Thursday, November 26, 2009

This Thanksgiving, Let's Give a Thought to the People who Process Turkeys

Dear friends,


Yes, let us think about the workers, but try not to forget that an animal must be slaughtered to have a turkey feast.  I can testify that Tofurky is delicious.  Enjoy the holiday.






This Thanksgiving, let's give a thought to the people who process turkeys


By David L. Ostendor

The Progressive

November 22, 2009


We should know where our turkeys come from, and who

processes them for us.


The turkeys piled into supermarket freezers carry their

own stories. Raised primarily in massive confinement

buildings by low-paid growers under contract to

corporate food giants, they are genetically designed

for plentiful breast meat to grace our Thanksgiving

platters. They are then trucked to a processing plant,

where they meet their demise.


Reflecting the racial structure of the nation's entire

food system, turkey processing relies largely on the

hard labor of low-wage workers of color. On plant

floors across the country, a predominantly black,

Latino and Asian work force kills, guts, cleans,

processes and packages the Thanksgiving centerpiece

along fast-moving production lines.


Injuries are commonplace. Thousands of individual

repetitive motions every shift raise the probability of

chronic pain for line workers.


Federal safety inspectors are spread thin, and when

they do arrive it is not unusual for supervisors to

silence workers. At a recent meeting of Somali

immigrants with an Occupational Safety and Health

Administration representative, workers were shocked to

learn that they had the right to speak when an

inspector came to their workplace.


Every day of the year, and especially on Thanksgiving,

no one in this country eats without the labor of

immigrants, refugees and other workers of color. This

is not a new reality.


When President Theodore Roosevelt pushed his "cheap

food" policy in order to feed a growing and politically

volatile urban population a century ago, the cost was

imposed on both family farmers and food sector workers.

A cheap food system is fundamentally based on low

commodity prices and low-wage workers, and little has

changed since Roosevelt's policy came into play.


This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks to the low-

wage workers, many of them immigrant and refugee, who

enable us to have our feast.


Thanksgiving turkey comes laden with human stories of

struggle and hope and dangerous, hard work. With

stories of immigrants and refugees still seeking an

American dream. With stories from many countries

blending to become one nation. With stories in many

languages seeking to become one voice.


So let's give thanks. Eat well. Celebrate. And seek

justice for the workers who feed us.


David L. Ostendorf is executive director of the

Chicago-based Center for New Community, a national

organization dedicated to building community, justice,

and equality nationwide ( He is a

minister in the United Church of Christ. He can be

reached at


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