The American way of eating, the working poor and what to do - The Packer

The American way of eating, the working poor and what to do

08/08/2012 03:22:00 PM
Tom Karst


While toiling in California grape and garlic fields, McMillan wonders about why farmers don't invest in mechanization to reduce their reliance on migrant labor.

She writes:

"I know that mechanizing the fields comes with great, perhaps untenable risks: greater reliance on fossil fuels,  the compacting of soil, the loss of jobs. But at $26 a day, I can't help but think, Go ahead, mechanize my damn job, because it's not just hard, but I suspect it will become boring, too, as a woman with education talking: Even if I'm in the fields for now, I know I can go elsewhere."

TK: Of course, in the end,  some of McMillan's story is somewhat predictable, a less-than-flattering look at the seamy underbelly of getting food from farm to table. There are many hardships to be endured, as you would expect might befall a woman seeking out the very bottom rung of opportunity.

There are bogus and nonexistent food safety training sessions, there are incompetent bosses, there are starvation wages.

Her personal narrative prevents the book from descending to a mere documenting of social injustices. Her story of her last night at Applebee's is a tale few would put out for public consumption.

When it is all said and done - shorts stints of employment in the farm fields, at Walmart and at Applebee's - what is the "takeaway" message?

Importantly, there is one. And whether Rush or the food industry agrees with her or not, McMillan's voice is worth considering. And her book is worth the read, especially for those in Rio Linda.

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