To get to La Gloria from Mexico city, you drive for an hour past concrete houses and dust. Then you pass under a volcano through thick forests of pine. The pine forest leads to forests of Dr. Seuss trees and long dry landscapes. Then you drop into a flat valley.
This flat valley is filled with neat little towns, about 100 of them, except they are not towns, they are feed lots stuffed full of the pigs that make all those tasty Al Pastor tacos in Mexico city.
According to many this is ground zero for the swine flu. For years the communities around here have seen a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses which local activists attribute to the feed lots which moved in 12 years ago.The 106 feed lots in Perote are owned by Smithfield Farms, the world´s largest producer of pork, based in Virginia, and Agroindustrias de Mexico a Mexican multinational.
In La Gloria, at least three cases of swine flu have been found, two men died, and one child survived. The child has become a poster boy, but for what, nobody seems to be sure. Because he survived? Because he was the first to get the disease from pigs, from flies? Nobody knows. What the media does know is that La Gloria has the two magic news ingredients. Animals and children.
Few people in La Gloria work in the feed lots, allowing activists to mobilize against the industrial farming since 2006. The towns that work in the feed lots have very little to say against them. The activists, led by a stately vegetable farmer sent letters of protest against the American company that owns the feed lots, and started talking to nearby towns. They got no response from the government. Until a week ago, when the international media arrived. Since then, the local government has started giving everybody in town three free meals today, and the paint is still drying on a new clinic set up next door.
When I arrived a few hundred people eat beans, and ham, and eggs under fluorescent lights. Next to them are stacks of vegetables and beans that should get the town through the next week. But according to the activists, they don’t need food. They need regulation to decrease the amount of contamination in their communities.
In Mexico, local government is known to be astoundingly corrupt. And in a long tradition, they make up for this by taking their constituents out to lunch. This is how they got votes, how they get people to protests, and how they get people to shut up. And it works.
I have to head out to visit some of these farms, but will update later.
In the meantime you can check out this informative article at Inside Mexico.