There Shouldn't Be a Job Like This

Two and a half years ago, I coordinated a commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights era Freedom Rides. We called our journey the Food & Freedom Rides: 25 young adults from diverse urban and rural backgrounds traveled from the deep south to Detroit, and from the border to the Bay, traversing America's Black Belt, Bread Basket, Rust Belt, and Salad Bowl.


On the journey we uncovered stories of dedicated people of every ethnicity making real change in their local communities. We met and worked alongside farmers, activists, youth, workers, and organizers -- leaders of a tremendous movement to reclaim food systems. We were all personally transformed in the process, in some good ways and some hard ways.

My own world was rocked by workers and their families at the two giant meat processing plants we visited. Julio, Veronica, and many others shared stories about conditions inside the plants and their challenges with management and immigration control. I think about them a lot, and around this time of year, when thousands of turkeys are being slaughtered, my stomach goes cold.

What haunts me most is not the countless studies that document the inhumane treatment of animals (nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are "accidentally" boiled alive each year), or the research by the Environmental Working Group that established that each ounce of turkey consumed has the carbon footprint of driving a mile in a car.


What haunts me is the look in Julio's eyes, the way he held his body when he shared the horrors of his repetitive stress injuries at the Tyson plant. The stories he recounted of losing his job when he tried to use the company medical care for work-related injuries. The way he, and other workers, insisted that the two most important things that young people could do were 1) advocate to slow down the processing line and 2) get an education so that none of us would ever have to work a job like that.

Thing is, there shouldn't be a job like that. Workers like Julio can make as many as 20,000 cuts to meat a day: the current line speed for poultry workers requires more than 2 cuts each second. It speeds up to 3 cuts each second at Thanksgiving time, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing to make the higher speed permanent law.

Growing, preparing, and sharing food is an act of love. When we and our families come together to share a meal, whether it's the fourth Thursday of November or any other day, we should be able to enjoy it, be able to thank the hands that made it possible knowing that no one else was harmed in the process of it getting to our table.

As we enjoy this long weekend sharing stories and good food with family and community, be nourished. Then take action to support the health of poultry workers and your family.