Academic journal article Theory in Action

Food Justice, Nervios, and the Unequal Burden of Misery

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Food Justice, Nervios, and the Unequal Burden of Misery

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The focus of this article is the unwelcome consequences of the global labor market for sending regions. I have been teaching a sociology course focused on globalization in Ecuador every year since 1998. Travels throughout Ecuador have provided many opportunities to speak with Ecuadorians from all walks of life. I have had extemporaneous conversations with bus drivers, wait staff, close friends, town mayors, college students, farmers, and many others during the past sixteen years. The many conversations that I shared with Ecuadorians over this long period of time reflect the experiences of thousands of others living in the southern Andes region of Ecuador. This essay is a personal reflection on some of the insights gained through those many encounters. The majority of the conversations took place in and around Cuenca, Ecuador in Azuay Province. Azuay Province is located in the Andes Mountains of south central Ecuador. Circumstances in this region reflect the causes and consequences of significant immigration to the United States and to Spain. The limited arable land, the high levels of unemployment and poverty, the increasing inability of parents to secure a future in agriculture for their children, and the significant inflation in prices for basic necessities, including land, all serve to limit the options open to Ecuadorians from this region, particularly among young adults. Ecuadorians must create an alternative path in order to meet socially negotiated expectations of adult status. This is one dimension of the intersection of migration occasioned by transnational labor markets and broad issues of food justice.

The global labor surplus under neoliberal globalization drives down wages and working conditions, especially for those at the bottom of the market. Combined with their illegal status in receiving countries, undocumented migrant laborers occupy the most marginal circumstances. The consequences of these fragile and exposed living conditions accrue not only to the worker, but their families in the sending regions as well. The central focus of this paper is the way in which persons in sending regions experience a variety of negative consequences of the transnational agricultural labor market, particularly the depressionlike disorder of nervios. Little precise data exist regarding the employment status of Ecuadorians in the United States, but the seminal work of Pribilisky (2007) suggests that working in the food industry is a frequent source of employment for these migrants. These positions range from working in a restaurant, farm work, and distributing restaurant menus in parking lots. The psychic, social, financial, and medical consequences of these particular forms of labor-tied to the tenuous circumstances of migration, most often as undocumented workers-are largely unknown and unacknowledged in the receiving nations. North Americans pay little attention to the problems of sending regions due to distance, ignorance, and prejudice.

Capitalism is a global enterprise and will become even more so due to the increasing trade in commodities, persons, and ideas. Notions of food justice will necessarily expand in recognition of the fact that food production, distribution, and consumption touch every region of the world and connect these regions through our globalized food systems. The consequences of these global dynamics produce winners and losers although these categories are not strictly drawn dichotomies. Ecuadorians materially benefit in many cases from remittances but pay a deep and bitter price for the new found income. Offsetting the remittances is often a significant debt to the coyotes for leading the migrant to the United States. More than one person told of losing their homes and farms in order to finance their children's journey north. The typical charge for bringing an Ecuadorian into the United States was reported to be $15,000 with interest accruing immediately if the fees were not paid in full. …

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