Animal behavior: Crackdowns on meatpacking workers give new meaning to ‘inhumane’

Mainstream media and many of the blogs covered the raid of the Agriprocessors, Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, IA when it took place back in May. It was the largest immigration raid of a single site by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in history: Nearly 400 immigrant workers were arrested and held at a cattle exhibit hall (a perverse facet of the story that I'll let go without comment for the moment) while they awaited sentencing or deportation.

In the New York Times editorial section yesterday, commentary on an essay written by one of the Spanish-language interpreters in the raid puts a big, bold circle around the inhumane treatment of undocumented workers in the food system. The essay, penned by Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas, can be downloaded from the NYT editorial. I urge everyone to read it; it's positively chilling.

Agriprocessors, Inc. was the nation's largest processor of kosher meat. If you've ever seen an industrial meatpacking plant, you know that it's a decidedly unpleasant place to work, even under the best conditions. (If you haven't ever seen one, the film version of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or the Austrian film Our Daily Bread provide some realistic -- and highly disturbing -- visuals of the workers who process our meat.) According to the Washington Post, life at Agriprocessors was made worse by repeated violations of health, safety, and labor laws over the years. (The plant also had its own Downergate episode in 2004.) In fact, the ICE raid apparently disrupted a separate investigation by the U.S. Labor Department of child labor violations at the plant.

On May 17, according to the Camayd-Freixas' essay, inhumane treatment of these meatpacking workers reached a new level. He describes the process by which workers, after their arrest at the plant in Postville, were brought in for arraignment (and may I add, arraignment at the cattle exhibit hall):

Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed.... Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some being relatives... some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.

The charging and sentencing of the workers, says Camayd-Freixas, "oddly resembled a judicial assembly line where the meat packers were mass processed." How fitting. Under habeas corpus law, the workers had to be charged in 72 hours or be released for deportation. In its rush to get through the nearly 400 cases, ICE forced lawyers, judges and interpreters to work overtime, and lawyers had little direct contact with the workers they were representing.

The whole thing was a cruel circus. Workers were told they would be charged with aggravated identity theft and were offered a choice between pleading innocence-- which would mean, ICE told them, anywhere from 6 to 8 months in jail before they even saw a trial -- or pleading guilty to a lesser charge, which would bring 5 months in jail followed by deportation without trial. Most workers, wishing to be deported as soon as possible so they could get back to their families, chose the guilty plea. Camayd-Freixas describes one worker's angst during the process:

This man, like many others, was in fact not guilty. “Knowingly” and “intent” are necessary elements of the charges, but most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security number was or what purpose it served. This worker simply had the papers filled out for him at the plant, since he could not read or write Spanish, let alone English. But the lawyer still had to advise him that pleading guilty was in his best interest.... Caught between despair and hopelessness, he just wept.

The day after the raid, half of all students in the Postville school system were absent, including 90% of Latino students, because their parents were missing or in hiding. The school superintendent described the experience as akin to "a natural disaster -- only this one is manmade."

Our food system has a long and torrid relationship with undocumented workers, as I outlined in my first post on The Ethicurean a year ago. By definition, these workers are unable to defend themselves against unjust and inhumane treatment in their workplaces; many don't know their rights, have few advocates, and are afraid that any attempt to speak out will be met with deportation or imprisonment. In an industry obsessed with cutting costs, their disenfranchisement can be an asset. Giant meatpacking companies have been found to actively recruit or smuggle undocumented workers into their plants. The power of giant firms like Smithfield has been used to keep out unions that could expose unlawful working conditions. If their workers can't speak up, who's there to force them to comply with minimum wage, overtime, or job injury laws? Not the federal government, apparently. (See Marc's recent post for more info.)

There are many efforts to improve working conditions in the U.S. food system, including the Domestic Fair Trade initiative and the work of the Agricultural Justice Project. Perhaps for you, like me, the image of slaughterhouse workers being rounded up like cattle is enough to drive these efforts' importance home.

Photos by me, from a small-scale packing plant in Wisconsin that prides itself on fair treatment of workers, including the provision of living wages and health benefits.

28 Responsesto “Animal behavior: Crackdowns on meatpacking workers give new meaning to ‘inhumane’”

  1. Christian says:

    I sent this to my representative's office:
    Representative Pelosi,

    I'm shocked about story of the raid in Postvile, IA, by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid to seize undocumented workers.

    I was alerted to this situation by the Ethicurean blog and read both the NYT article in yesterday's news and the essay written by translator Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D.

    These undocumented workers have clearly broken the law, but the fact that they are being imprisoned is horrible and disgusting. The ICE seems to have fraudulently obtained the land it is using for its court hearings and its treatment of the detained workers seems criminal.

    With Bush complaining today about Congress's lack of support for coastal shelf drilling, he needs to be confronted for his administration's policies that are enabling this terrible mistreatment to occur.

    Regards,

    Christian Berger

  2. Ian Lewis says:

    Many people who are "right-thinking" would rather not talk about Immigration, legal or illegal, and what likely consequences there would be if we ate more SOLEfully. That is, if we did see an end to factory farming and saw the comeback of the family farm.
    Let me put that another way, do you think that the average Mexican, hoping to come into America, wants to see the end of factory farming, or more of it?
    I am not casting aspersions, just asking questions?

  3. Elanor says:

    Hi Ian,

    I'd imagine - though obviously I'm not qualified to speak for anyone but myself - that people coming to this country looking for work would hope to find a job where they were treated with dignity and were fairly compensated. To say that a job in a meatpacking plant that violates their rights is better than no job at all is, IMO, kind of missing the point, and I'd like to think that we can be more proactive than that. Industrial ag isn't a system that works for workers. Not only are there numerous cases of basic human rights and labor violations, but industrialization takes jobs away over time through mechanization. In Mexico, Central America, and elsewhere, an industrialized and globalized food system also means fewer opportunities for these folks to own and run their own family farms (or supply-chain businesses) in their own communities.

