Our society should reproach ourselves for failing to acknowledge that some of the lowest paid, least appreciated people are among the most indispensable. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, a long list of jobs and the people who fill them were treated, essentially, as occasionally-reliable servants who deserved only the meager pay we were willing to give. Now, finally, we recognize how vital they are. And we seem to want to pat ourselves on the back for acknowledging their value. Whether we’re willing to accord to them compensation equal to the value they bring to us remains to be seen. Who are these people?

  • Farm laborers
  • Grocery store clerks
  • People who stock retail shelves (with products like toilet paper and dry beans)
  • Truck drivers
  • Restaurant workers, from chefs and cooks to waitstaff to delivery personnel
  • Gas station attendants
  • Bank tellers
  • A thousand others

But we ignore them in “normal times,” times in which their servitude is judged acceptable and adequate.

I wrote a piece, just more than two years ago, that touches on some of this. In my post entitled The People Who Feed Us, I expressed an interest in knowing more about farmers and ranchers and farm laborers and people who work in canning factories and restaurants,  people involved in transportation of foodstuff, etc. The post acknowledged how important those people are to our lives; how, without them, we might starve. But I haven’t done what I suggested I wanted to do: talk to some of those people and express my appreciation. All talk, no action.

I am upset with myself for failing to adequately express the value these people have to the rest of us. My acknowledgements of their contributions to society were safely tucked away on my blog, read by a dozen people, if that. I should have tried to publish my newfound recognition in a more visible place, seen by many, many, many more people.

Now that we are coming to realize how vital they are, we’re giving more lip service to how much these critical people mean to us.  Hedge fund managers and football players and actors and corporate CEOs earn astronomical sums of money. But in the real world, where food is absolutely vital to survival, why do we value those people more than we value farm laborers?

As I think about all the people all of us truly NEED, I have to acknowledge that many people with whom I agree on many progressive issues take a different position than I when it suits their agenda. For example, many people who (like me) clamor for alternative, earth-friendly, fuels seem to be contemptuous of the people responsible for extracting and refining and delivering petroleum products. As much as I want to stop polluting the earth with petroleum-based products, until there are sufficient alternatives, we need the products and the people who ensure our needs are met. And we need to do more than say “thank you and goodbye” to those workers when we find alternatives. We have to ensure that those people are prepared to do other jobs that pay as much as or more than they earned in the “dirty” jobs.

The complexity of the issues surrounding society’s needs is almost beyond comprehension. But when we’re confronted with issues that impact the supply chain and, therefore, our standard of living, we must understand this: humanity is a collective. People need other people. We all have, or should have, a role to play in feeding and clothing and giving shelter to everyone on the planet, as well as all the other living beings that share this place we occupy. Whether that role is planting and harvesting corn, driving truckloads of bushel baskets of the stuff to market, or writing about the process, everyone matters.

The issues I raise here are far too involved and intricate to be addressed in a single post. Or, for that matter, in a hefty book. They are sufficiently complex to require an encyclopedic treatise. Even that would not be adequate to truly acknowledge all of the interconnections between the billions of pieces of the puzzle. I will end this rambling diatribe by saying “Thank You!” to all the people on whose efforts we depend to keep us content and alive.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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