Those Who Give Us Our Daily Bread

When we visit the supermarket, our attention is directed to the displays and packaging and all the choices we have. We read the labels, compare prices, and put items in our cart. The countless people who worked in the fields and factories to produce the food we eat never cross our minds. Our lives depend on their labor, yet we give scant consideration of who they are, the fairness of their wages, or the safety of their working conditions. In our industrialized consumer culture, we just look at the shiny product, not the worker, forgetting we are one Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

There are approximately 2.5 to 3 million agricultural workers in the United States, serving as the backbone for the $1.1 trillion agricultural industry.

The majority (75%) of agricultural workers are foreign-born. 19% identify as migratory and 81% are seasonal. 68% of crop workers are male and 32% are female.

The average level of completed education is 8th grade.

Agricultural workers are among the most socially and economically disadvantaged people in the country: one third of agricultural worker families have income levels below the national poverty guidelines. Farm workers report an average hourly wage of $10.60.

Agriculture can be a hazardous occupation. Workers face an increased risk of lung diseases, repetitive-motion injuries, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.

And what about our food that comes from abroad and the people who work there . . . ?

Information from The National Center for Farmworker Health, the U.S. Department of Labor, and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“Most urban shoppers would tell you that food is produced on farms. But most of them do not know what farms, or what kinds of farms, or where the farms are, or what knowledge or skills are involved in farming. They apparently have little doubt that farms will continue to produce, but they do not know how or over what obstacles. For them, then, food is pretty much an abstract idea—something they do not know or imagine—until it appears on the grocery shelf or on the table. . . . In the advertisements of the food industry . . . food wears as much makeup as the actors. If one gained one’s whole knowledge of food from these advertisements (as some presumably do), one would not know that the various edibles were ever living creatures, or that they all come from the soil, or that they were produced by work.”

Source: Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating.

See also: Newsletter: July 2021.

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