Sunday, December 1, 2013

Farmworkers and Franciscans

In my previous post, I mentioned how there have been people fasting in a tent on the national mall for immigration reform since November 12th - including over Thanksgiving. I found it more than a little insensitive that most Americans could enjoy a day of feasting in recognition of how welcoming the Native Americans were to pilgrims, while living in the bliss of ignorance or apathy that Congress is stalling a vote on immigration reform - reform that could improve the lives of 11 million aspiring Americans who are currently suffering the impact of deportations, deaths on the border, exploitation at work, and fear of living in the shadows with no path to citizenship.  So I posted about the immigration reform efforts and fasted for part of the day, which made me more conscious and grateful for the food I was eating. But it also made me more conscious of two other things. Seeing food scraps thrown away reminded me of the absurd amount of food that gets thrown away every year (1.3 billion tons) - an unconscionable sin in a world of abundance where so many go hungry. Secondly, preparing food without being able to eat it right away made me think of the plight of the farmworkers who grew the food, as farmers are some of the hungriest people in the world.

This past week (November 24-30) was the second annual International Food Workers Week, which "brings awareness to the issues facing food workers, supports their organizing efforts for fair, sustainable jobs and promotes solidarity among workers all across the food chain." Yet in the US alone, there are nearly 20 million Americans who are often poorly paid, exploited, and can't even afford to put food on their own tables.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks ago (November 19) was the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron saint of Secular Franciscans - Christians "embedded in the world" who have made a commitment to follow the lifestyle of St. Francis. From Lori Pieper, SFO we learn that St. Elizabeth was a food justice advocate at heart: while born into royalty, she "dedicated herself to the relief of the poor" and "refused any food that might have been unjustly exacted from the peasants by her husband's officials."

What implications does this have for those who strive to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi?  St. Francis saw everyone and everything as his brothers and sisters, seeing God in the eyes of the poor and in the earth alike. He sought to establish right relationship with creation and with all of humankind.

From Franciscan Br. Keith Warner who has experience working for justice for farmworkers and writes about the close relationship between Franciscan Friars and César Chávez, we can come to understand that ministering to and spending time with the poor and those closest to the earth - to those who grow the very food which we take for granted and eat every day - can have significant spiritual implications as well as deepen our interest in grassroots social movements.

As we finish up our Thanksgiving leftovers, enter into the Advent season and enjoy the bounty of the earth throughout the year, let us not forget the plight of the workers who grow, prepare and serve our food. The Food Chain Workers Alliance organizes and supports workers throughout the year on improving the livelihoods of workers throughout the food chain.   Here is a TEDx talk by Joann Lo about her experiences working with the Food Chain Workers Alliance:

Currently, we have an opportunity to stand with 8 million food system and 21 additional low-wage workers in their request that Congress raise the minimum wage:  in early December, the US Senate is expected to vote on a "Motion to Proceed" on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years and the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to 70% of the regular minimum wage.

Let's stand in solidarity with food workers. Here are a couple of actions you can take to learn more and support fair wages and sustainable jobs for workers all across the food chain: