What image comes to your mind when you think of a “food chain worker?” Is it the efficient functionary at the super store? Or a friendly neighborhood organic grocer? Or do you take a more holistic approach and envision the field worker who plants and harvests your favorite veggies? Or the truck driver who gets the food to market? The packer at the cannery? The street vendor? Or the waiter at a neighborhood restaurant? These and scores of others are all links on the food chain – and members of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. (http://foodchainworkers.org)
And these are the people we have to thank during International Food Workers Week, November 23-29, 2014.
This nation is home to some 20 million people working in the food system, the largest private sector employer in the country. The Food Alliance website features brief profiles with several of food workers, including Martha, a Walmart cashier, Gualberto, a farmer worker, Constantine, a street vendor, and Pedro, a food processor.
During this same week some shoppers will notice a new label indicating “Food Worker Certified”, a campaign spearheaded by the Fair Food Program. (ciw-online.org) This is new program in which participating purveyors pay a small premium when they buy “food produced by ethical farms.” The premium goes to increase wages for farmworkers. Participants commit to a worker-created Code of Conduct to ensure safe working conditions and prevent forced labor, sexual harassment and child labor in the fields.
To learn more about the Fair Food Program take time to watch a brief Huff Post Live interview with Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/chris-hayes-and-eva-longoria-talk-tomatoes-361072195847
Just in time for International Food Workers Week the Food Fair Program has released Food Chains, a documentary, produced by Eva Longoria and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser. The film aims to capitalize Americans’ food fixation by reminding enthusiasts of the plight of the nation’s farmworkers. Focus of the film is on the dispute between Immokalee, Florida, tomato pickers and the Publix supermarket chain, a standoff that led to a six-day hunger strike and public protest by farmworkers, reminiscent of the protests of farm workers led by Cesar Chavez. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers was a prime mover behind the Fair Food Program.
Food Chains will screened November 28-December 5 at St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main Street in Minneapolis. The film was shown at the recent Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul film festival. Friday and Saturday screenings will include public discussions with leaders of the farm worker movement. http://mspfilm.org/films-and-events/food-chains/
To learn more about Food Chains check out Democracy Now! for an interview with Juan Gonzalez with Food Chains movement leader Gerardo Reyes-Chavez: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/11/21/food_chains_new_film_tracks_howFood Chains is available from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/food-chains/id931672934
One of the most thought provoking of all of these approaches to envisioning the reality of the food workers’ lives is a powerful visual history of artistic depictions of “The Revolution of Food Chain Workers in Art: The Rise of the Working Class in the Modern Era.” Tucked quietly on the Food Chair Worker Alliance website the visual gem is developed by Julia Fernandez, an FWCA intern and UCLA art history major. The illuminating walk through artistic depictions is beautiful, informative and above all, thought provoking. Fernandez begins with an 1830 painting by Delacroix featuring a working-class woman leading the working class rebellion – a total break from the era’s artistic norm.
She discusses Courbet’s “The Stone Breakers”, Millet’s “The Gleaners” and “The Thankful Poor”, by Tanner, a painting that “shows the humility and dignity of people, simply trying to make ends meet. The virtual tour also includes 20th and 21st Century photographs, murals, prints and posters – images of the Great Depression, migrant laborers, farm workers, and a poster calling on Americans to stop buying lettuce and grapes…..The visual images are a perfect incentive to begin a dialogue – if only with one’s self — about the conditions of today’s food chain workers.
While we should surely add food workers of every sort to the circle of benefactors to whom we owe thanks these and other public awareness efforts may tune us in to the human links in the food chain we take so for granted.