Alabama is having trouble getting its produce picked. As reported in the Camera on Friday, Alabama’s tough immigration law has frightened most Hispanic workers out of the state. But American workers are not picking up the slack. “Americans simply don’t want the backbreaking, low-paying jobs immigrants are willing to take.” Those few who give it a try “show up late, work slower than seasoned farm hands and are ready to call it a day after lunch.” Many are not physically fit and end up quitting after just a day or two.
Monday, October 24, was the first annual Food Day in America. It was started to provoke thought about just the sort of issues raised by Alabama’s plight. Acouple examples:
- How sustainable is a food production system that doesn’t allocate adequate sales revenue to keep harvesters on the job more than a couple days? Certainly every other company–from computers to house ware gadgets–pays factory workers enough to keep product churning off its lines.
- As consumers, how do we feel about our demand for ever lower-priced foods that can only be bankrolled by immigrant labor desperate enough to do “the harshest work you can imagine doing?” Our lunchtime “value meals” rest on tomatoes and lettuce picked by immigrants willing to thrash around hot fields doing backbreaking labor that Americans wouldn’t touch.
These are tough questions, especially in a recession and especially with food prices already rising faster than inflation. I was out harvesting from my gardens this weekend and can readily commiserate with those unseasoned hands in Alabama. This is indeed hard work! I’m glad that Food Day is here so we can together begin taking stock of how food gets to our tables.
- Is too much money leaking out of the system to clever packaging, excessive marketing and over processing, leaving inadequate revenue to pay producers and pickers?
- How do we account for the proportion of food that is no longer health-giving but health-destroying?
- Are there other ways to structure the production and delivery of food that would yield a healthier population and justly paid harvesters?
While we have an amazing food production and distribution system, imbalances threaten it. The exciting news is that Boulder County has long been experiementing with new forms of food growing and distribution. Throughout the county and beyond, there are growers, markets, CSAs, farm stands, packing houses, ranchers, food producers, grocers, restaurant, caterers and others, all dedicated to offering us alternatives.
Even though Food Day is over for this year, how about getting ready for next year. Patronize these local resources whenever possible, ensure their continued experimentation, and demand fairness all the way up and down the food chain. But be ready to put your dollars behind your words