Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Slavery and Food Production in the U.S.



Yesterday, there was a post at Apartment Therapy's companion food blog, The Kitchn, discussing a story from the March issue of Gourmet about the slave conditions many tomato pickers working in Immokalee, Florida, "the tomato capital of the United States," are presently subjected to.

By coincidence, this past weekend I came across this post by Natasha Chart, blogger at Change.org, that references the situation at Immokalee and delves deeper into her assertion that "slaves and sharecroppers harvest much of our food."

Chart discusses the practice of farm operators who use labor contractors to transport women and men into this country illegally. These contractors charge each immigrant a high transport fee. In return, the immigrant agrees to pay back the fee, along with accrued interest, through his or her wages earned by toiling long hours in fields in the middle of nowhere. The problem, though, is that the wages are so low, and the interest rates are so high, as to make it impossible for these immigrants to repay the transport fee.

These immigrants are forced into further debt by having to borrow more money (with interest, of course) from the contractor to pay rent to live in dilapidated shacks owned by (surprise!) the contractor on the farm operator's premises. As a result of all
this indebtedness, these women and men remain at the mercy of the contractor for the rest of their lives. The contractor essentially owns them and will do anything and everything necessary, including beatings, to keep them productive and to keep them from running away. There is no word, but slavery, to describe this situation.

I
believe many, if not most, of us are aware of these practices committed by farm operators. I think, though, there are some individuals who would turn a blind eye or hesitate to call this slavery because of their bias against undocumented immigrants. These individuals would argue that it's not slavery, because these immigrants voluntarily subjected themselves to these "harsh" working conditions by coming into this country illegally. In other words, they asked for it.

They asked for it, because, surely, they were told by the labor contractors what their working conditions would be like when they arrived in this country: no breaks; no sick leave; no holiday leave; no health care coverage; no family medical leave; no right to organize; no right to collectively protest working conditions; and no ability to leave the premises of their overseers.

Yeah, right. They really asked for all these things.

1 comment:

cbcnurse said...

My great grandpa came from Mexico and actually worked picking crops in Texas on a farm like that. Eventually they had to run away in the dead of night because they were so indebted to the farmer. That being said, my great grandpa also worked very hard to become a resident alien, and supported his 13 children while he spent 30 years of his life going to night school and learning English so that he could become a naturalized citizen in the 60's. I am very proud of all that he did and had to go through so that my family can have the life we have today.