Let the nativists try eating their words
The prognostication game is a tricky one, but here are two wild guesses: 1) Lou Dobbs will enjoy a robust meal today; and 2) he’ll issue some stark platitude, either to chortling table mates or millions of viewers of his CNN show, denouncing the "illegal aliens" who sneak in to "leach America’s prosperity" or some such.
And here’s a third prediction: While Dobbs enjoys his victuals and other fruits of his witticisms, millions of Mexicans and Central Americans will continue doing the hard work of feeding (I’m channeling Dobbs here) "the greatest nation on earth."
And they’ll do so under conditions that would drop a well-fed TV host to his knees in, oh, about 15 minutes.
In the days leading up to the Christmas feast, several media reports emerged illustrating the U.S. food system’s abject and utter reliance on cheap imported labor. (Hat tip to the formidable Bonnie Powell of Ethicurean and her invaluable "Digests.")
First, we get a blunt statement from celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain, long-time veteran of restaurant kitchens high and low. It’s a bit long, but well worth quoting at length.
[L]et’s be honest, at least, about who is cooking in America NOW. Who we rely on — have relied on for decades. The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry — Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular. To contemplate actually doing without is to contemplate mass closings, a general shake-out of individually owned and operated restaurants — and, of course, unthinkably (now) higher prices in the places that manage to survive. Considering that our economy and employment picture is now largely based on us selling hamburgers to each other, the ripple effects would be grave. I know very few chefs who’ve even heard of a US born citizen coming in the door to ask for a dishwasher, night clean-up or kitchen prep job. Until that happens — let’s at least try to be honest when discussing this issue.
Next time Dobbs sidles up to the table at one of Manhattan’s culinary temples, he should reflect that an "alien" laid hands on his food.
Next comes a stark report from the nation’s fruit and vegetable fields, where produce would rot on the vine (and all of those restaurant workers would have little to cook) were it not for the unwashed hordes whose presence Dobbs finds so lamentable.
According to this Associated Press report, a federal judge recently visited a southern California farm labor camp, where “4,000 migrant workers live … during peak harvest season, picking some of the nearly $1 billion worth of table grapes, dates, chili peppers and other crops from the region’s heavily irrigated fields.”
Dobbs might find the accommodations there a bit rough going: “sewage wastewater several inches deep, dead rodents, swarms of flies, and animal feces, as well as inadequate drinking water, a jerry-rigged electrical system, severe overcrowding and fire hazards.” People there typically live seven to the trailer.
Local officials face a dilemma: They’d like to shut down the camp, but fear it would “leave many residents — who make as little as $15,000 a year — homeless in an area that already has a shortage of affordable housing.”
Of course, Dobbs would prescribe mass deportation, but there’s the small matter of that “$1 billion worth of table grapes, dates, chili peppers and other crops” that would otherwise rot in the field.
Meanwhile, conditions in Mexico look set to ensure a robust market for Dobbs’ fulminations. Under Nafta, the nation is obliged to dismantle the last vestiges of trade protection for its smallholder corn farmers, who are bracing for an even larger deluge of genetically modified U.S. product.
Made redundant by industrial U.S. corn production, hundreds of thousands of them can be expected to seek employment in our farm fields, kitchens, and construction sites, providing food, shelter, and professional opportunities for the likes of Dobbs.