    I don't think that eating SOLEfully here has to be at the expense of others doing well elsewhere, so long as local and regional food systems are also being rebuilt abroad. There are efforts in Latin America to do this by improving access to credit, land, training and infrastructure for small and mid-sized farms (and promote int'l fair labor and trade standards) -- the same types of policies many of us are working for here. I'd point you toward the National Family Farm Coalition's global farmer work for more information. http://nffc.net/NFFCGlobe.html

  4. Ian Lewis says:

    "I’d imagine - though obviously I’m not qualified to speak for anyone but myself - that people coming to this country looking for work would hope to find a job where they were treated with dignity and were fairly compensated."
    People hope for all sorts of things. Our hopes are rarely informed by reality. These people, these immigrants, come to America looking for a life better than what they had. The grand majority of the time, they find it.
    "To say that a job in a meatpacking plant that violates their rights..."
    Their is a huge difference between violating rights and violating regulations. And, most immigrants, that I have met at least, come to this country with their eyes wide open.
    "Industrial ag isn’t a system that works for workers."
    Industrial Ag and Factory Farming are, basically, products of The Depression. And they were quite successful in that light. Now, they are quite successful at providing lots of calories and very low prices. The consequences of that has been greatly detailed at places like The Ethicurean, thankfully.
    "Not only are there numerous cases of basic human rights and labor violations, but industrialization takes jobs away over time through mechanization"
    What some people, nowadays, refer to as "basic human rights" would have been completely foreign to people like Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton and Lincoln (as well as Locke, Hume and a few others).
    These people work very hard jobs...no doubt. But most do so by choice. We are not talking about victims of, say, Sexual Slavery.
    Also, if jobs are being lost due to mechanaztion, then, the Industrial Revolution is, BY FAR, the worst economic disaster the The West has ever seen.
    "I don’t think that eating SOLEfully here has to be at the expense of others doing well elsewhere"
    It is not that eating SOLEfully will neccesarily hurt people in other places, but may prevent them from the first place in coming to a certain community. For instance, Portland is a fairly wealthy place. And there aremany millions, if not billions (and I mean that) that would love to move to Portland to raise a family. Many would be willing to come over to, say, work on farms or are meat-packing plants. But, if everyone in Portland were to eat SOLEfully, and, by extension, be surrounded by family farms, well, how many people could Portland support.
    Let me put it a different way. For most of America, when they think of the Local part of SOLE, that means to them, eating from farms that are within, about, a 30 mile radius. But, for Manhattan, were many cosmopolitan people live and many are, at least, interested in SOLE food, this often means relying of farms within a 100 mile radius. That is a huge difference. And, the reason is, of course, that NYC, and its surrounding metro area, is so big, that you barely find any farms at all anywhere near it.
    So, is it possible for something like NYC to maybe go back to a more SOLEfully way of living? Possibly, but many homes and businesses would need to be bulldozed in Freeport, Weehawken, White Plains and elsewhere. And, those people would need to be displaced.
    To put it yet one more way, the amount of resources and farms that you need to Sustain, in an Ecologicaly Safe way, 2 million people is very different than the amount needed to sustain 20 million people. And, as big as America is, having our population go from about 120 million people, not that long ago, to over 300 million is going to have an effect. And, noting that their are well over 4 billion people in this world that have a standard of living far lower than ours, and understanding that many would love to come to America to enjoy a better life, well, can we have 400 million or 500 million people living in America and have us all live in a SOLE-full way?
    If you are saying that the answer is "Yes", then, I am all ears. I am not knowledgable enough to answer than question. But, I am aware enough to at least ask it. Something that few others want to do.
    "There are efforts in Latin America to do this by improving access to credit, land, training and infrastructure for small and mid-sized farms (and promote int’l fair labor and trade standards) — the same types of policies many of us are working for here."
    Except that the population of Ecuador did not nearly triple in the last 30 years.
    I hope that this is not seen as some sort of anti-Immigrant screed. My mother is an immigrant. And most of my family lives outside the US. I bring it up because I believe that question, "300 million? 400 MIllion? 500 Million? SOLE food?", is at the very center of what goes on here at The Ethicurean, and elsewhere, but it may be to Politically Incorrect to ask.

  5. Ali B. says:

    Ian brings up some important - and profoundly uncomfortable, for me at least - points.  A few thoughts: even if traditional farmland is less available, as our population rises, there are still new ways make our food more SOLE. Like your NYC example: f you've ever been to some of the areas of NYC that aren't served by subways, you know that there are tons of vacant lots in NYC.
    Years ago, I had reason to head into East New York, Brooklyn, and I couldn't believe the amount of unused space. It was abandoned lot after abandoned lot after abandoned lot. Now, look what's happening in some of these lots:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/03/11/2008-03-11_change_in_empty_lots_worth_crowing_about.html
     
    Many cities have areas like this, and many of these unused spaces are surrounded by immigrants who actually bring some knowledge of animal husbandry and farming  - they also happen to be places where it's extremely difficult to get any healthy food, and where -  with manufacturing virtually gone in this country -  jobs are in short supply. This model - which is admittedly a different picture than the old agrarian community - is a model that promotes dignity, instead of stripping dignity. And it can work. Check out this group:
    http://www.nuestras-raices.org/
    (so in answer to your original question "do you think that the average Mexican, hoping to come into America, wants to see the end of factory farming, or more of it?" I guess my reply is "I don't know. But I'd place my bet that they'd rather more nuestras-raices organizations than factory farms.")
    Is there a limit to how many can eat SOLE food? There probably is. And honestly,  one of my biggest concerns when we talk about CAFOs vs. more sustainable meat is how to keep the "ideal" world from becoming a place where poor people can't afford meat. But we're nowhere near SOLE food limits. Not in NYC. Not in Iowa. Not anywhere in the U.S. It takes vision, it takes political will, and it takes an informed, committed citizenry. But whatever the ultimate limits, we can definitely go farther than we are right now. A lot farther.
    You pose good questions. I don't know the answers. I just know we can do better. We might not be able to achieve the idyll we're all pursuing, but we can do better, get closer. And as long as I know that, then I'm not quite ready give up based on probable, but still theoretical, limits.
    Man, I am using up WAY too much space on comments these days...
     
