Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Remembering those who put food our our tables, and those who can't afford it for their own

Agricultural workers in a field near the California coast, August 2007
Agricultural workers in a field near the California coast, August 2007 Photo by Donna Sutton/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A couple of reports released in the past week are good food for thought as many of us head home early tonight to start Thanksgiving preparations.

One gives us a reason to consider ourselves lucky if we're in a position to indulge at the holiday table; the other, a sense of understanding of the difficulties faced by the people who grow and prepare our food, in particular the female workers who make up a large segment of the food industry.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that around 15% of U.S. households, 17.4 million altogether, didn't have enough money for food at some point last year. Of those, 6.8 million households had chronic financial problems that forced them to miss meals on a regular basis. Minorities, along with single parents, were among those who had it worst. From the report:

Very low food security was more prevalent than the national average (5.7 percent) for households with children headed by single women (12.9 percent), women living alone (7.4 percent), men living alone (7.1 percent), Black and Hispanic households (both 9.3 percent), households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line (14.4 percent), and households located in principal cities of metropolitan areas (6.8 percent).

Also in recent days, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report chronicling the wages and working conditions of female agricultural workers (22 percent of the farm labor force is female) and food industry workers, including poultry workers (more than half are women, and at least half are Latino). The report called working in a chicken processing plant "one of the most dangerous occupations in America."

As for farm workers, there are problems beyond the backbreaking work, among them "higher rates of toxic chemical injuries and skin disorders than any other workers in the country," per the report. The sexual harrassment of female workers in the industry is pervasive as well.

Among the recommendations in the food industry report: Better federal and state oversight, along with immigration reforms to stop the current cycle of exploitation that involves undocumented workers.

Those of us who are fortunate enough not to lack food for our tables, nor to have to make a difficult and dangerous living growing it for the tables of others, have much to be thankful for.

And to the workers who put long hours into growing, raising and processing our Thanksgiving dinners, mil gracias.

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