Food for Thought

Funny thing: every day for the past few days I have been telling myself “Write your blog, write your blog, write what’s on your mind.”

Most days I don’t really feel like talking. The past week has worn me out. Last night was the first night I hadn’t woken up from nightmares about the future presidency. I’ve wept every day. Now it finally seems like I’m able to let some of those things scab over so put my attention towards other things.

So: food. Last night I was in Hong Kong Market on the West Bank in Gretna, LA and I was staring at a huge pallet of tomatoes that were 99 cents a pound. I thought “Not bad, not bad.” But then I looked at the pallet and assessed that if we were lucky, that pallet was 12-15 pounds. Not very much at all in terms of money. And I thought huh, interesting, what I perceive as decently-priced produce really doesn’t have a high profit margin in theory for a store.

Moving backwards, moving backwards. Panning out. The President Elect dropped the bomb that he plans to deport 2-3 million undocumented immigrants, for the sake of being honest he’s talking about Mexicans, and that is obviously incredibly scary. So I started some research.

There’s a current case in New York State right now where a farmworker named Crispin Hernandez is collaborating with Workers’ Center of CNY & the Worker Justice Center to initiate a lawsuit to change current laws for farmworkers. Did you know that every single employee in America has a right to organize and unionize–except farmworkers? That’s right. Farmworkers, the people who pick the tomatoes I go and look at in Hong Kong Market, those people are NOT allowed to organize and unionize because of two essential reasons: 1, if there is a strike and no one picks the food it will rot. 2, if farmers are forced to pay more for workers, the price of their food will skyrocket.

Hernandez was fired from his position as a farmworker for being seen talking to a community organizer. He was fired the following day. He is trying to move a lawsuit through New York to help not only 60k farmworkers in the state, but to set an example to change that law on behalf of countless other states who do not let their workers unionize.

Backing out, backing out. Some facts. A farmworker makes about $18,000 annually. They work 12 hour shifts six days a week, if not seven. It’s difficult, tedious work. Due to the level of intensive labor, American workers do not want to pick food and farmers are constantly in need of more workers. Therefore, they actively reach out to their currently employed workers to ask them to recruit family and friends and, as described in Fast Food Nation, ads have even been taken out on Mexican radio stations to advertise the positions to potential workers.

Say the radio tactic works, as it has worked before, and people cross the border after being solicited to work in the farm. I’m not going to pretend I know how that trip goes, because I don’t, but it is well known that once workers come from Mexico they are often already in debt to their employer, i.e. indentured servitude. And coming from Mexico doesn’t make them legal–Hernandez is quoted as saying that he and the other workers were treated “Worse than the cows, like animals.” Border patrol was constantly surrounding their living quarters to intimidate, threaten and detain them.

What I’ve been thinking about a lot is the faces behind our food. In Hernandez’s case, the largest farmer lobbying entity, The Farm Bureau, has stepped in the defendant in the case since New York’s governor blatantly said that he agreed with allowing workers to unionize.

I find it rather disgusting, when taking the entirety of the picture in, that Mexicans are being persecuted and threatened with deportation, are advertised to and solicited to work on our farms, are paid so little and worked so hard AND they are not allowed to unionize to protect any resemblance of their human rights.

Frankly, if the president elect does have deportation to the scale he wants he will have a massive problem of labor on his hands–look at Alabama. In 2011 they cracked down on immigration and the fear that it instilled caused most of the Hispanic farmworker population to dissipate. However, now they are in a crunch because there’s no one to work the fields. No one is going to allow themselves to be paid so little for so much work. They have even brought prisoners in to work the fields but you cannot make people work that do not want to work.

Basically, we all need to care about keeping up with this and understand the web that these actions weave. We should be protecting and empowering farmworkers and the people that harvest billions of dollars worth of meat, dairy and produce. I know this soft stance on immigration doesn’t appeal to at least half of the population, but think about it like this–who is going to do this work if these farmworkers leave? Who? Middle America doesn’t want to do this, prisoners won’t do it, the only way anyone would is if they are paid a hell of a lot more and are allowed to unionize, which is currently being denied to the population. And if it’s denied again with Hernandez’s case, when will it ever be allowed?

Food for thought.

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