     
     
     

  6. Cindy says:

    I read the book "Postville" which documented Agriprocessors setting up shop in that small Iowa town.  It was very eye opening to say the least.  The book was written by a journalist who was himself Jewish, originally from New York and was now teaching at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.  He set out to document the changes a predominantly Lutheran and Catholic predominantly white community went through when a community of Orthodox Jews settled there to open a kosher meat packing company.  He also wanted to understand and learn to appreciate his own Jewish roots.  What he found was the opposit of appreciation after dealing with the family that owns Agriprocessors. 

    While there is no question that some of the largest abusers of workers who will provide cheap labor are in the food industry, Agriprocessors is a unique case, which is in part why they were chosen to be raided.  The owners of the company bring fraud to a whole new level.  Two of the owners are currently facing charges for bank fraud regarding another company they owned in Pennsylvania.   That was before the raid in Postville.  They also lost their Kosher status from the largest entity that certifies kosher food even before that raid based on their unfair labor practices and other violations.

    While I have sympathy for the families of the arrested illegal workers, I really don't think it's fair to say the workers are just victims.  It was after all illegal workers already working there that were smuggling them in and providing false documentation for a price, clearly with the blessing of Agriprocessors.  I find it very hard to believe that none of these workers knew that it was illegal to use someone elses social security number.  It's a risk they took because it was worse where they came from.  But it doesn't make them victims.  They weren't sold into slavery.  They more than likely paid handsomely to get to Postville, and probably they paid one of their own countrymen who had no qualms about taking advantage of them.

    I wonder why more is not written about the tiny school system that had to absorb hundreds of non English speaking kids with no increase in the tax base that pays for services.  Or the local hospital providing services to over a thousand uninsured people.   When you fly under the radar, you generally don't pay taxes.  Before Agriprocessors bought that plant, mostly local Iowa residents had jobs there, with real wages and benefits.  Of course the company couldn't survive once they had to compete with the companies using illegals with lower labor costs.  So they closed.

    I guess my point is that while those workers are human beings with families and needs of their own, so were the people of Postville which is often forgotten.  If more companies were called on the carpet for illegal hiring practices, the industries that do this would have to start paying a living wage again.  And more people who actually live here, pay taxes and own homes would be willing to work there.  Including immigrants who come here legally.  

      

     

  7. Ian Lewis says:

    First off, thanks for replying. I was scared that I would be seen in a certain light, if you know what I mean.


    It was abandoned lot after abandoned lot after abandoned lot. Now, look what’s happening in some of these lots: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/03/11/2008-03-11_change_in_empty_lots_worth_crowing_about.html
     
    Yes, but this only goes so far, especially in a place like NYC. Also, for every acre that goes toward farmland (Yay!), that is an acre that will not have MORE housing (Booh!). Well, larger population without, equally, increased housing gives you Northern California, otherwise known as the most expensive place to live in America (Supply: Small + Demand: Big = Unaffordable Housing)



    I guess my reply is “I don’t know. But I’d place my bet that they’d rather more nuestras-raices organizations than factory farms.”
     
    My reply would be, “The average Joe from Mexico, or Haiti, or wherever, cares a lot more about getting the rest of his family over to America than the exact land management and farming practices. More CAFOs, “Fine”. Less CAFOs, “Fine”. Just get my parents and cousins here where we can live better.



    Is there a limit to how many can eat SOLE food? There probably is.
    Definitely is. Can America “house” 3 Billion people? Sure. SOLE food for everyone” Absolutely not. The Earths land-mass can “house” an untold number of people. But every acre more for people is one less acre for the Cows, Goats, Spinach and Potatoes.



    And honestly, one of my biggest concerns when we talk about CAFOs vs. more sustainable meat is how to keep the “ideal” world from becoming a place where poor people can’t afford meat.
    If I could speak for you I would say that, ideally, and not unreasonably, the percentage that are poor would decrease. And, we have already seen this happen: The Industrial Revolution. AFAIK, the world had never seen a Middle Class before the 1800’s. Mechanization has been one of the greatest things the Human Race has ever seen. However, the better that Japan, or whoever, gets at mechanizing Nail Polishing, or whatever, then, the fewer, presumably, uneducated Nail Polishers they will need. This does not bode well for any uneducated person who is hoping to emigrate to Japan (before anyone jumps in with a comment on Japans Immigration policies, well, I chose them for a reason).



    But we’re nowhere near SOLE food limits. Not in NYC.
    I am not sure what you mean here. Could you clarify? If I do understand you correctly, then, I would say that we have already gone beyond the SOLE food limits in places like NYC and Phoenix, especially when you consider Water as a staple in the SOLE food life.



    I just know we can do better. I agree, but, for how many Americans?

  8. Elanor says:

    Cindy,
    Thanks for your comment. I'd heard that there was a book about Postville but have never read it; I'll have to pick it up.

