Hidden Hunger

Last night’s Food & Sustainability class was interesting, sad, and also a bit hopeful.  As our group shared a simple meal of tomato soup, crackers, bananas, bread & dessert, we learned about the work conditions for people who grow, harvest and produce our food.

How often do you think about the health and lifestyle of the people who work to get us our food?  Have you ever thought that these very people are often ironically suffering from hunger?  I’m embarrassed to say that until last night it never really crossed my mind.

Here are a few quotes, ideas and statistics that were shared (from Just Eating):

  • Cesar Chavez once said, “The food that overflows our market shelves and fills our tables is harvested by men, women, and children who often cannot satisfy their own hunger.”
  • Farm workers have the lowest annual family incomes of any U.S. wage and salary workers.  Farm worker wages have declined by more than 20 percent in the last twenty years, after accounting for inflation.
  • Tomatoes still need to be harvested by hand. This is a hot, dirty job that requires  heavy lifting. In the state of Florida, many tomato pickers have not had a pay raise in over 20 years. They still earn between 40-50 cents for each 32-pound bucket they pick.

  • The price of coffee on the world market fluctuates wildly and coffee farmers have no control over it. Often they need to sell their beans at a price lower than production costs, sending them into debt.

  • A small coffee farmer from El Salvador says: “Thanks to fair trade, we will not die of hunger.”

  • Fair trade does not only exist for coffee, there are also fair trade bananas, chocolate, and many other products.  It makes a difference!

This dinner and the readings that accompanied it challenged me to think about my responsibility as a consumer.  It’s easier to buy what’s on sale, to not think about the farm workers, their living conditions, etc., and it is a luxury to buy whatever type of products I want.  Just like food nourishes our own bodies and builds up our health, the choices that we make regarding food can either help or hurt individuals, families and communities around the world.  I’d challenge anyone reading this to put more thought into your food shopping this next week.  Support a local farmer at your farmers market, look for fair trade in the coffee aisle, and read an article about farming conditions.

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