The Rising Price of Sriracha Doesn’t Matter
Recently, the city of Irwindale, CA filed a lawsuit against the Huy Fong Foods factory which makes the hot chili sauce Sriracha. Headlines from various news outlets, stretching from Al Jazeera to the Los Angeles Times, made comments such as “Sriracha Shortage Avoided!” or “Sriracha Forever! California Plant Will Stay Open, Despite Complaints.”
The overarching theme of most of the headlines? We are much more concerned with rising costs or a possible shortage of Sriracha than possible health concerns of Irwindale residents.
The situation goes as follows: Irwindale is a city east of Los Angeles that is predominantly filled with factories, but also has a small population of people of color and lower-incomes. The city of Irwindale, looking to fill a lot that had been empty for a large amount of time, gave Huy Fong Foods, a factory that was based in Rosemead, a $15 million finance to build their new factory on the empty, unusable, and contaminated land. Then, after the completion of the factory in 2012, complaints about the smell from the chili peppers used in the factory began to grow in numbers until Huy Fong Foods decided to install an insufficient filter to attempt to fix the smell.
Fast forward to now and the complaints have not ceased, leading to a lawsuit from the city of Irwindale vs. Huy Fong Foods.
However, on October 31st, the bid to shut down Huy Fong Foods until it could lessen or completely get rid of the odor was denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien. In an attempt to rectify the problem, the South Coast Air Quality Management District simply drove through Irwindale and conducted simple “smell tests.”
You read it right. Tests that involved the AQMD simply driving through the city and smelling the air to see if they sniffed out anything problematic or threatening. The ridiculousness of this inspection – and the lack of action that has come from the factory – points to a larger problem that leaves these low-income POC communities at a disadvantage in any scenario that involves the residents versus a corporation.
Many critics say that the city and its residents knew exactly what they were getting when bringing Huy Fong Foods factory into the city.This shortsighted position does not consider how relatively marginalized communities, particularly communities of color and working class folks, migrate to industrialized areas for low housing and job prospects.
According to the 2010 United States Census, about 90% of Irwindale’s 1,400 person population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and about 95% is of color. The median household income of Irwindale in 2009 was about $55,000, which was close to the California median. However, during the same year, the median per capita income for Irwindale was at about $17,500, while California’s median per capita income was close to $44,000.
It’s no surprise to see a city with a median household income matching the state median also has an extremely low per capita income.
Large corporate media outlets are nonetheless ignoring the risks residents living in industrialized areas must face, and instead, are choosing to note the importance of the risk to the Sriracha product.
A small increase in Sriracha would not significantly hurt businesses. However, the number of people facing unsuitable conditions in their own living environment is uncompromisable, and this is a good enough reason to seriously consider a temporary shutdown of the factory. It is never okay to let companies impact the well-being of low income communities of color.
Corporations are always given leeway when hurting residents that live in the community around it. Situations like Manimata Bay in Japan, where the bay was contaminated from wastewater expelled from the factories around the area and left tens of thousands of residents affected; or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, which has affected on-shore communities in the south-east United States and their food sources for years to come, show that this isn’t an uncommon scenario.
In this case, Irwindale has stepped up against Huy Fong Foods, but the national rhetoric is unsurprisingly siding with the Sriracha factory, leading to a huge misunderstanding of the situation as a whole. This is especially important since the factory was partially financed with $15 million of the city’s money – which could have been used in other ways to benefit the residents of Irwindale.
For marginalized communities such as Irwindale and the neighboring cities, environmental justice is an important concept and must be served.
Huy Fong Food’s battle with the residents of Irwindale serves as another testament to the ego of American consumerism: we would much rather have our products at a “low price” rather than maintain safe and friendly living conditions for already struggling communities.