    Your comment gets to a number of issues and I won't try to respond to all of them, but I do want to say that I think it's to our benefit to focus on the company as the culprit rather than debate the extent to which the workers were victims. There are lots of things that could be said about the forces that compel people to migrate to look for work-- the history and economic reality of the region that makes it hard for people to find jobs and support their families at home, etc. etc. That's happened internally in the U.S. as well; I'm thinking, for example, about "Okies" in the Dust Bowl, who were viewed in much the same way as many Latin American migrant workers are now. Can we really say that they were wrong to travel to California to look for work?

    But anyway, I'd hoped to emphasize in my post that companies are taking full advantage of workers' difficult circumstances. I noted that there have been a number of charges brought against meat companies for recruiting and smuggling undocumented workers into their plants (I provided one link in the post; here's another one about Tyson).  I have no doubt that workers and managers are alerting other undocumented workers to jobs at the plant, but it has also been institutionalized in the industry. And when a company builds its business plan around cheap labor, that's bad for everyone-- the workers, the community, and anyone who can't find a job that pays a fair wage.

    Your point about the community impact of the influx of foreign workers is important, but based on the press coverage the raid received, the community appears to see the raid and arrests as a huge economic loss. You can read the Washington Post article I linked to for some quotes, or here's an excerpt from the interpreter's essay:

    "Postville, Iowa (pop. 2,273), where nearly half the people worked at Agriprocessors, had lost 1/3 of its population by Tuesday morning. Businesses were empty, amid looming concerns that if the plant closed it would become a ghost town.... At the local high school, only three of the 15 Latino students came back on Tuesday. In the following days, the principal went around town on the school bus and gathered 70 students after convincing the parents to let them come back to school. Some American parents complained that their children were traumatized by the sudden disappearance of so many of their school friends. The principal reported the same reaction in the classrooms, saying that for the children it was as if ten of their classmates had suddenly died. Counselors were brought in. American children were having nightmares that their parents too were being taken away. The superintendent said the school district’s future was unclear: “This literally blew our town away.” ... Some of the children were born in the U.S. and are American citizens. Sometimes one parent was a deportable alien while the other was a legal resident. “Hundreds of families were torn apart by this raid,” said a Catholic nun. “The humanitarian impact of this raid is obvious to anyone in Postville. The economic impact will soon be evident.”

    Many undocumented immigrants may not pay employment taxes, but they support the community in numerous other ways-- through support of local businesses, sales tax payments, and the skills they bring. It sounds like Postville had embraced them as part of the community. To me, the point about the tax base is yet another reason to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Giving people legal protections as workers while bringing them into the employment tax base seems like a win-win.

  9. Ian Lewis says:

    Cindy,
    1.) Right on!
    2.) Good for you.
    However, I do want to add this tidbit,
    "And more people who actually live here, pay taxes and own homes would be willing to work there.  Including immigrants who come here legally."
    If you own some Farm or Slaughterhouse and are going to pay, say, $15 per hour instead of minimum wage, then, are you more likely to hire some American citizen who speaks English well, or a recent Mexican immigrant? And, if you, and all the other employers are more likely to hire the American, then, what effect would that have on immigration?
    This is sorta my whole point.
    To put it another way: What would America look like today if these noble practices were put in place back in, say, 1961? Where we would see the rise, and not fall, of the family farm throughout the last 4 -5 decades. Would our population have exploded from 120 million to 300 million? What would the immigrants of the last 40 years think of that?
    This is what I mean when I say, "these are questions that many would rather we not ask".

  10. Ian Lewis says:

    "Can we really say that they were wrong to travel to California to look for work?"
    Can we really say that Pottsville was wrong for keeping out the, soon-to-be, exploding population?
    "But anyway, I’d hoped to emphasize in my post that companies are taking full advantage of workers’ difficult circumstances."
    And Mexican, and other immigrants, are taking full advantage of certian American companies to employ them at a level they could not get back in their homeland.
    "And when a company builds its business plan around cheap labor..."
    Cheap labor provides cheap food, which is what poor people want. SOLE food is expensive. I am not hatin' on SOLE food, mainly, because it was always expensive. The very idea of cheap food is a very new concept.
    "The economic impact will soon be evident"
    Yes, when a city/state is prop'ed up by unsustainable or, in this case, illegal practices, it is bound to fall apart. What would Pottsville have looked like if the illegal immigration had not been allowed in the first place? Also, was Pottsville more able to adopt SOLE food practices before or after the massive immigration?
    "Many undocumented immigrants may not pay employment taxes, but they support the community in numerous other ways– through support of local businesses, sales tax payments, and the skills they bring."
    Elanor, I hope that this does not sound harsh, but, I am assuming that you have not spent that much time in places like Brownsville, TX or many areas in SoCal.
    Skills? Unlikely. Skilled workers are much, much more likely to come from places like India or Romania, thought, that is a debate for another day.
    My point was, these places tend to go downhill very fast. Schools and Hospitals become over-burdened. Crime goes up. (Yes, up). That is another topic that people do not like to talk about.
    "It sounds like Postville had embraced them as part of the community"
    According to that report for the Washington Post. I would LOVE to know what the people really think. The reporters, uh, I mean Journalists, for papers like the Washington Post do not send their children to schools with large immigrant populations. This tends to allow them some "pie in the sky" tendencies.
    "Giving people legal protections as workers while bringing them into the employment tax base seems like a win-win."
    Except for the people who actually live in those exploding towns. People like stability. Most people around the world, and in America, are not looking for their towns to become more "vibrant".

  11. Ian Lewis says:

    Apologies. I misspelled Postville a number of times in my posts.

