Tag Archives: Undocumented workers

The Hand That Feeds Us

I recently read Tracie McMillan’s riveting book, The American Way of Eating, which was published before Trump’s draconian immigration policies took effect.

In her undercover investigation, which took McMillan to work at a California farm, a Walmart, and an Applebees where she was drugged and raped, the author tried but inevitably failed to make ends meet on the money she earns.

The backbreaking work that McMillan describes while picking garlic, peaches, and grapes doesn’t even earn minimum wages, since workers are paid by the bushel or box rather than by the hour. No surprise, she was the only white face on the fields. The reality, McMillan discovers, is that only desperate undocumented workers will work for such miserable wages, wages which won’t even let them afford the food they pick.

Despite poverty, uncertain and often over-crowded unsanitary housing options, her fellow workers, mostly Spanish speaking Mexicans, are generous in advice and help. These are not the bad hombres and rapists that Trump describes.

I’ve been thinking about how I can disrupt the language of Us vs Them that dominates the anti-immigrant movement in this country. So I’ve started with a series of drawings that recall the style of Toile de Jouy, featuring images and statistics that point to the interdependence between our broken food systems and the undocumented farm-workers that feed us.

For example, Americans spend less of their annual income on food than anyone in the world. Partly because our farms stay afloat by hiring underpaid unprotected undocumented workers.

What will happen to our food budgets when ICE succeeds in rounding up all the undocumented workers? We already know from McMillan’s reportage, US workers won’t take such low wages. Who will work on our farms?

Don’t know about you, but I learned as a young child it’s better not to bite the hand that feeds you. If only our politicians had learned that lesson too.