Fair Food

If you came to this post hoping to read about the kind of food that is deep-fried and sold at County Fairs throughout the summer, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. The kind of Fair Food that I want to discuss is the kind obtained from farmworkers who are paid a living wage for their hard work.

I just finished watching "Food Chains," a movie about this issue. I saw it on Netflix, but you can watch it if you click the link, for .99 cents. It's worth seeing.

I guess if you had asked me, before I watched the film, what I thought about the plight of US farmworkers, I would have said something like, "I know those people work hard, for very little money." That was the extent of my understanding. I read a book a few years ago called American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan, and at the time was pretty impacted by her experience of what it's like to work in the fields and in the stockrooms of large box stores. But I really hadn't thought much more about it. The reading I've been doing lately has been more about urban farms, and young folks choosing a farming life in areas that are food deserts. Honorable work, to be sure, but small farms don't supply huge conglomerates like Safeway.

After watching the film, I'm simply horrified. I cannot believe that people who work 12 hours a day, doing the hardest of jobs, get paid yearly about what I get paid for working 15-20 hours a week (and I get my summers off). How can you pay rent? How can you feed a family? How can you pay for healthcare? How can you have any pleasure in your life at all? Imagine picking strawberries every day, all day, for 12 hours, and taking home $40. Think of your back. Think of your weariness. Think about having to pay someone to watch your children during that time. Think about what you'd make for dinner on that income. Think about having to live in a tent by the side of a river, or in a trailer home with 3 other families, over an hour's commute from your work. Think about leaving before dawn and coming home far after sunset. Would you have energy to play with your kids? Help them with homework? Cook a meal? Get creative with three cheap ingredients? Talk with your mate?

Listen, I get tired picking peas for 15 minutes.

Something has to change. We've relied on migrant farmworkers in this country for far too long, starting with slavery, moving up through the influx of immigrants from Asia, through the dustbowl immigrants, into our situation now. I've contacted some people about how I can get involved and help, but at the moment, all I know how to do is vote with my dollar. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have signed the Fair Food agreement (you can read about that here), but Safeway has not. Target has not. Kroger and Publix have not. (Wal-mart actually has - they signed the agreement in 2014.) The Fair Food agreement basically says that the buyers (not the farmers) will supply a penny more per pound of food picked - that penny goes right to the workers, basically doubling their income. It also supports the rights of workers to be treated decently, avoid sexual harassment and not get coerced into slavery. Yes, there have been incidents of actual agricultural slavery.

After watching this film, I'm glad I grow most of our own produce here at home. I'm glad that farmer's markets are becoming more prevalent, so that folks can meet the farmers who grow their food. I'm glad I have a choice where I shop. Unfortunately I shop at Safeway for non-food supplies, as well as some things like Nutella. I've never set foot in a Wal-mart, but I might start, just to buy those supplies that I can't get at Whole Foods, therefore cutting Safeway out of the equation entirely. I want the people who grow and harvest our food to have a dignified life, and I'm willing to put my money towards organizations who feel the same way. How about you?