Published: Dec 22, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 22, 2012 03:53 PM
As we sit down for the holiday meals each year, food finally garners its much-deserved position as the centerpiece of our tables. We slow down, give thanks for the array of food before us, and ostensibly consider where it comes from. But the idyllic pastoral scene we often envision is far from reality.
According to the Department of Labor, 53 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented, predominantly Latinos. These workers undertake the backbreaking farm labor that Americans are generally unwilling to do.
As immigration policies further restrict migration from Latin America, travel to the U.S. for harvest season becomes increasingly dangerous. Immigrants are routinely injured, arrested, of even disappear during the journey. If they do arrive safely,
migrant workers are often met with disrespect and racism. Farm workers are paid very low wages and generally receive no benefits. Despite exposure to unsafe and toxic conditions on a daily basis, they receive no health insurance. Their undocumented status often (though not always!) allows crew leaders to treat them poorly, and leaves them with no legal recourse. This problem hits close to home, as North Carolina ranks sixth in the country for number of farm workers. According to the NC Farmworker Institute, almost half of these farm worker households are unable to afford sufficient food.
So how do we address this problem?
We start by recognizing the people who produce our food, and making them visible members of society. The policy of agricultural exceptionalism which excludes farm workers from major labor laws must end. We must push our policymakers to reform the H2A system that provides agricultural visas, or otherwise provide a path to legality for farm workers. Finally, we must expand our vision of food sustainability to go beyond local and organic, and to consider human treatment. The USDA Organic label has done wonders for public awareness of environmental sustainability of food; a human justice standard for food production would likewise do wonders for the social sustainability of food.
As consumers of food, it is our responsibility to gives thanks for the backbreaking labor that makes our holiday meals possible. There is simply no better way to thank those migrant workers than by fixing our broken food production system.