The People -- and the Shame -- Behind Our Food

Our current culture has an unprecedented awareness of food and its source. Organic, locavore, sustainable, free-range, farm-raised: these have all become household terms. We pay more attention than ever before to what goes into our shopping carts and into our stomachs. Food has even become a major source of entertainment: we watch chefs compete on TV for the best culinary creation and those struggling with obesity to lose the most weight.

We may carefully inspect the food we buy for certain ingredients or where it comes from, but we're still not getting the full story.

Mainstream America was awakened to the plight of millions of farm workers when legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow broadcast his documentary, "The Harvest of Shame" in 1960. Cesar Chavez called on Americans to "Boycott Grapes" in the 1960s and won the first union
contract protections for farm workers in America's history.

Now, it is our turn.

Let's ask ourselves why we are so aware of what we eat, yet so unaware of the abuse that California's 500,000 farm workers endure. They live in squalor among us, suffering from sexual harassment, inadequate drinking water and housing, lack of shade, and sky-high disease rates. More farm workers have died from heat in the last few years than at
any time in decades. That these conditions persist into the 21st century is appalling, and we ought to be ashamed.

When farm workers organize, they are threatened with deportation. When they complain to the government, they are so often ignored. When they try to defend themselves, they are fired.

Today's leaders of the United Farm Workers are a remarkable group of young men and women. I've marched with them and seen first hand their struggle for fairness and equality.

I have worked for Californians' civil rights before, and I will continue to do so by standing with the workers who help us get our state's produce to the table and keep our agricultural economy
running. Farmworkers in California harvest and produce a majority of fresh food for the U.S., which helps preserve our food security and maintains a sustainable, local source of food. Without farmworkers, our national security, economy, and environment would suffer.

This year, the United Farm Workers has decided to do something new, and it's an opportunity for us all to participate in improving the living and working conditions of those who need and deserve it.

They are organizing "Fair Harvest Meals" on college campuses across California. Farm workers will share both the fruits and vegetables they pick and their stories with students. They hope to inspire a new generation of young people to do more than take a day off work or school to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez. They hope that young people will take what they learn to pressure the food stores we patronize to require humane working conditions from growers.'

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One of my political heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, supported striking UFW workers under Cesar Chavez's leadership in the 1960s. I want to honor both of these civil rights activists by doing all that I can for those who give so much to feed us. I want to see "Fair Harvest Foods" as
much a part of our consciousness and consumption as "Free Trade Coffee."

Our state's farm workers deserve every opportunity to participate in the California dream. We have the ability to stop the indignities, to end the suffering, to ease the fears -- and it is our moral imperative to do so.