  12. Cindy says:

    Great comments Ian & Elanor.  As for the town embracing them, the book goes into that in depth.  Remember, the first wave of "vibrance" was Hasidic (sp?) Jews which have an entirely different way of life than your average Iowan.  Some objected to their presence, but most really tried hard to embrace them because they were restarting a defunct meat packing house that used to employ a lot of people in town and they saw that as real economic development.   If anything, the Jews wanted nothing to do with the townsfolk other than for things they needed that they couldn't supply themselves.  It was partly cultural for them to stay separate. And also in the beginning, they hired local people at a fairly decent wage.   It was once Agriprocessors actively started seeking out illegals through their connections in Brooklyn that the local people were replaced with cheaper labor.   The book covered the story up to a period before they actively went after illegal immigrant Hispanics, it was still mostly illegal Eastern Europeans.  But from reading local papers in this area, (Galena, IL, not so far from Postville) most of the business growth was Hispanic and Slavic groceries, restaurants, and other businesses that kind of segregated everyone.  The existing small businesses saw less and less growth after a time.   As for people seeing it as an economic loss that Agriprocessors was raided, the quote from the school principal is deceiving.  When ever a child does not show up to school, you lose your state funding for that student for that day which can be substantial.  It's why truancy is such a big issue for schools.  So little wonder he wanted those 70 students back.  He still has to pay the teachers and the bills but with less funding until they return.   The shop owners that were interviewed by Associated Press after the raid were largely owners of businesses that opened specifically to cater to the illegal immigrants needs and preferences.  You wouldn't know that unless you know something about the community.  With 400 less customers plus their families, little wonder they see it as an economic loss.

  13. Elanor says:

    Hi again Ian,

    I have been to some of those places, and it does sound harsh. I've also been to a slaughter facility and butcher shop in rural Wisconsin that pays relatively fair wages -- starting salaries were $11 an hour when I was there in 2006 -- and benefits. The owner commented to me that most locals didn't apply for jobs because they didn't have the skills to butcher animals and make the sausages that the shop sold. Her head butchers were all recent immigrants who had grown up in communities where people still slaughtered their own meat. They were sharing their skills with members of the local community who worked at the shop. So ironically (under your assumptions), the skills to make SOLE food and build a local value-added food system were being shared by recent immigrants with locals. When it comes to growing and preparing our own food, a high-tech education doesn't mean we're "skilled."

    Also, lest this blog allow the propagation of anti-immigrant myths, I'd point you to a recent Harvard study that found that high levels of immigration into a community is actually associated with lower crime rates. "In today’s society," finds the study's author, "immigration and the increasing cultural diversity that accompanies it generate the sort of conflicts of culture that lead not to increased crime, but nearly the opposite." So check yourself on that one, please.

    Finally, just a plea to refocus on the broader issues that have led to job loss and economic stagnation for the working and middle class in the U.S. As long as we continue to focus our frustrations on those who need work and want to put food on the table, rather than on those who are sucking up a larger and larger share of the wealth, we'll keep ourselves distracted and less well-off in the end. You get to this with your question about what could have happened if slaughterhouses had supported fair wages (though I disagree strongly that our goal should be to keep out immigrants). They haven't; instead, they've busted unions and slashed wages. And they've used racial tension to distract us from focusing on their culpability.

  14. Ian Lewis says:

    "The owner commented to me that most locals didn’t apply for jobs because they didn’t have the skills to butcher animals ... When it comes to growing and preparing our own food, a high-tech education doesn’t mean we’re “skilled.”"
    Right, some of the immigrants will have some skills. But the grand majority that move into America are unskilled laborers. Laborers that need to be fed cheap food. Again, I understand that some have skills, and that some of these skills are declining in America, but that is very different than saying that immigrants, in general, are skilled.
    "I’d point you to a recent Harvard study that found that high levels of immigration into a community is actually associated with lower crime rates."
    Elanor, you show me the study, I will show you the town. People do studies at Harvard, because they are the types to do Harvard like studies, if you know what I mean.
    I will put forth a very simple test: make a list of the 10 towns in America with the largest percentage of immigrants, then check the crime rate. Feel free to start with Brownsville.
    "So check yourself on that one, please."
    I'll check the study if you check the town.
    "As long as we continue to focus our frustrations on those who need work and want to put food on the table, rather than on those who are sucking up a larger and larger share of the wealth, we’ll keep ourselves distracted and less well-off in the end."
    Billions of people around the world need "work". Billions, BILLIONS, would love to come to America. What would be the result if we keep up our current pace? Or, let's put it this way: Los Angeles, AFAIK, is the most diverse city in the World. It is much more diverse, due to immigration, than it was back in the early 1960's. Did LA get consistently better, or worse, in general terms, over that period?
    I am not sure that there is a single metric that improved in that time.
    Average Salary for the Average Joe (adjusted for inflation).
    Affordable Housing.
    Crime.
    Education.
    Do some of those people know how to butcher a steer, whereas the typical "American" Angelino does not? Sure. But, did that improve things?
    Or, yet another way, did the wealth in LA become more, or less, stratified during that period? What happened in comparable cities that had almost no immigration, like, Portland (Maine or Oregon), Salt Lake City, etc.
    Did those places become more, or less, stratified in that period? What would happen if they did start to get massive immigration?
    "They haven’t; instead, they’ve busted unions and slashed wages. And they’ve used racial tension to distract us from focusing on their culpability."
    Slaughterhouses would also have mandatory days off so that their employees could march in favor of open borders.
    We will probably continue to argue right past one another. You will talk about how evil the corporate overlords are and I will talk about the repercussions of massive immigration. So, I will end with this:
    Simply check the places that have the highest percentage of immigrants. This is where the "rubber meets the road". A simple check of things like: crime rate, poverty rate, schools busting at the seams, emergency rooms that look more like a McDonalds Drive-Thru, over-crowded housing, etc. The evidence is overwhelming. To placate ourselves, so that we do not feel racist, evil, we need to read Harvard Studies that tell us that massive immigration is not a bad thing.
    And, my guess is, it's effect on SOLE food will be quite negative. And, this is not a uniquely American phenomena. Much of Europe is having similar, if not worse, problems.

