For the past few months I have been focusing on eating healthy and exercising regularly. My weekly grocery shopping has consisted mostly of fresh produce, meat and nuts. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables has changed my life and my family’s life.
As I washed, chopped, and rinsed a head of broccoli and a head of cauliflower in preparation for tonight’s dinner, I had a whole new appreciation for the produce I was preparing. This time, my mind wasn’t wandering off into my to-do list for the next few days or mindlessly contemplating the dinner I was preparing to make. Instead, I thought,
“This head of cauliflower was picked by someone working long hours in the middle of a field somewhere in the bright sun. They were probably paid a fraction of 1¢ for this head of cauliflower that I just bought for $2.99. And, when they go to the store to buy groceries for their family, they have to pay the same $2.99 that I just paid. This head of cauliflower was washed and packaged for me before I even touched it, and I will wash it at least once more before I put it into my dish. They picked it out of the ground with bare hands and could very well have been exposed to pesticides while doing so.”
After spending four days learning about and contemplating change for the working conditions of migrant farm workers, I have a new awareness and sensitivity to the cycle through which every fresh ingredient in my kitchen has been. This produce is not something that magically appears in the grocery store coolers for shoppers like me to tediously select. There is a person with a family that needs to be fed behind every tomato, every avocado, every cucumber, and so on.
Being immersed in the efforts of the FSU Medical School and the FSU Legal/Medical Partnership in Immokalee, Florida for Alternative Spring Break brought me immense humility and appreciation. My peers and I were strangers to the Immokalee residents; yet, they welcomed us as though we were family. They are struggling to feed themselves and their families; yet, they were helping and providing for me.
Reality is that farm work is an integral part many workers’ family culture and way of life. Many of them will not see the day that a family member “gets out” and has a career outside farm work. Nonetheless, this reality should not deter us from working towards the day that every child has the choice between pursuing an education and farm work; a day where those working on the farms are there because they have chosen to be; and a day where working conditions on the farms are adequate to justify that decision.
Unfortunately, not everyone in this country has access to and the privilege of eating fresh produce on a daily basis. In fact, I am probably part of the exception of those who do. Yet, such a diet has become one of the most important aspects of my lifestyle. Fortunately, I now appreciate the tireless hands that make it possible.
At the end of the day, we are all trying to do what is best for ourselves and for our families. That is why many migrant farm-workers take the risk of being caught by the immigration system to come into the US and provide a better life for their families. In reality, they are leaving all they know and risking everything they have to do the jobs that many American’s are not willing to do. They facilitate the privileges that we take for granted. Ultimately, however, there has to be a way for the privilege and fiscal gaps to be reduced and, at the very least, minimal fairness to be achieved for those workers in our fruit and vegetable fields.