Being the go-between guy isn’t always sexy.
Now, don’t take this personally; I can see the romance in the highs and lows, the relationships and the drama in the worklife of people who are passionate about their corner of the industry.
Yet Mattel didn’t create an action figure of them, like the company did of the doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and delivery drivers who risk their lives to heal and feed us amid the highly contagious COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our manpower (and womanpower!) is showing up to work on a daily basis, getting the product out. They’re as essential as the nurse, the doctor, the fireman — these guys are doing their job and pretty much risking their lives. They’re as essential as the guy in the grocery store,” said Joel Fierman, president of Fierman Produce and co-president of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Cooperative Association Inc., which oversees the wholesale market in Bronx, N.Y.
All the headaches and hard work that safely bring our food from farm to fork are fuzzy in the minds of the general public, and even industry professionals whose jobs don’t touch this in-between zone.
I looked up “middleman” in Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus and found mediator, wholesaler, agent, broker, distributor, intermediate, jobber, fixer (!) and salesman among other terms.
Visiting a handful of terminal wholesale markets in the Northeast, I’ve dodged the zig-zagging jacks expertly handling orders stacked on pallets. There are the drivers of road tractor-trailers and straight-job trucks, the lumpers, the warehouse supervisors, buyers’ and sellers’ brokers, sales associates, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Market News specialty crops reporters and inspectors.
The list goes on if you count the people at packing houses, cooling and storage facilities and fresh-cut factories.
“They’re the bread and butter of the industry itself,” said Jim Praski, USDA Market News specialty crops reporter and trainer at Boston Market Terminal in Everett, Mass.
Here in New York City, as in other concrete jungles, you can open your window or door at 7 p.m. every night to hear hooting, hollering, whistling, clapping, clanging and sometimes melodic instruments — a touching nightly gesture to thank the health care workers as they change shifts at the over-run, under-equipped, under-staffed hospitals where COVID-19 patients clamor for care.
To a somewhat lesser degree, we cheer to express our gratitude also for the foodmarket employees, farmers and delivery workers.
They are heroes, yes, no doubt.
But what about the other professionals who enable us to bake our quarantined banana bread? And feed ourselves and our children day in and day out?
Here’s looking at you, warehouse selectors, drivers and maintenance teams.
Thank you for your service.
Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected]