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Brian D. McLaren Headshot

'We Are Poor, but We, Too, Are Human Beings'

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Those are the words of our neighbors who work in the fields, planting and harvesting the food we eat.

On Sunday, a group of my friends from Coalition of Immokalee Workers began a 200 mile march from Ft. Myers, Fla., to Lakeland, Fla., the headquarters of Publix Grocers. Publix is a good company that has been resisting doing good in relation to the farm workers for the last several years. By failing to stand in solidarity with the workers whose labor contributes to their bottom line, they are hurting their neighbors, disappointing all of us who care about fair food and ethical buying, and ultimately tarnishing their own public image.

For reasons that make no sense to those of us who know bot the situation of the workers and the ideals expressed by the Publix's founder, they have refused to participate in the Campaign for Fair Food.

They have refused even to have a substantive face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter. So far, that is.

As a result, they are cooperating with and propping up an old and broken system that has exploited farmworkers for far too long. The workers are asking them to join a new system that will treat the farmworkers with dignity as human beings.

Republicans, Democrats and Independents have been speaking a great deal lately about "generational theft," the way that our current spending and debt policies are unsustainable and place burdens on the young for the benefit of the old. Sustainability -- economic and ecological -- is indeed a valid concern that deserves (and is getting) real attention.

But almost nobody has been talking about "demographic theft," the way our current economic policies are aiding and abetting in a huge transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich. (More on that here.)

Many of us in the faith community are realizing that it is inappropriate to bow our heads to thank God for our food without also lifting our heads to hear from our neighbors whose labor brought that food to our table. Our prayers inspire us not only to be grateful, but to be just.

So every time we "say grace" and thank God for our food, let us also listen to the voices of some of our nation's hardest-working people -- people to whom we are connected by what we eat. We will hear in their voices a moral summons to all of us -- to corporate executives at Publix, and to buyers like you and me. "We are poor," they say, "but we, too, are human beings."