  15. Ali says:

    I liked it when we talked about food better. Let's go eat.

  16. Dan says:

    I encourage you to do a little research before you start spouting off about crime and immigration.  I live in the upper Midwest, and I can spend ten minutes on the internet and find out that towns with major immigrant populations (and packing plants) around here have lower crime rates than the national average- Postville, IA; Denison, IA; Worthington MN; South Sioux City, NE.
    Furthermore, you keep referring to Brownsville, Texas.  I've never been there.  However, I can research crime statistics through the Bureau of justice database (http://bjsdata.ojp.usdoj.gov/dataonline/) and find the following:
    In 1985 (the first year of statistics available), Brownsville had 98,000 residents and reported 995 violent crimes.  In 1988, Brownsville had 105,000 residents and reported 1,404 violent crimes, the highest total between 1985-2006.  In 2006, Brownsville had 172,000 residents and reported 865 violent crimes.  So over 20 years the population roughly doubled while the number of violent crimes fell- which means the violent crime rate today is rougly half what it was in 1985.  I fail to understand how this correlates with your claims.
    I certainly don't agree that Elanor and others cite Harvard Studies to placate themselves and assuage racial guilt.  But even if they did, that is at least a little more credible than citing your mother and extended family living outside the US to prove you're not racist.

  17. Ian Lewis says:

    Just visit the place. http://books.google.com/books?id=7C9Y07tj6LMC&pg=PA167&lpg=PA167&dq=Brownsville+Crime&source=web&ots=DgTof_-Q3C&sig=kIHBN2YPBO_hE-I4EONQYuIlurA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=18&ct=result
    "So over 20 years the population roughly doubled while the number of violent crimes fell- which means the violent crime rate today is rougly half what it was in 1985."
    My claim is to actually go to the place and ask the people whether the town has gotten better, or worse, over the last 20 years.
    For instance, the Education stats will tell you that Brownsville is one of the best places to send your kids, yet the locals refer to Brownsville High as Drop-Out High. So, why are the stats so flattering, because the increased population has meant increased funding.

    "... prove you’re not racist."
     
    Oh please, please, allow me the opportunity to prove to you that I am not a racist. Really, I promise that I am not evil. I will start thinking "right" immediately. I just pray to God that nobody else will think that I am a racist for thinking that LA has gone WAY down hill over the last 45 years.
     
    Please forgive me.

  18. Katie says:

    Elanor? Domestic Fair Trade is not NEARLY as organized or as impactful-per-dollar-of-donation-and-labor-hour-contributed as the old minority-run nonprofits.  They're underfunded because they're minority-run and work fast & hard for the interests of farmworkers of color...but, as I said, per dollar / volunteer hour, they're a lot better than these newer consumer-oriented nonprofits. Would you consider putting the UFW and ... crud ... the name escapes me, but I'll post it later ... start w/ <a href="http://www.ufw.org/">the UFW</a> in the links at the end of your post? I think directing the huge readership of Ethicurean while this page is still fresh there would help funnel money and volunteer hours towards, as I said, REALLY effective organizations that have just about nothing holding them back from making HUGE changes but lack of funds & volunteer hours.   With more money and hours, they're organized enough and have their **** together enough and work effectively enough that I really think that they <i>could</i> force significant changes upon Smithfield & Agriprocessors within a matter of a few years (not too long when you're talking about change that big).

    Thanks, Katie

  19. Elanor says:

    Hi Katie,
    I wouldn't describe the Ag Justice Project, and especially its member-orgs CATA and Fundación RENACE, as "consumer-oriented." But you're right that I should have mentioned some of the union groups.  I've linked to UFW, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Justice at Smithfield, and others in a number of past posts on labor issues. Readers can now find them again here.

  20. joe says:

    I would contribute the following observation to the above thread - I own a small local slaughterhouse (USDA inspected through state partnership) in a rural location with a large poultry industry which attracts a large immigrant Hispanic population, and that has been good for my business.  My most reliable and energetic employees are either geriatric white americans or Hispanic.  Sad to say, the younger people of local origin tend not to have quite the same hard work habits, sound ethics, and common sense of either their elders or my Hispanic workers.  Not to say that the immigrant community doesn't have its problems.  They are in general a poor, undereducated, and displaced population with communication problems, all of which leads to issues.  However, most of them are trying very hard to create a better life for their families through earning an honest dollar.  They are hard-working and will uncomplainingly beaver away all day at jobs others will not take.  If not them, who?  Seriously. 

    Agriculture in much of today's America will fail without either immigrant labor or industrialization.  I am not arguing that is good - in fact, I am working very hard to reverse the trend and support my local farming communities and family farmers.  But my guess is that 90% + of the commenters to this blog are educated city folks whose knowledge about agriculture comes from indirect sources, not from getting their hands dirty.  Very good at Google, but that isn't the same thing as having to get up at 5 Am and go to bed at 9 PM to work at farming 6+ days a week.  Harvard studies are probably alright (I am a Harvard grad myself) but the fact is we need immigrants to get the work done.  Otherwise there aren't enough hard-working young people right now available and willing to do it.  Perhaps there will be cultural sea change in the future.

  21. Ali B. says:

    Thanks for that insight, Joe. Takes it from the theoretical to the real.

