A kid’s-sized portion of charred chicken next to steamed vegetables. A droopy piece of pepperoni pizza. Limp lettuce and peppers next to plain rice. The meals provided to hundreds of migrant farm workers in quarantine are insufficient and culturally inappropriate, an advocacy group says.
In the Windsor-Essex region of Ontario, considered one of the worst pandemic hotspots in Canada, migrant workers have had to quarantine in at least two local hotels following a spate of outbreaks on their employers’ farms. Because quarantining workers can’t have visitors or shop for groceries, they depend on supplied meals.
Justicia for Migrant Workers spokesperson Chris Ramsaroop said the Red Cross is in charge of supplying food to workers at the two hotels where complaints about meal quality are surfacing. Ontario’s Solicitor General confirmed the Red Cross was deployed to the Windsor region to help support migrant workers in quarantine, but didn’t specify which hotels. The Red Cross would not confirm which hotels either.
Migrant workers “want food that’s culturally appropriate and healthy,” said Ramsaroop, who has received complaints from the workers with photos in recent weeks.
“They’re angry. There is anger and resentment,” said Ramsaroop. “There’s hunger, anxiety.”
Many of the workers come from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Mexico, so they want food that reflects their culture, food that they’re used to and can enjoy, Ramsaroop said. He added that none of the food looks nutritionally adequate.
MairiAnna Bachynsky, a spokesperson with Red Cross, said the agency is providing meals, snacks, and other hygiene and comfort items at two locations for people currently isolating. She said the Red Cross is “addressing issues as they come up” and representatives, including chefs on site, are continuously reaching out to people to assess their dietary needs.
“Some examples include requests for larger portions, vegetarian and vegan requests, particular types of foods, and extra servings, among others,” Bachynsky said. “These personal requests and requirements continue to be met on an ongoing basis by the staff for each of the individuals who are isolating.”
Bachynsky said this issue has been brought to her attention several times, but did not say when she first learned of them.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Solicitor General, Stephen Warner, said in a statement that the province commissioned the Canadian Red Cross to provide “housing and supporting services” to the farmworkers.
They are now working together to address complaints, “including talking to the workers about their dietary preferences to ensure that workers are receiving appropriate provisions,” Warner said.
Some workers said they’re not allowed to grocery shop for themselves—even after they’re done their two-week quarantine—and employers have forbidden visitors from delivering food, independent news website Rabble reported. The reality has pushed advocates to dream up and execute covert strategies like dodging security cameras, so they can provide workers with better food.
Inadequate, cramped living conditions have made migrant workers particularly susceptible to contracting COVID-19, and many workers allege their employers haven’t supported them during pandemic-related isolation. A migrant worker who tested positive for COVID-19 and spoke to reporters about the poor conditions on the farm was recently fired from his job.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who previously rejected the idea of mandatory COVID-19 testing, said the situation is so bad at right now, he’s considering forcing employers to get migrant farm workers tested.
“Guys, I’m just going to cut to the chase here,” he told farmers last week. “If you have migrant workers, get them tested. Bottom line. Full stop. That’s it.”
But the conditions workers face while in isolation still need to be addressed, Ramsaroop said.
“Think about it: the people who feed us are hungry,” Ramsaroop said.
The Red Cross isn’t accepting donations right now, but Ramsaroop said his team is trying to supplement the “crappy food” offered to migrant workers with additional meals and snacks. The current state of food allegedly being served exposes broader systemic racism and barriers that harm migrant workers, he added.
“The people who feed us are hungry and that’s a testament to the overall conditions that migrant workers are facing,” he said, adding that the pandemic has only exacerbated long-standing problems.
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