This Thanksgiving, Think About Who Put Your Food on the Table

“The Humans Who Feed Us” campaign aims to humanize the immigrant workers who bring the food to our tables.

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Jovita has been a farmworker in the U.S. for over 21 years. She picks apples, asparagus, peaches and cherries to “feed the community here in Ohio and the rest of the country.” 

Rosa hasn’t seen her parents in 18 years. Every year she moves between Ohio to pick tomatoes, and Florida for strawberry season. She does it for her children “in order to build a better future for them.”

The women are essential workers, but aren’t being treated as such—migrant workers in the U.S. still receive almost no protection from the government, exposing them to exploitation and rendering them invisible. 

A new project by Justice for Migrant Women (J4MW) aims to change that through a narrative and portrait project called “The Humans Who Feed Us.”

“Most people don’t even realize that at 12 years old you can be employed in the field in this country without any protection,” said Ingrid Hoffmann, a chef and TV personality involved in the project from early on. “Working in the food industry for so many years I have experienced first hand how many hands and humans it takes to feed us.”

The efforts of the people who bring food to our tables are severely undervalued—especially if they were not born in the U.S. Migrant workers often face great challenges because of their immigration status. They don’t receive the social security benefits they need, which became even more of an issue during the pandemic. 

“More than 5.5 million women were pushed out of the labor market during the pandemic, many of them from the Latinx community,” said Mónica Ramírez, founder of the project and head of J4MW. Many in lower paying jobs don’t have protections like paid leave that would support them if they are sick or have to take care of a family member, she continued.

Emphasizing Humanity and Importance of Migrant Workers 

 “I am grateful to the farmer for giving me a job and to the people who buy the products. I also know that they depend on me to do my job. It is important that we have mutual respect for each other.”

Marcos, farmworker

The campaign brings the stories of Marcos, Jovita, Rosa and their colleagues to restaurants, diners and cafeterias, printing them on menus, postcards and posters. “The objective here is to put these stories in front of everyone who eats,” Hoffmann said. 

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A guest attends as Justice for Migrant Women and Ingrid Hoffmann celebrate “The Humans Who Feed Us” at Selina Chelsea on November 17, 2021 in New York City. (Craig Barritt / Getty Images for Justice For Migrant Women)

Political Demands

“I also wish that the community would actively hear us when we organize for our human rights and call for changes, like access to healthcare, freedom of movement, and the right to live without fear of deportation.”

Jose Luis, worker in dairy industry 

Emphasizing the humanity of migrant workers is a step toward permanent political action. 

The House recently passed President Biden’s Build Back Better Act (BBB). In its current form, the act includes important benefits for the migrant community, as it would provide about 7 million immigrant workers with temporary work permits. BBB would also provide four weeks of paid leave to all employees, a development that would also apply to immigrant workers. However, both of these points are likely to be targeted when the act is debated in the Senate. 

These measures, although a step in the right direction, are far from enough: “We want permanent protection for all immigrants,” Ramírez said. Still, it is important to fight for these few measures that can improve working conditions for immigrant workers to stay in the bill, she explained. 

Magdalena, who has been a farmworker for more than 45 years, said this year she has noticed a significant increase in H-2A workers—a program that allows employers from the U.S. to hire workers from other countries to work here temporarily. 

H-2A is a flawed program, Ramírez explained, but it provides the best protection there is for immigrant workers, by requiring certain standards of the employers, such as housing. Still, it has a large overarching issue: Mostly men are hired through H-2A, according to Ramírez.

Take Action

The ultimate goal of “The Humans Who Feed Us” is an accessible path to citizenship for immigrant essential workers, Dreamers and TPS-holders, and J4MW is calling on readers to contact their members of Congress to demand this change. 

J4MW is planning to expand the program as quickly as possible. “The goal for 2022 is 1,000 partners,” Ramírez said.

If you or your business is interested in partnering with J4MW, reach out for materials. 

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About

Hannah Beck is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a junior at Smith College. She is majoring in the study of women and gender and Spanish. Her academic interests include transnational feminism, queer history and theory as well as reproductive justice.