    I live in Whitey McWhiteville (the rural McWhiteville, the one in New England). It's possible there are immigrants living somewhere in my small town, though I've never certainly never seen one. Population hasn't been increasing here. And the thing is, folks here all say that things have gone downhill in the last 20 years. By those very same metrics: affordable housing. Schools. Average salaries for the average joe. Jobs. All of them.
    I don't know Brownsville. I don't know Postville. I don't know Worthington. I do know what my neighbors say, though, which is that things here - where we are white-white-white, and where we have nary an immigrant in sight - have gone downhill, too.  So, I dunno. Maybe the problem is immigration, but perhaps the forces that are at work in my town (which doesn't struggle with immigration) are at work elsewhere, too.
    Ian, I do partly understand where you're coming from. People are clamoring to get into the U.S. Millions of people. Billions of people, actually. They want to come HERE. And it creates challenges, and difficult decisions, and hard discussions. This is one.
    But if I may put a positive spin on this discussion, at least we're talking about it. Okay, we may have degenerated into shouting at one another a few comments ago, but at least we're shouting over good food. This is the interesting thing about the real food movement - it's bringing together people who might not talk to each other elsewhere in life. I've seen fundamentalist Christian home-schooling moms discuss zucchini recipes with gay couples. I've seen "BHO"-invokers talking with "McSame"-invokers. I've seen red-staters and blue-staters chatting about the farm bill. And right here, Ian, Elanor, farmers, googlers, Harvard-study readers, Harvard-study dismissers, all talking. It would be nice if we could do it without all that hatin', but, you know. At least there's quality food on the table. There aren't too many things in this country that brings people together like good food.
    Now please, someone pass the green beans.
     
     
     

  22. Katie says:

    Elanor,
    Missed that one!  :-)  (Justice stuff.)

    Anyway, I found my "other" one I was gonna suggest--but I was wrong about it being national.  A Minnesota "local fair trade" / "domestic fair trade" group is piggybacking off of <a href="http://www.centrocampesino.net/">Minnesota's Centro Campesino</a>, which as I understand it, is kind of a small Imalokee or something for our area?  So I'd thought that the one you linked to (which I'm now not sure is the one that started around MN) is actually piggybacking off of national orgs. run by people of color.  Sorry for the misinformation.

    Still, I think it's important not to contribute to the underfunding of minority-run organizations...even if sometimes I get part of my details wrong.  Sorry about that one.  ;-)

    -Katie

    (P.S.  Any chance for right in the body of the post, rather than just the comments, so people looking for a "what you can do" in the body will see the orgs you mentioned?  I'd forgotten about Imalokee--thank you for reminding me!)

  23. Katie says:

    Ian, to answer your question a bit...the kids of Postville, anyway, were pretty fond of the illegal immigrant families.  Two quotes I like:

    "I want to highlight for you a couple of short sections of the whole post.

    'Postville, Iowa (pop. 2,273), where nearly half the people worked at Agriprocessors, had lost 1/3 of its population by Tuesday morning.
    'Businesses were empty, amid looming concerns that if the plant closed it would become a ghost town.'

    "and

    'Some American parents complained that their children were traumatized by the sudden disappearance of so many of their school friends. The principal reported the same reaction in the classrooms, saying that for the children it was as if ten of their classmates had suddenly died.
    'Counselors were brought in. American children were having nightmares that their parents too were being taken away.'

    "Apparently, under the Bush administration, we protect America by destroying it one town at a time.
    "Listen, I know that dwelling on the white folks is problematic bullshit at best, but this kind of stuff is happening because the Feds believe that the vast majority of people in America either support it or don’t care that much about it.  They believe that the people affected by these policies are leaving the country anyway, that they don’t matter to anyone outside of their families.
    "The reason I pulled out for you the passage I did is because I want you to see that our policies hurt Americans, too, that this is not just something that’s happening to those 'criminals' who are stealing our jobs.
    "The federal government went in and removed a third of that town.  Businesses are empty.  The US citizens left behind are terrified that they’re going to lose the major source of income in the town and, hence, the town.  Children are devistated at the loss of their friends.  Some are having nightmares that their parents could be taken away from them.
    "If it comes at the cost of losing the town, just who is being served by these kinds of actions?"
    -source:  Aunt B. at Tiny Cat Pants

    and

    "People who witness first-hand how we treat the undocumented people who live with us hate it.  They find it unjust.  And they do not recognize any supposed benefit to themselves outweighing the suffering of the people, like Ms. Villegas DeLaPaz, who bear the brunt of this mess.
    "It’s funny–not funny ha ha, but funny strange–how it is that we’ve developed a program that is designed to inflict suffering on people supposedly by demand of the people of America, and yet, when ordinary Americans witness this program, they are appalled.  They stand against it.  They cry.  They need therapy to deal with seeing it in action.
    "We’re told that this is what most Americans want.  But most Americans, when confronted with the reality of it, the suffering of a woman like Villegas DeLaPaz, do not want that.
    "And so we are invited not to look.  We are invited to assume that everything is okay, that there are oversights, that these are anomolies.
    "America, this is exactly how the system is designed.
    "It is not an anomoly.  It is not something that will never happen again.
    "This is what is supposed to happen.
    "This is it.
    "And if you don’t like it, you have to stand against it.
    "You."
    -
    Source:  Aunt B. at Tiny Cat Pants

    S'up to you, of course, but I think those two quotes make great food for thought.

  24. Katie says:

    Okay, small world...this is weird...AJP's top of the page has the "local fair trade" thing I was talking about (as oriented towards changing consumer patterns, not institutional rules).  Small world.

  25. Ian Lewis says:

    "It would be nice if we could do it without all that hatin’, but, you know."
     
    Ali, right on. Maybe one day we can talk about Immigration, openly and honestly, and it's effect on SOLE food and not be called a racist.

