Seth Holmes is a medical doctor and cultural anthropologist at UC Berkeley. His work focuses broadly on social hierarchies and health disparities. (You can learn more about Dr. Holmes by visiting his website). While researching for his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States, he spent more than a year and half with migrant farmworkers from Mexico, traveling, living and working alongside them as they crossed back and forth between Oaxaca (in Southern Mexico) and the United States.
“There are several different ways that migrant farmworkers are categorized that play into their work and their lives and their bodies not being valued as much. One example is how legal professionals or the media talk about “skilled” and “unskilled” labor. Strawberry pickers are classified as unskilled labor, but my experience picking next to them is that they are very skilled and they are very fast, whereas I was very unskilled in that situation. Our society appears to value certain types of people and certain types of labor more, and it does not appear to value the labor that goes into our food.”
Holmes is careful to clarify that he couldn’t fully live the experience of migrant farmworkers: he was in no fear of losing his job, he only picked crops for two days a week, etc. But he does note that the experience changed his feelings about what he eats, and altered his habits as a consumer.
“I’ll never feel the same about berries. Before I worked on farms, I thought that strawberries and blueberries were kind of pure goodness. They are healthy, all natural, especially if you get them organic and local, and it’s only something good. But then I learned that the experience of the people and the bodies that go into providing our grocery stores with these products is really negative and harmful and even violent. Oftentimes, the benefits from those berries go to us, the consumers, and to someone else, whoever owns the business label. But they often don’t go to the individual farmer who owns the farm, and definitely not to the farm worker.”