This past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine was entitled “The Food Issue: Eating Together.” With its cutesy cover and interesting theme I was excited to open it up and see where the NY Times was taking this issue. Diving into the reading I was pretty disappointed with the froofy-ness of the writing. Lots of talk of food communities, urban gardening, cow shares, and the like. The same thing we’re seeing all over the place now. Eating local and organic is chic. Eating co-ops are a great way to spend time with friends. Creating long elaborate meals is a way to get in touch with the earth. Not that I disagree with these things, I actually enjoy all of the above – I just think there was a lot missing. Of course, there is always more to write about, but I think it’s a shame that an open-minded and supposedly social conscious newspaper like the NY Times would forget an entire sector of the food movement: Farm workers who are organizing to get fair wages, be treated fairly on the job, actually just be treated like human beings.
It is important to recognize that the modern food industry intentionally distances the consumer from the producer and it is difficult to see our connection to farm workers. Fruthermore those who purchase local, organic food might see themselves distanced from the woes of farm workers because they are trying their hardest to stay out of the modern food industry. But, farm workers produce even organic food and local farms in many states employ farm workers. If you are interested in supporting food justice projects in your own community through urban gardening, subsidized CSA, etc than we all need to think about the farmworkers who produce the majority of the food in the US and around the world. We live in a globalized world where even if you don’t directly see yourself as part of the problem, there is still something you can do.
The magazine does address one set of food producers: those who catch seafood by hand in Maine. For me this was the most compelling article of the edition – truly focusing on a working-class sector of the workforce that is producing food that costs a huge amount of money. This article is about a life before mechanization when things were done by hand – a reality that does not exist in modern agriculture. A beautifully writing article it was a step in the write direction to addressing the producer question.
So I would encourage the NY Times to look beyond what is chic and cool and to dive into some of the real human rights issues that we can see in the food system: how farm workers are treated and how they are standing up to fight for justice. This is an system that we all play into and a system we all can work together to change. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of newspapers like the NY Times to fully research their areas of interest and tease out the parts the food industry might not want people to see.