Thursday, July 26, 2012

Terrible Tapestry


Another food writing workshop exercise, this one in response to a prompt to "write a food piece that makes a point":

One twelve-year-old, Jon, played the role of Jose. Jon traded his South Chicago accent for that of a Mexican migrant worker (or what he imagined it to be). A girl in the class, Lindsey, assumed the role of the overseer, pushing Jose to work long hours in the grueling sun, offering only measly wages in return. 

The class of kids, part of a summer pre-college pipeline program for students from under-represented groups, tried to put themselves in a whole other world. 

The skit, set in the tomato fields of a southern Florida plantation, encouraged the students to think about the deep and complicated picture of agricultural labor in this country. It made them consider how deeply intertwined immigration issues were with the tomatoes on their hamburger, made them realize that a form of slavery exists in our modern world in which migrants are forced into labor, and gave them some foundation to understand why it's so unfair that farmworkers are the only sector of our economy who don't get paid over time, who aren't allowed to organize or collectively bargain with their bosses.

The kids found all of this shocking, and these facts angered them. They asked, what can we do? And why is the world like this? 

The teachers certainly didn't have all the answers, and could only began to tease apart the thousands of yarns that form this terrible tapestry. Yet, they offered the kids a few ways to address the problem through pushing for change at both the level of policy and the level of consumption. 

The kids made posters as part of a Campaign for Fair Food by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The posters they produced would be sent to the Coalition, who would have a chance to share them with the group's 4,000 members, and would then forward them on to Congress, along with all the other posters drawn by children across the country, urging the legislators to bolster farmworker rights. In bright shades of green and blue, the kids drew posters thanking the farmworkers for their hard work. They illustrated pictures contrasting the idyllic farm scenes of their imagination with realistic ones filled with mistreated laborers. They colored in hand-drawn sketches of big, red, juicy tomatoes with voice bubbles saying, “I want to be picked by a farmworker who is paid enough to feed her family!”

And then, they got the chance to see how delicious it can be to begin to address this problem at the level of consumption. The teachers brought in tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, all from a Wisconsin organic farm that employs seasonal farmworkers from Mexico, who are paid well under an H2A special agricultural visa, and who are provided comfortable housing and fresh meals made by a chef hired just for the job. The kids got to chop the vegetables themselves, got to add the salt and lime, and then got to load the cool, spicy salsa onto tortilla chips and savor this possibility. 
 
Suddenly, one of the students, Jermaine, jumped up from the table, and said, “I know what would make this even better!” He ran over to his backpack, hastily unzipped it, and pulled out a bright orange bag of Doritos. He ripped the bag open, and plunged the fluorescent orange chip into the salsa. 

Then Trang ran for her Sun Chips, and tried them with the salsa.

Marnie eagerly tested her Lay's.

All the chips came straight from the bin of snacks provided by the program in the morning, after free breakfast, before the kids came to class, to ensure that the students were properly fed.

Marcus loaded his Cheetoh with the fresh salsa and pronounced it delicious.

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