Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Seth Holmes

Seth M. Holmes is an anthropologist and physician. He received his PhD in Medical Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco, and his M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco. He is Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

His new book is Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States.

From Holmes's Q & A with Eliza Barclay at the NPR blog, The Salt:

What was the most surprising or shocking aspect of the food system that you uncovered in your research?

"Before I did the research, I had a sense of the hierarchy of people involved in the food labor chain. But over the course of the first five months, it became clear that the hierarchy is much more detailed and subtle. There are indigenous Mexicans [like the Triqui] who occupy the rung with the most demanding physical labor — they're the ones who are bent over picking. The mestizos operate the machines — that's not quite as demanding. Then the U.S.-born Latinos are in charge of some things, and use English and Spanish. The white Americans have the most control.

"What was troubling was that people on every rung of hierarchy are legitimizing and justifying it. Farmworkers are doing that, too."

Do you think that hierarchy is representative of farms in other states in the U.S.?

"I think it is. The indigenous people from Mexico and Central America have the least powerful position. The system is different in California, because farms tend to hire to get big fields picked or pruned. The contractor goes out and finds laborers, and in my field research, I found that system to be worse in the sense that farmworkers are not paid directly by the farm. There's no paper trail. When we were in California, every time we pruned, we were paid less than minimum wage. With that system, labor laws are less likely to be enforced. But in Washington state, the farmworkers were hired directly by farmers, who were more likely to pay minimum wage."

Do you think that the American public cares about the labor required to produce our food?

"We...[read on]
Learn more about Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies.

--Marshal Zeringue