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Shouldn’t slavery be over by now?

on February 3, 2012

Although there is a collective assumption that our country has overcome slavery, there is a current, very real slave population that somehow slips under the radar. This is a food blog, so what am I doing writing about slavery? I’m writing about the people who produce, process, farm, and/or harvest our food.

Who are they? Why are they enslaved? Who is enslaving them? What are we doing about it?

For the most part, they are undocumented workers who come here in search for a better life. They are chasing the “American Dream,” just like everyone else. However for them, the pursuit of a dream ends up being more of a nightmare. Every year, thousands of immigrants leave their homes and come to America only to be beaten, locked up, and exploited. Although immigrants are not the only ones who hold these farm jobs, they make up an overwhelming part of the farm worker population. What’s more, many of them are undocumented, so the fear of deportation is enough to keep them quiet.

In this land of opportunity, we have so many policies and laws that are supposed to protect us from being taken advantage of. However, these workers do not. For example, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), farmworkers are not entitled to breaks for rest or meals, which are mandated under that law. In Florida, workers pick baskets of tomatoes, one basket weighing 32 pounds. 32 Pounds?! With no breaks?! The payment they receive is 45 cents. 45 CENTS! That is roughly the same amount that farmers would have gotten 30 years ago. The cost of living has increased significantly since then. Yet the farmers’ wages have not.

In my opinion, this is a problem. I realize there is a movement to get the immigrants out of this country and send them back home. But without them, we wouldn’t eat. The funny thing with crops is, when they’re ready to be picked, they’re ready to be picked. If someone doesn’t take them off the vine when they’re ready, we lose them and we don’t get them back. Typically, Americans aren’t willing to do this type of back breaking labor, but they are. We like food. We need food. AND WE NEED THEM! So why don’t we take care of our migrant farmworkers, despite the fact that they aren’t citizens. They’re still people, and they’re just trying to make it. Just like you and me. Just like your great-great-grandfather did when he came to America generations ago. We have the laws already written, so why do we exclude certain groups from them, like immigrant farmers? Clearly, something needs to change. And soon.

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One response to “Shouldn’t slavery be over by now?

  1. SHS says:

    One of the very first issues I learned about in my very first SW class was the plight of the migrant farm worker. It was an eye-opener for me, too. Still an issue, still wrong.

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