By Anonymous (not verified) on November 25, 2009

We should know where our turkeys come from, and who processes them for us.

The turkeys piled into supermarket freezers carry their own stories. Raised primarily in massive confinement buildings by low-paid growers under contract to corporate food giants, they are genetically designed for plentiful breast meat to grace our Thanksgiving platters. They are then trucked to a processing plant, where they meet their demise.

Reflecting the racial structure of the nation’s entire food system, turkey processing relies largely on the hard labor of low-wage workers of color. On plant floors across the country, a predominantly black, Latino and Asian work force kills, guts, cleans, processes and packages the Thanksgiving centerpiece along fast-moving production lines.

Injuries are commonplace. Thousands of individual repetitive motions every shift raise the probability of chronic pain for line workers.

Federal safety inspectors are spread thin, and when they do arrive it is not unusual for supervisors to silence workers. At a recent meeting of Somali immigrants with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration representative, workers were shocked to learn that they had the right to speak when an inspector came to their workplace.

Every day of the year, and especially on Thanksgiving, no one in this country eats without the labor of immigrants, refugees and other workers of color. This is not a new reality.

When President Theodore Roosevelt pushed his “cheap food” policy in order to feed a growing and politically volatile urban population a century ago, the cost was imposed on both family farmers and food sector workers. A cheap food system is fundamentally based on low commodity prices and low-wage workers, and little has changed since Roosevelt’s policy came into play.

This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks to the low-wage workers, many of them immigrant and refugee, who enable us to have our feast.

Thanksgiving turkey comes laden with human stories of struggle and hope and dangerous, hard work. With stories of immigrants and refugees still seeking an American dream. With stories from many countries blending to become one nation. With stories in many languages seeking to become one voice.

So let’s give thanks. Eat well. Celebrate. And seek justice for the workers who feed us.

David L. Ostendorf is executive director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, a national organization dedicated to building community, justice, and equality nationwide (www.newcomm.org). He is a minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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