Originally posted September 5, 2016.
Labor Day gives us a well-deserved day off, a day to reflect about the contributions of us working folk that make our society great. In addition to providing a break from the daily grind, it’s also a day where we take pause to savor the final days of summer and enjoy the remaining bounties of fresh produce before heading into fall. In the spirit of the true history behind Labor Day, I feel like it’s also a perfect occasion for an exercise in mindful eating.
According to The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME), the relationship we have with food reflects the attitudes we have toward the environment and ourselves. TCME describes one who eats mindfully as someone who cultivates awareness about various aspects of the experience of eating and how food choices support one’s health and well-being. And true mindful eating goes beyond healthy practices of self. It also involves awareness of the interconnection of earth, living beings, and cultural practices and the impact of their food choices on those systems.
As I cut strawberries for my Labor Day shortcakes, I’m reflecting about the life cycle of this delectable little fruit. And not just about how much pesticide I’ve spared my kids’ systems by choosing the more pricey organic variety. I ponder about the work it took to grow, harvest, and transport these berries to the nicely arranged display where I found them. I sit with that- the work and the people who do it. It’s a lot.
Many of us dream of having romantic lives as homesteaders, where we raise our own food in a humane, ethical and chemical-free way. But the reality for most of us is that we rely on the agricultural industry (and its workforce) to ship our organic, ethically sourced foods into our urban and suburban supermarkets. We are so far removed from the growing process that this rarely crosses our minds. But today, it’s on mine.
So I ask the internet: What is work like for those who grow our food?
Impeccable timing for an activist like me! My search results tell me that this Labor Day, the United Farmworkers of America will be honoring the 50th anniversary of a nearly 500-mile march to the state capitol of Texas, where farm workers called for better pay and working conditions, as well as bargaining rights. Surely they’ve come a long way in 50 years.
Then, I read countless stories about today’s farm workers who still endure long, physically demanding shifts with no breaks for poverty wages- far less than $10,000 for a full season. And no overtime pay. Many of these workers are immigrants, sending money to family back home while existing in paltry living conditions here. I’m shocked to read that some workers are being whipped, sexually harassed and even deprived of the pay they’ve earned.
This is so unjust, I think to myself; but surely organic farming is different. Retailers and suppliers who cater to conscious consumers like me must share my value system and the goal of raising the vibration of our planet. Right? At the very least, they know people like me want our hard-earned cash going only to those with the most ethical of business practices.
It turns out, though, that labor is an important part of the food chain which may need our focus and attention, even in the organic and ethically sourced space. Although many organic farms are smaller in scale, with a significant part of the workforce being family; large industrial companies are also creating a niche for organic produce. And while workers on organic farms escape a lot of the chemical exposure borne by their counterparts working on large industrial farms, the absence of protective labor standards are the same.
In fact, workers in Washington State have helped to organize an ongoing boycott against one of the largest berry companies in the world. The Washington workers are working with a group of striking workers in Mexico, some of whom are paid as little as $6 and $7 per week. The groups are hoping pressure will force the company to hold its growers accountable for the violations of labor rights and deplorable working conditions. In the year 2016 this is happening!
I don’t necessarily think of where my food comes from every time I go to the store. It’s my health and well-being that are ordinarily at the top of my mind when I make food choices. (Okay! Most of the time.) But mindful eating means I am also aware of the impact my food choices have on others. This includes my brothers and sisters who cultivate and harvest my food no matter how far away.
As I think about how much I’d love to spend Labor Day in any one of those Texas communities celebrating that march on Austin 50 years ago, I realize that the strawberries I bought for my own festivities bear a label being boycotted by workers who want to be paid fairly and shown respect for their hard work. And I sit with this- their work. Our interconnectedness. My gratitude for their work. And which berry label I will look for until their dispute is resolved.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/46646401@N06/8745509772″>not WORKING ON MY TAN</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>