A great question was posed in an article today on immigrant farmworkers and New York’s local food market. Aurora Almendral, the reporter, asked a farmer who she interviewed, “Why do you think it is that consumers seem so much more concerned about animals than they do about the workers themselves?” The answer she received was, “They don’t eat the workers.” While some may chuckle at that answer, it does highlight an overwhelming lack of outcry concerning the treatment of those who harvest our food.
The ingredients for most of the Thanksgiving favorites we will be enjoying with our families tomorrow, such as green bean casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, were harvested by America’s farmworkers. Despite their incredibly important role in our food system, these integral workers are some of the poorest, least-protected workers in America. The article today brings to light many of the labor inequalities faced by this essential group of workers who have no right to overtime, despite working 60- to 80-hour work weeks and, in many states, they are denied the right to collective bargaining.
It is also important to note that farmers who would do the right thing, such as paying overtime, offering sick leave, benefits, and not employing young children in hazardous conditions, are put at a serious and likely devastating economic disadvantage, if it is not a widespread change demanded by the public and policymakers.
A plea: As we all reflect on all of the things we are thankful for, please don’t forget the people who harvest our nation’s fruits and vegetables. Also, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has a great video called the “Tale of Two Thanksgivings”—check it out and help them share it.