I recently spoke with an acquaintance who works on a local farm supporting their CSA. Each day she has had to decide if she will go to work and help pack the boxes of vegetables for the waiting families. As she considered the family that ran the farm and the various workers, she decided at last to not go in and sequester herself for a period of time as a precaution.
It gives pause for thought. Just like our health care workers and grocery store employees, in this new environment our farm workers are in fact first responders.
Between 47 and 70% of our farmworkers in this country are undocumented workers. 73% are immigrants. Upwards of 60% of those working in the meatpacking industry are migrant workers from Mexico.
That means that much of the fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and frozen meat that we have emptied from our grocery store shelves in recent days, came from the labor of hardworking people who came from elsewhere. And in this crisis, this vital population is as vulnerable as the rest of us.
This is why Public Health for the entire public is a Public Good.
If our undocumented farm workers and meat packers become sick, the linkages in our food system begin to break. And if they can’t get help or are afraid to seek help because of their citizenship status, the problems for all of us become much, much worse.
Even though we all may be in isolation, let us perhaps consider the ways in which we can support and help these vital members of our community.
With a perspective, this is Andrew Lewis
Thank you for the KQED listen.
Bread, the very symbol of daily sustenance across time and cultures. And to Andrew Lewis and his World War II surviving family members a special bread has special meaning.
As a last act before a recent move, I baked two loaves of rupmaize.
It’s basically a Latvian rye bread – but it’s much more than that, partly because it’s much less. It’s essentially rye flour, water, a little yeast, and some sort of yogurt or kefir (call it turned milk). Mix it up, let the yeasts start to do their thing and then throw in a warm box (call it an oven) to arrest the action. You end up with these loaves that are some crazy cross between that hearty bread eaten by dwarves and that ethereal cake of which elves partake. It’s both sweet and sour. And it sustains.
During World War II, when Latvian families were loading up their wagons preparing for evacuation, no doubt women all over the countryside were hastily wrapping still warm rupmaize in cloth and packing it in baskets. It’s powerful stuff: One slice in the morning and you’re good until mid-day when a second slice keeps you going until afternoon. It can keep you fed when you may not have access to a kitchen for days or months on end.
The year I lived in Cleveland with my aunt and uncle, my uncle would end the day with a slice of rupmaize and some tea. As part of his ornate ritual, he would fill a ceramic mug with deep black tea and would slowly lather a slice of rupmaize with butter and honey. This was his dessert. He was very particular in the details and I remember him once giggling as he explained them to me. But I was only twelve and I didn’t get it.
For my uncle, a survivor of war and tragedy, this was sacrament. Literally, give us this day our daily bread. As if to say, this stuff is the staff of life. We deserve no more, and just this is enough. A little bit will carry us in a time of need.
And we all have, in every moment, a time of need.