Immigration, Agriculture, and Food Justice

So the title may be a bit crass, but the sentiment is there. Trump originally said he’d build a wall, now it’s a fence and some wall. He said he’d deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., now it’s just the 3 million undocumented criminals (And that number comes from where?). Regardless of the forever shifting promises of Trump, we know he’s going to address immigration, somehow.

So the conversation on how immigration, food justice, and federal policy should continue. What are the ramifications of deporting millions of undocumented workers?

Immigration has been a topic on the Presidential plate for as long as I can remember. President’s have fought hard against illegal immigration, and one even provided all immigrants with amnesty (a mistake, but a topic for another post). But we all benefit from undocumented labor. Those that come here for work, but fail to do so legally, keep our food coming cheaply. A couple of questions arise from this: what keeps it cheap and why are they coming here in the first place?

ingathering-607121_1280 (1).jpg

What does immigration have to do with food?

Well, as Chappelle said, no one wants to pick their own strawberries. But someone will, so you can eat them. Immigrant labor makes up a large part of agricultural labor. What would happen if they all suddenly that labor force left? We’d end up with food shortages and increased food costs. So we want fresh foods and we want them cheaply. However, the problem is what gets our food to us cheaply. We pay little because they get paid little.

The average undocumented worker makes somewhere around $9,000 a year, well below what anyone would consider a livable wage. On top of that, the threat of deportation and illegal immigrant status makes it impossible for these migrant workers to organize for just wages to create a livable situation.

And perhaps the worst part of all is the U.S. culpability in creating the immigrant problem in the first place. With agricultural subsidies allowing grain to be sold much cheaper than the cost of production, the markets in Mexico and Central America have nearly been bankrupted. The U.S. grain subsidies create unfair market values outside of our country, killing jobs and forcing the workforce to look elsewhere.

farmbill_infographic_email_FINAL.pngBut then this comes back to picking our own strawberries. In essence, we’re asking undocumented workers to work for pennies to keep our fresh foods cheap. But, you say, fresh foods are more expensive than anything else!

Look again at that nutrition label and see that the ingredients contain high amounts of grains and grain byproducts (corn, wheat, soy, corn syrup, etc.). So the circle comes back to subsidies.

The argument revolves heavily around government subsidies creating uneven markets for grains and grain byproducts. This kills jobs in other countries, spurs undocumented immigrant populations looking for work, and makes your fresh foods cost too much. But this argument is saying it should cost even more. If undocumented workers were paid a living wage, produce costs would skyrocket.

What should happen

Three simple things:

  1. Stop subsidizing grains.
  2. Start subsidizing healthy produce.
  3. Create streamlined paths for workers to come into the country documented.

But the problem remains that you, joe shmoe, can’t really do much to affect these things. By all means, write letters to your senators and representatives, lobby as hard as you can for change, and above all educate yourself about the issues. You may end up agreeing or not, but at least have an educated opinion. (also, please learn to read critically, too much fake news out there. Read this critically too).

wikipedia-1802614_1280.jpgWhat you can do

  1. By fresh foods and give up cable TV.
  2. Read about food justice, social justice, government subsidies, food deserts, and immigration.

That may be a bit simplified. What I’d like to see everyone do is redistribute the budget in your homes to prioritize healthy food over sitting on a couch. You can do this by reducing the amount of junk you eat. Stop eating fast food – it costs about as much or more than fresh produce today. When you purchase food, you vote for that type of food to be in our food system.

If everyone started buying fresh produce, demand would increase and hopefully supply along with it. As supply catches up to demand, prices will stabilize and possibly fall. At least that would be my hope. I’m no economics professor, though. Also, with an increase in demand, we may see an increase in policy power from the produce industry that could fresh-strawberries-1813412_1280.jpghelp pressure immigration policy to keep immigrant labor coming into the country and not getting deported out.
After all, no one wants to pick their own strawberries.

Further Reading:


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