In Mother Earth Living, we spend a lot of time focused on how our food choices affect our health—in this issue alone, we share recipes that help a food writer manage chronic health conditions; a profile of some of the world’s healthiest spices; and a look at the toxicity of Roundup. Yet, vital as our food choices are to our health, the impact of our choices goes way beyond our own bodies.
When I visited Rise & Root farm in Chester, New York, to write a profile of the four inspiring women who turned their farm dream into a reality, I knew I’d learn about the farm and the work that went into building that dream. I didn’t know I’d learn so much more about the ways our food choices support injustices in our laws and treatment of farmers and farm workers.
When we buy food from the industrial agriculture system, we’re not only consuming pesticide residues. We’re also supporting a system that depends upon the mistreatment of people. Many temporary or seasonal farm workers are exempt from minimum wage requirements, which means they often work long hours for below minimum wage, with no overtime pay or sick leave According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual income of crop workers is between $10,000 and $12,499; 30 percent of farm workers’ family incomes are below the poverty line.
Low pay and no benefits are just part of the problem. In the media, stories of farm worker abuses abound, with everything from sexual harassment and rape to wage theft. These workers, often impoverished, have little power when it comes to defending their rights. As Bill Tamayo, regional attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told NPR in a story about sexual harassment against farm workers, “Conditions that allow sexual assault to occur all revolve around who has power.” On industrial farms, supervisors have all the power: “He determines who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets fired. And if you’re a sexual predator, that’s the ideal position to be in because you can determine whether her family eats or not,” Tamayo says.
Our food system depends on the exploitation of farm workers to keep prices low and profits high (the CEO of one major farm/food conglomerate is worth $2.4 billion). Many industrial farms also claim a dependence upon chemical herbicides to produce high yields. Thus, on farms throughout our nation, underpaid people wear hazmat suits as they spray carcinogenic chemicals on the food we eat. And it’s no better in the arena of factory-farmed meats. When it comes to our food system, problems abound.
So, what can we do? One of the simplest answers lies in supply and demand. It’s our responsibility to consider the impact our food choices have on our planet, on other creatures and especially on other people.
High-quality food can cost more, and I know the idea that we all buy from small, organic farms suggests a level of economic privilege many people don’t have. But by engaging with local farmers via CSAs and farm-volunteer programs, it’s possible to get better food for less money. If there is one worthwhile expense, it’s healthy food. Eating well is not only crucial to the health and well-being of ourselves and our families—eating well honors the work of our fellow humans, the sacrifice of animal life and the wonders of the earth itself.
From the garden to the grocery store, ways to eat well every day:
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