A Labor Day for the Farmer Slave
This Labor Day, millions of Americans rushed the malls, parks and beaches to enjoy one last dog day of summer before the leaves die. We ate fruit salads and chocolate ice cream and forgot about the world a bit.
In our forgetfulness, and in our well-deserved rest, we died a little on the inside. And here’s how:
Historically, Labor Day represents a celebration of workers’ unions. Whatever your political views about unions, the holiday’s history is a fact. Today it might mean the start of football season, the last watermelons of the year, and darker church shoes, but back in the day it meant a special time to honor workers and their families.
We have done a disservice to the day while enjoying our picnics. Because while we feasted, workers around the world labored on fields against their wills. Fearing violence, deportation or threats against family members, they are the agricultural slaves who filled our Labor Day plates.
Agricultural slavery is one of the oldest forms of bondage. Today it can be found worldwide, from bananas to chocolate to beef to Florida oranges. It refers to any farm worker forced or manipulated to labor without pay, and usually involves other abuses as well.
It is a sad state of affairs that the demand for slave-made food has not diminished very much in recent years. Information abounds about the conditions on most farms. Local food has become culturally acceptable again. But here we are still eating chocolate ice cream from child slaves and banana cream pies from malformed and forcefully evicted laborers. All while celebrating a day off from our demanding jobs – jobs that pay.
We judge other forms of slavery – we are disgusted by forced prostitution and celebrate the end of the African slave trade. We believe deeply that we are better, that we have grown up some. But if asked what went into making our fruit salads, we don’t know, because we could not even begin to list all of the farms that produced it, let alone who they hire and what, if anything, they pay.
We judge others, but we are the ones walking around in dead men’s bones. We consume slavery, chew it, delight in it, and trust in it for our bodies’ nutrition. We work out at the gym dependent on it, and walk to work the next day glad for the energy it has provided.
Many of us, including myself, know that there have been reports from certain industries that are bad, that suggest foul play. I may not know what those reports say, but that is because I hear that they exist and then choose not to look. After all, it might mean I have to pay ten more cents a banana, or get to know my tomato farmer, or look at the scars of a child slave.
God forgive us for being so dead inside that we can eat suffering without a thought and revel in the few bucks we’ve saved. Happy Labor Day to the farmer slaves. May you be allowed to labor in freedom one day, on my dime.