Migrant farmworkers ‘systematically damaged’ to produce food for others

Dora Clouttick caught up with Seth Holmes, author of the acclaimed Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies book which follows the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrant farmworkers in the US.

Forked: What are the biggest food challenges currently facing us?

Seth Holmes: The next big challenge is, racism, classism, and pseudospeciation. Erik Erikson, the famous psychological theorist, used the term “pseudospeciation” to describe the ways in which humans often treat certain categories of other humans (often by race, class, citizenship, gender, sexuality or other delineations of social difference) as subhuman. These phenomena allow for social hierarchies in our food system such that the health and bodies of certain categories of people are systematically damaged in the processes that produce healthy food for other people.

And thirdly, lack of transparency in our food system in which it is impossible to know where our food comes from, what went into growing and producing it, and how the workers involved were treated.

Forked: Is enough being done to address these issues/problems? If not, what needs doing?

SH: Not enough is being done. While the food movement is growing and becoming more aware of the entire food chain, corporate agribusiness is generally making headway. We need to continue work on fair trade labels and fair treatment of workers. We need to enforce fair labor laws in agriculture and protect the rights of workers to organize. We must continue work to avoid stigmatizing rhetoric (such as recent moves in the U.S. by Good Morning America, the Associated Press and others to avoid the use of the word “illegal” in reference to unauthorized immigrants).

In addition, the food movement needs to broaden its concerns to include more centrally the well-being of the laborers in the food system.

Forked: What are you currently working on?

SH: I am working on bringing the individual immigrant farmworker stories and the analysis of the food system, including its effects on health, from Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies (UC Press 2013) to politicians, students, academics, and broad publics.

Forked: Who, in the food sphere, have you recently found inspiring?

SH: Tracie McMillan, Tom Philpott, Eric Schlosser and Julie Guthman for their focus on the workers throughout our food system. Anna Lappe and others who focus on the interactions between our environment and our food. Barbara Laraia and others focused on the food insecurity of vulnerable populations, sadly including many of those who harvest our food. Michael Pollan, Sandor Katz, Alice Waters, Mark Bittman and others recently encouraging the broad public to consider the entire food chain. The United Farm Workers, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos, Dolores Huerta and others working for fair and healthy working conditions for many of those who grow and harvest our food.

Forked: Can you give me three words to sum up/describe the current food system?

SE: Profit-driven. Damaging (especially to the bodies of farmworkers and often to the environment). Divided (among food corporations seeking profit above all, movements seeking critical structural change in the food chain, and well-meaning people seeking change but focused exclusively on the – often elite – consumer side of the equation).

To order Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies click here. For more detailed reports on the exploitation of migrant farmworkers in the UK, Italy and beyond, order the Ecologist Guide to Food, published by Leaping Hare.  


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