  26. Ian Lewis says:

    "the kids of Postville, anyway, were pretty fond of the illegal immigrant families"
     
    I believe it. Postville, and other fairly small Midwestern towns are quite different than the border towns of Texas, Arizona and California. These families have to make an even bigger investment than the families emigrating just over the border.
     
    And, I am not hatin' on immigrants. Again, my mother is an immigrant. But, to turn a blind eye to the effect that massive immigration has had on those towns with the largest immigrant populations (by size or percentage) is simply to bow down to Political Correctness.
     
    Lastly, I am not making a definitive assertion as to the effect that massive population changes have on SOLE food, I am simply making a guess.
     
    But how many what to even say, "Hey, the massive increase of people in Southern California has had a bad effect. Not least of which, on our food sources." You simply sound like a bad person.

  27. Michael Kay says:

    Ian, you're extremely frustrating because everything you've written has been 1) completely subjective, and 2) completely dismissive of the points other people have made. I'm supposed to reject a Harvard study because their from Harvard, which is far away from the border, because of your (or your relatives') subjective opinion that these places have gone downhill? Feel free to offer some actual criticism of the methodology and findings of those studies (I'm not familiar with them and am not endorsing them), but you offer nothing substantive either.
    But let's keep it completely subjective. I'm from Los Angeles and have a lot of family there. In many ways, especially for my middle and upper class relatives, life in LA has actually gotten a lot better (and some of them have even had to buy property). The air is much cleaner than it was in the 70s and 80s. Several neighborhoods that were either sleepy or seedy have become more vibrant (and populated by a mix of ethnicities and classes - I'm thinking Silver Lake and parts of Los Feliz), although subjectively, those who were driven out by gentrification might not agree. Cultural offerings have improved. Immigration has not ruined their city and their lives.
    Here in Philadelphia, immigration from Mexico and Southeast Asia has exploded in recent years, although not on the scale of cities on the border. There have been some challenges, but so far, subjectively, it has been a boon for some of us. For example, the revival of center city has been partially built on a thriving restaurant scene that has been nationally noted, and would not have been possible without an influx of immigrant labor (and ethnic restaurants themselves).
    Yes, the price of housing is going up here too. Why? I'm no expert, but I don't think it's really the immigrants seeking housing at the lower end of the price spectrum. It's the new desirability of living in the city in the first place, which means that young and affluent people, mostly white, are choosing again to live there. Maybe it's also the insane build-up of expensive luxury condos, subsidized by tax breaks for the developers, and bought by affluent people.
    The point is, these are complicated issues, and depending on what you do and where you live, your subjective view of whether things are "better" or "worse" is likely to change.
    So, offer me a study, some data, from a qualitative survey, or we're just going to have the example of some people saying it's bad, and some people saying it's good.
    Also, you're treading on thin ice when you speak for immigrants as follows:
    My reply would be, “The average Joe from Mexico, or Haiti, or wherever, cares a lot more about getting the rest of his family over to America than the exact land management and farming practices. More CAFOs, “Fine”. Less CAFOs, “Fine”. Just get my parents and cousins here where we can live better.
    I'm sure there is some truth to this, just as most native-born Americans don't seem to care much about land management and farming practices either. But again, what is your evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, for this statement? Just because extremely poor people will take any job doesn't mean they don't care about other things, or wouldn't rather be paid better, or work in better conditions. More to the point, it doesn't mean that US businesses shouldn't pay and treat their workers better, or at least follow actual US laws and regulations pertaining to worker safety. Just because having a slaughterhouse job here is better than starving in your home village doesn't make it a good job, and it doesn't absolve these companies of their moral responsibility to treat their workers well.
    To bring this back to SOLE food,  I don't think the massive increase of people has had a bad effect on our food sources in itself. That makes it sound like a bunch of immigrants came in and somehow created a demand for cheap meat so they could have dangerous, menial jobs in slaughterhouses. Ag and and immigration policy over the past many years have made cheap meat possible and people have been happy to buy it. So, yes, immigration has played a major part in our food system being the way it is now, but you can't really blame the immigrants for that. I don't think they are the main obstacle to SOLE food, either. Maybe it's that same ag and food policy.
    Again, just a subjective opinion.
    I think before we decide that having to feed poor immigrants stands in the way of increased production and consumption of SOLE food, we need to see just how many people we can feed with SOLE food, including all those people who could afford it but still buy cheap food. We have most emphatically NOT reached the "limits" of SOLE food in many places. Water may be a limiting factor in Phoenix, but it isn't in NYC, not yet. We waste tons of it anyway. Maybe bulldozing Weehawken to have food right across the river isn't a good idea, but getting food in from NY state, which is awfully big and not that densely populated and filled with farms even now, is better than trucking in cheap food from thousands of miles away.
    In other words, we haven't tried yet. Undoubtedly, limits will be met. Limits with industrial ag will be met too, or do massive environmental degradation, food-borne illnesses, and an obesity epidemic not strike you as limiting currently?
    That's a really long way of saying that I don't think immigration is the primary issue here, so if you want to make that argument, back it up with something more than subjective takes on the quality of life in population centers and the limiting factors on SOLE food production.

  28. Katie says:

    <i>“the kids of Postville, anyway, were pretty fond of the illegal immigrant families”</i>

    I believe it.

    That's good. :-) I wasn't sure if you would, so I'm really heartened to see that.

    Ian, you’re extremely frustrating because everything you’ve written has been ... completely dismissive of the points other people have made.

    I would've agreed with you a few posts ago, Michael Kay, but I've got hope for the conversation now, because I feel like the above response addressed my point directly rather than dismissing it. I've got hope for the conversation again.