans I just picked out of the back yard. Back later. :)

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Submitted by lambert on

Because what agribusiness did--and I heard this on Nice Polite Republicans, so it must be true--was breed apples for redness. Unfortunately, to breed for redness is also to breed for bitterness, and after a few generations of apples, people figured out that the growers were supplying apples that looked good and tasted awful. (There's a metaphor there somewhere...) And so the supermarkets began importing apples from Asia, where the apples were still bred for taste. (Lots of Chinese, for example, still have this crazy notion that you should buy fresh food every day, and then cook it.)

No authoritarians were tortured in the writing of this post.