November 27, 2014 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

The goofy Thanksgiving tradition took place at the White House again this year: the pardoning of a turkey. Two gobblers, “Mac” and “Cheese,” were competing for the Presidential dispensation which was determined by votes on Twitter. Wednesday morning, I received a White House news alert inviting me to watch a live feed of the pardoning ceremony. I tuned in, faintly hoping that the President would use the lighthearted event—which gets plenty of news coverage each year—for a serious purpose. Would the President raise up and thank the workers who grow, tend, harvest and pack much of the food on our Thanksgiving tables and that we eat throughout the year. I listened closely. It didn’t happen.

Obama started the event by mentioning:

“Normally we do this outside, but the weather’s not cooperating.”

I thought of farm workers who toil in the heat, the cold, the mud and the mist. They can’t go inside when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Then President joked:

“Let’s face it, if you’re a turkey and you’re named after a side dish, your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low.”

I wondered about the chances a farmworker family has in escaping the low-wage, body-breaking work for a better job and living.

“Mac” and “Cheese,” the President announced:

“Will get to live out the rest of their days at a Virginia estate with 10,000 acres of roaming space.”

The fresh air and open space for the gobblers brought images to my mind of farm workers.The most vivid are those by the talented photojournalist Earl Dotter. His “Farmworkers Feed Us All” exhibit captures the determination and spirit of migrant workers in Maine who tend to and harvest broccoli, blueberry, cranberry, apple, and other crops. The low-wage work takes it toll on their bodies.

Wouldn’t it be something if this silly turkey-pardon tradition was be replaced (or enhanced) with an annual Thanksgiving tribute to workers along the food chain? They are the workers who tend to the crops and livestock, harvest and package the food, slaughter and prep the meat, poultry and fish, drive the trucks to deliver it, and cook and serve it.  Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is all about the food—the family favorites and the trying some new recipe—so who better to thank than the workers who make all that good eating possible?

P.S. Less than a week before the President pardoned “Mac” and “Cheese,” the film “Food Chains” was released in theatres nationwide. (It’s also available on iTunes.) The documentary recounts the campaign started more than a decade ago by tomato farm workers in Immokalee, Florida to earn better wages and working conditions. Their fight to earn an additional penny per pound had them ultimately negotiating with giants such as McDonald’s, Yum Brands, Sodexo and Aramark. (We’ve written before about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (here, here.))


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