FERN’s Friday Feed: A lunch lesson in social justice

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

‘Lunch ladies were my first role models in social justice’


“At the back of the lunchroom, a stainless-steel counter divided us from the lunch ladies, as everyone called them, who served our food,” writes Silas House. “They smiled and joked with us in a way that the teachers never did. Our teachers had been taught that they must change their native way of speaking since they were college graduates … The theory at the time in our parts was that children could best succeed if their ruralness, their Appalachian identity, was erased. … Whereas [teachers] were expected to be stern, serious, and urbane … the lunch ladies were kind, jovial, and unapologetically country … They knew us all by name but usually called us by terms of endearment: Honey, Sweetheart, Baby. We were allowed to call them by their first names: Roberta, Cotha, Billie, Sadie, Carolyn. One of them was my mother. Betty.”

Organized labor is flexing, so why aren’t farmworkers benefiting?

The New Republic

“At a time of momentum for organized labor across the country, the situation for farmworkers’ unions appears comparatively bleak,” writes Piper French. “Though field laborers in California produce two-thirds of the country’s vegetables, the UFW has shrunk to just a few thousand members, down from 70,000 during its heyday in the 1970s. There are around 1.3 million farmworkers in the United States, and fewer than 2 percent are unionized. (By comparison, there are only one-tenth the number of rural letter carriers in the U.S., and more of them belong to a union.)”

Four-legged fire suppression

High Country News

“In early October, just north of Albuquerque on the Sandia Pueblo, the bleating of over 70 Boer and Spanish goats pierced the tranquility of the bosque forest, a gallery of towering cottonwoods and willows on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande that’s long been prized for its biodiversity,” writes Wufei Yu. “The brown-and-white foragers, which are owned by Max Wade, a rancher in the neighboring town of Rio Rancho, were there to devour these non-native species, which cover the forest floor in flammable fuels. Working through the state’s forestry division, the tribe invited Wade’s goats onto the bosque in June to help mitigate the risk of wildfires. Since then, the herd has nibbled through 40 acres of brush.”

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If you can’t stand the heat, maybe we should turn down the thermostat


“For a long time, the harsh conditions of restaurant work have been spoken of as inevitable, and even something to be proud of enduring,” writes Jaya Saxena. “It’s part of the macho culture that’s plagued the restaurant industry for decades — if you can’t stand the heat, literally get out. Because of the pandemic, workers are getting out — and in record numbers … There have already been calls to improve worker pay, and provide benefits like health insurance, child care, and sick leave. But now, some operators are rethinking the very physical nature of the work … They have implemented new technology, upgraded their spaces, and redesigned how restaurant work happens in order to make that work better.”

Trading barbells for cowbells

The Guardian

“Two years ago, James and Rachael were fitness trainers living in a Phoenix suburb. James traveled frequently to bodybuilding competitions across the south-west … and Rachael had just completed a master’s degree in business management,” writes Cecilia Nowell. “But then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, shutting down meatpacking plants across the country, and they found themselves without the protein sources they needed as athletes — and parents of four growing children. That’s when an idea came to them that sounded a little impossible at first … James sold his 1972 Chevy Caprice and the couple purchased 10 acres of land just outside of Douglas, Arizona. They were going to start one of Arizona’s very few Black-owned commercial ranches.”