What is the connection between worker rights, racial justice, and sustainable food systems (Part 2)?

Building on yesterday’s prompt, and in light of ongoing conversations about immigration, read these short articles – Fear on the Farm, From field to truck to plate: how undocumented workers feed a city, American Seafood Has Its Own Forced Labor Problem. Reflect on where your food comes from, who’s working along the food chain, and under what conditions. What are the implications of continuing to mistreat and leave undocumented workers “on a ledge” (as stated in the piece on Charlotte, NC)? What would be the result of a “crackdown” on undocumented workers in your community? In our food system? Are there “sanctuary restaurants” near you? How might you take a stand for those who are so poorly treated and on whom we depend for what we eat? For more reading on this topic, see this report that was just released by the Center for a Livable Future – Lack of Protections for Undocumented Workers Puts Public Health, Food System at Risk.


12 thoughts on “What is the connection between worker rights, racial justice, and sustainable food systems (Part 2)?”

  1. From all of these readings, I’m realizing even more how immigrants play an enormous role in the current food system. I don’t think I’ve reflected on this much, but now I’m thinking back some on some of the “Farmer of the Week/Month” promotions that my previous organizations have run. The farm owner and focal point has been almost always been a white man, and when I actually visited the farms, it was almost always people of color who were planting, harvesting, processing, packing, and delivering. The following statement from Fear on the Farm struck me, “There is a shortage of ready, willing, and able agricultural workers. There is not a demographic in the U.S. that is willing to do the work. It’s hard, cold and dirty.” Our food system would be in chaos without immigrants tending the farms. Equally striking to me was reading Miguel’s story about courage and sacrifice in the From Field to Truck reading. He and many others made a dangerous and risky journey into our country to make a better living and provide for his family. His quote “My kids are growing up without me and I’m growing up with them – it’s the hardest thing” really hit home for me. I can’t imagine how hard that must be, and what he and many others do in hopes that their children have a better life, is astounding and inspiring. Miguel and many other immigrants are actually really great role but uncelebrated models in some ways. It’s helpful to hear their personal stories as this gets me thinking about the immigrants who I see working on farms here in Western, MA and wondering about their personal stories as well. I now have a new found respect for our immigrant farm workers in this country. Thanks for sharing these readings.

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    1. Very much appreciate your reflections, Ryan, and your honest sharing about what it means to hear these personal stories. Also, a reminder that our first reading of the Challenge really illustrates the extent to which low-paid (if paid at all), poorly treated, and unrecognized workers are a big reason we even have our current agricultural system. https://foodfirst.org/publication/backgrounder-dismantling-racism-in-the-food-system/ So important to keep raising these otherwise concealed stories! More on that in a forthcoming prompt.


  2. As stated in From field to truck to plate: how undocumented workers feed a city, “It’s not impossible that restaurant food in a city like Charlotte could have involved an undocumented worker at every stage – from field to truck, to processing facility, to distribution centre, to kitchen, to the waiter placing down a plate.” The food in the US comes from a foundation of immigrant workers that are undocumented. If we continue to mistreat them, our entire food system in the US is put at risk. A “crackdown” could result in an increased unemployment rate in farming, food transportation and distribution, food processing, cooking and food service in restaurants, and customers. Communities, our economy, and employment rate would also be at risk because we would have fewer workers to run restaurants and those who spend money that contributes to the US economy. I am not sure if there are sanctuary restaurants in my area but there is a need for them in New England. They would act as a start in taking a stand for those who are poorly treated and who we depend on in our food system.


  3. I had not heard of Sanctuary Restaurants or seen this designation. I was excited to see that there are a good number in NYC. None in the Bronx where I work, unfortunately. I am setting a goal to frequent a sanctuary restaurant by the end of the challenge!

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  4. More and more of a recognition of how fundamentally unfair workers are treated in the food system when the are the very group sustaining it. A few other things stuck out to me…who do I see when I go to restaurants(front of hour, back of house…), Balcazar saying that people don’t understand migration, the dairy farmer in Vt that voted for Trump, 50-75% of the agricultural workforce are undocumented and the further unfair treatment they receive…the moderators suggestion on rereading one of our first readings about the food system and racism, the Charlotte NC white restaurateur who said his workers are his customers too…


    1. Yes, yes. Who do you see and who don’t you see (even when they are visible)? Who do you hear and don’t you hear (even when they are speaking)? Very important reflections. Thank you.


  5. The readings from yesterday and today have really emphasized the point that the U.S. food system relies a great deal on the undocumented work force. The “From field to truck to plate” article brought up a good point about how Trump’s proposal would send millions of undocumented immigrants home, and this would take a large portion of our labor force away from us. My hometown has lots of different race/ethnicity groups within it, and downtown there are lots of culturally diverse restaurants. These small businesses really do keep revenue coming into the town, and they allow for the other undocumented workers to get a taste their homes again. I did some searching and could not find any sanctuary restaurants in my town. However, there is one located in Boston which is close to me, so I would love to go and check it out!


  6. Working with farms and farm owners on a regular basis I find they are hesitant to discuss the realities outlined in the articles and this discussion. I have limited experience in the fields with this topic but experienced it first hand numerous times in kitchens where undocumented and immigrant labor is the backbone of most back of the house operations.

    Thinking of sanctuary restaurants – at one point in the opening of a new restaurant we were in dire need of help with prep and dishwashing. A few of our staff were immigrants who had others they wanted us to bring in to work on staff. After we said “yes! please bring them by for an interview!” we proceeded to have a small group of people looking for work outside our back door every morning at about 4:30-5:00 am. Anywhere from 4 to 8 different individuals would arrive every day looking for work. This went on for months – well after we had filled the vacant positions and met our needs. It stands out to me as it was the first time I was truly aware of how the current system both needs this help and ignores the need for the help… whatever is most convenient at the time.


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