My love of chickens and my love for the Island of Hispaniola blossomed at the same time. Farming in New England afforded me a bit of time to travel during the winter and I fell madly in love with the Dominican Republic. My passion to share a vision in creating a world where we connect with and treat our “food” in a dignified way followed me in my travels. On the Island, I saw on the outskirts of the cane fields the real cost of our sugar through the inhumane conditions in which these workers were subjected.
This summer, as part of the ongoing, centuries old tensions between the Dominican and Haitian governments, the Dominican Supreme Court ruled to revoke the citizenship of all Haitians immigrants who could not prove their legal status all the way back to 1929.
Many friends and colleagues have been forwarding me articles speaking to the International outrage over this ruling. The solution being put forth by many in the International community is to boycott travel to the DR and places the blame for the situation solely on the Dominicans. This is not only unfair to the average Dominican citizen, it is unwarranted and continues to absolve the responsibly every one of us plays in this horrific human condition.
The Dominican government is faced with limited resources on a small Island with millions of people and an extremely unstable situation in bordering Haiti. It does not solely own the cane fields, nor due the resort employees who will be the first to suffer with any kind of significant travel boycott. The Dominican Government is not to blame for the economic reality that sugar that is only available to us through the abuses and inhumane treatment of the workers who cut the cane.
As long as we continue to demand full shelves with every imaginable food, at every moment of every day at a hugely subsidized cost, these moral violations of all living beings will continue. Relying on corporations, who are driven only by profit, to provide us with our food, will guarantee the continuation of the atrocities to our land, our animals and our fellow human beings. People are designed to care, but we care in small intimate settings. When we lose a direct connection to our food, we lose our ability to care.
Eating and buying local affords us the opportunity to support a size community for which we can care. Those foods which cannot be supported with the local community should be expensive, rare and hard to obtain. Cheap food, grown harvested, and butchered far away from our everyday experience has made us forget how labor intensive and difficult it is to produce and distribute.
The cane cutters are only one example of the hidden costs in our food. Behind the scenes of this inexpensive commodity is essentially slavery. It always has been. The plight of the Haitians in the Dominican Republic is not because of a barbaric government, but rather a barbaric world.
We live in a world where we continue to turn a blind eye to our moral compass in our demand for the cheap abundant selection on our grocery shelves. If we really care about the Haitian sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic, or the hens in the layer factories, then the change needs to start with us, and our expectations and relationship with our food.