Cashews

by Kay

Biking on a day in the mid-90’s, the water stop couldn’t come soon enough. After pulling off the road, I drank half a bottle and poured the rest down my back to cool off. John, one of our guides in Vietnam, planned water stops at places of local interest. We’d watch men mend fishing nets one day and we’d talk to a local farmer the next. Once we walked through a shady grove of latex trees. Breaks meant drinking water, finding a WC, and taking a few photographs. At this stop, young women were hulling and skinning cashews.

If I’d thought at all about how cashews were produced, I would have guessed groves grew somewhere in California and Kraft Foods operated processing plants that hulled, roasted, and packaged them. But that’s not so. We import them. Our imports primarily come from Vietnam. They’re processed, at least in part, through forced labor or under harsh conditions.

One fan under the corrugated tin roof hardly moved the air. The hullers wore masks and long sleeves because oil from the husk is caustic and burns the skin. These women might make $5 a day, according to John. He didn’t say how long the days were.

I walked back out into the mid-day sun and biked away. Pouring more water down my back didn’t make me feel cleaner.

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