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“No employee should be subjected to sexually degrading conduct as a condition of employment,” Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami district office, said in a statement. “Migrant farmworkers are no exception.”

Longtime Fair Food activists may be familiar with a thought experiment that CIW members often share in public presentations that is designed to put you, the consumer, at the edge of the field where the food you buy is harvested.  The mental exercise – set in a classic roadside farm stand, like the one pictured below, brimming with freshly picked, local fruits and vegetables – is intended to bridge the gap between the consumer buying produce, on the one hand, and the workers harvesting that produce in often brutal, demeaning labor conditions, on the other.  

Here is an example of the thought experiment, from the transcript of a Fair Food presentation at the 2018 Tom Tom Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia:

farm_stand

… Imagine you’re driving on a beautiful country road winding through Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and you come upon a bucolic farm-stand full of colorful, delicious, fresh sweet corn with kernels this big, the kind that pop and shoot sweet juice everywhere when you squeeze them, and huge, juicy watermelons with slices cut and arranged on a paper plate for you to taste, and red ripe tomatoes still smelling like the plants they were picked from that very morning.

You pull over and fill your bags with as much mouthwatering produce as you can carry and head to the cashier.  And as the cashier begins to ring up your purchase up, your perfect moment is suddenly shattered… by a scream… a scream coming from just over the cashier’s shoulder in the field where your fruit and vegetables are being picked. You look up and you see a young woman, a farmworker, being sexually assaulted by a supervisor in the supervisor’s truck.  And as the field now comes into focus you realize that in another corner a worker is on his knees, trying, in vain, to block the kicks and blows of another supervisor, a cup of water that was knocked from his hand on the ground at his side.  The supervisor is yelling, “Did you come here to work, or to drink water, you lazy mother….!”

And just then the cashier turns to you and, smiling, says, “That will be $21.50!  Cash or credit?”

What would you do?  Would you complete your purchase?  Would you turn your eyes away from the workers, give the cashier your money, and drive away?  

Or would you cut off your purchase immediately and try to stop the abuses — intervening directly, or maybe calling the police?

Of course, thousands of audience members, in talks and panels and workshops from New York to California, have responded with one voice and without hesitation to say NO, they would never buy produce picked by workers they knew were being sexually or otherwise physically abused.

And yet we do.  Every day, farmworkers in this county go to work knowing that they may face sexual harassment and assault, physical and verbal abuse, systemic wage theft, and dangerous working conditions as they pick the fruits and vegetables that we eat.  And every day we buy produce with hardly a thought given to those conditions, because the clean, colorful produce aisles where we buy our food are light years away from the fields where the harvesting – and the abuse – takes place.  Out of sight, out of mind, with only a thought experiment to remind us of the brutal reality countless farmworkers face every day to put food on our plates… until the headlines remind us that the thought experiment is actually rooted in tragic reality...

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