Insights into Farm Labor
“I think there is more interest in food today, than at any other time in history," remarks Eric Schlosser in the new documentary film Food Chains — an exposé on US farm labor, which chronicles the story of an intrepid group of tomato pickers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, in their struggle for human rights and fair pay.
And it’s true — in recent years, the food and food justice movements have seen the rise of urban farms and farmers’ markets; an emphasis on small farms and land stewardship; greater health consciousness and demand for organic produce; and an organization in communities of color to confront systemic racism within the food system. But, there is another perspective that is often deemphasized in contemporary food systems analyses: the workers themselves—the men and women who find themselves on bottom rung of our industrial food-production model, squeezed from the top by the consolidation of supermarkets and food retailers giants. It is the glaring reality, manifested in sub-poverty wages and brutal exploitation, in which millions toil all along the corridors of this mammoth, food-producing machine.
When we engage in utopian envisioning of the system, we wish to see and work to create sustainable alternatives. It is imperative that we not disregard the major injustices confronting workers within these industries but, rather, support inspiring movements already underway, led by farm workers themselves, who have managed to radically transform the agricultural industry from the bottom up.