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Still...A Harvest of Shame

ABOUT a month ago, I watched the investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow's 1960 CBS documentary, "Harvest of Shame," which brought me to tears.

ABOUT a month ago, I watched the investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow's 1960 CBS documentary, "Harvest of Shame," which brought me to tears.

Unprecedented in its day, the award-winning documentary aired on Thanksgiving and put up a mirror showing what poverty and the plight of farmworkers looked like, not in a third-world country, but right here at home.

From the opening scene, I was riveted. It looked like an open lot for livestock and it was packed with African-American men and women looking for work. A black crew leader yelled out the going rate (just pennies a day) for the black migrant workers who were packed like sardines onto the backs of open flatbed trucks, which delivered them to the fields to work. Although it was the 1960s, the scene was eerily reminiscent of the 1860s, and then, a farmer interviewed by Murrow states matter-of-factly, "We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them."

That was it, I was done and the tears just starting flowing down my face. I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. Each heart-wrenching story illustrated the utter contempt held for those who plant and pick our food. The disgusting filth, inhumanity and inequality that marked the lives of migrant workers both black and white was beyond shameful.

After watching the documentary, while I was eating a salad at dinner, the thought occurred to me: Who's picking our fruits and vegetables now, and how have conditions changed in the 55 years since the airing of Murrow's piece?

All too quickly, I found the answer to my pressing questions in another documentary called "Food Chains," released in 2014. Much to my dismay, though the players have changed, essentially the same system of inequality and exploitation remains for America's farmworkers.

The new exploited group are the Mexican migrant workers who are paid, if we want to call it pay, a measly $40 per day for a sunup to sundown job. As difficult and physically demanding as I know this work is, they should probably be earning more like $40 an hour. Though, that's not likely to ever happen.

But, at the bare minimum, shouldn't the people who harvest our food earn enough to be able to afford to buy it? Whatever happened to fair pay for honest work?

I bet most Americans couldn't last an hour, let alone an entire day, picking. I'm not even going to front like I could do it; I could barely survive the hayride and the fun farm day picking apples at the orchard. Yeah, right, live healthy and happily on a measly $10,000 a year. Honey, please.

So, the next time you dice up an onion, make a salad or sip on your favorite glass of wine, think about the poor, dispossessed farmworkers who spend back-breaking hours toiling in the soil.

Wouldn't you be willing to pay a few pennies more if you knew that farm workers were going to get a fair shake, and finally be treated with the same fairness and dignity that we all deserve? Don't migrant farmworkers deserve a living wage, health care, clean and fair housing, fair food and education for their children?

Isn't the time long overdue for us to stop haggling over a few pennies and, more importantly, to stand up for the American principles we all hold so dear?

As Edward R. Murrow said 55 years ago, "We can change this people, if you get aroused and demand that the government and Congress react."