I try not to use my blog as a personal soapbox. Quite frankly--especially during an election year--there's enough of that on the Internet already. If you browse through my recipes, it's obvious that I've made certain dietary choices, and if you read enough of my posts you probably have a pretty good idea of my political and ethical leanings. But regardless of how much (or little) our beliefs overlap, I hope that my writing resonates with you, and that you find my recipes useful.
My "no soapbox" policy is why I've struggled with this post for the past few days. It's an updated version of my shrimp lo mein recipe from November 2013, a point in time when we ate a great deal of frozen pre-peeled shrimp imported from Thailand. That shrimp lo mein recipe is perfectly tasty, but we haven't made it for over a year. Why? In June 2014 I read a Guardian article about slave labor in the Thai shrimp supply chain--some of the fishmeal fed to Thai farmed shrimp is provided by suppliers who man their ships with enslaved migrants. As reported by the Guardian, deplorable conditions included "20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some [slaves] were at sea for years...Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them." The article goes on to state that "A six-month investigation has established that large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of prawns (commonly called shrimp in the US) sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco." Sadly, forced labor is not limited to the fishmeal at the beginning of the shrimp supply chain. An AP Report from December 2015 revealed further slave labor in some Thai shrimp peeling factories--migrant workers were imprisoned for years without being paid and were subjected to 16 hour work days, beatings, and the denial of medical care. Former workers interviewed by the AP described a factory where "A woman eight months pregnant miscarried on the shed floor and was forced to keep peeling for four days while hemorrhaging. An unconscious toddler was refused medical care after falling about 12 feet onto a concrete floor. Another pregnant woman escaped only to be tracked down, yanked into a car by her hair and handcuffed to a fellow worker at the factory."
Mike and I both feel that we can't in good conscience purchase Thai shrimp likely produced with slave labor. Since U.S. shrimp isn't available at our local supermarket, our lo mein now features mushrooms as the star ingredient. I realize that human rights abuses are a heavy subject for a food blog, a medium that usually relies gushing descriptions of farmer's market tomatoes. But food blogs are about the stories behind the ingredients. Sometimes, these stories are more sordid than we would like to believe.
Interested in learning more? Read this article from the Washington Post about how to find shrimp that's not produced by Thai slave labor.
Inspired by the Real Simple recipe by Charlyne Mattox
- 8 ounces lo mein noodles
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 8 ounces white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and shaved into thin slices with a vegetable peeler or mandolin (about 1 cup)
- 4 green onions, chopped, with white and green parts separated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup oyster-flavored sauce (substitute vegetarian oyster sauce if desired)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- crushed red pepper
Prepare noodles according to package directions.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil, tilt to coat evenly, and reduce heat to medium. Add the mushrooms, white parts of the green onions, garlic, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are softened and have started to give up their juices, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and cook just until starting to soften, about 1 minute. Stir in the oyster-flavored sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is starting to thicken, about 1 minute. Add the prepared noodles and toss until noodles are evenly coated with the sauce.
Garnish with the green parts of the green onions and sprinkle with red pepper before serving.