Giving Thanks to Food Workers on International Food Worker Week
Perhaps more than any other week this year, food is on our mind. Particularly for me this year as 17 friends and family will descend on Thursday for Thanksgiving. But I’m not just thinking about the food I’ll serve — and how it’ll all fit in my tiny oven — I’m thinking about all the workers who helped to bring that food to our family.
As we celebrate International Food Worker Week this year, I’m thinking in particular about how the choice for organic food affects not just the health of my family, but the health and well being of people across the food chain who I’ll never meet and never know, but whose lives I’m connected to nonetheless.
When I talk to audiences across the country about healthy eating, one question comes up more frequently than any other: Is choosing organic food better for my health? The science is pretty settled about the differences in pesticide residues between non-organic and organic food. The President’s Panel on Cancer, a few years ago, even suggested that one of the best ways to prevent certain forms of cancer is to choose food grown without chemicals, including many that are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors or neurotoxins.
But even more important to me is what choosing organic–or food grown with fewer toxic pesticides and natural fertilizer–means for workers along the food chain and working class communities around the country. Farmers and farmworkers, more than anyone else in this country, are impacted by the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in the fields. In the longest running study to date of farmworker children, researchers of farmworkers in California’s Salinas Valley, including pregnant women, who are exposed daily to an arsenal of toxic chemicals, found that their children had higher rates of neurodevelopmental problems and other health issues related to chemical exposure.
Working class communities are among the most affected by agricultural chemical and synthetic fertilizer production. Consider the working class families in West, Texas where 15 people were killed and 160 injured when a chemical plant, producing synthetic fertilizer for non-organic farms, exploded last year. Or the families living in the shadows of the manufacturing plants producing the toxic chemicals used on non-organic and GMO fields. Like Dow Chemical’s neighbors in Midland, Michigan where pollution from the plant has created the highest level of the carcinogen dioxin in waterways ever recorded by the EPA anywhere in the country. (Dow, keep in mind, is not only one of the largest agricultural chemical producers; it’s big in the GMO market too: the company just pushed for approval on a new GMO engineered to be resistant to its toxic defoliant 2,4-D).
When we fight for organic food and getting agricultural chemicals off our fields, we do so not just for our own health. We do so for food workers, too. This year, when I serve our (mostly) organic and (mostly) local Thanksgiving feast, I’ll do so because I don’t want to feed my loved ones food that caused another mother or father to worry about whether the chemicals used to grow that food had made their children sick, stunted their intelligence, or planted the seed of cancer in their bodies.