Working in the Shadows

We often don’t think about how the food we eat comes to be on our supermarket shelves. Turns out, there’s a lot of very hard, dangerous, and sometimes mind-numbingly boring work that goes into it.

In Working in the Shadows, author Gabriel Thompson decided to try his hand at several  jobs that he’d been told normally go to immigrants because “Americans won’t do them”. His reasons for writing the book have more to do with the question of immigration, but for me his book is about the work that no one wants and how food gets on our table.

When Thompson works in the fields cutting lettuce, his co-workers are very welcoming and friendly, but they suspect him of working for the Immigration Department. The work is more physically demanding than any he has ever done. The author is amazed and proud when he’s able to make it to his self-imposed limit of 2 months on the job.

Working at a chicken processing plant, he finds that the work is also physically demanding, but so repetitious that just about all the employees are eventually injured. Reading about the processing plant will put you off chicken nuggets (and possibly all forms of chicken). You will also discover that chicken feet used to be a waste product, but are now shipped to China.

He has a short job in a wholesale flower shop, and finds that many illegal workers get bullied or taken advantage of because they’re afraid to complain about their working conditions. His last job is delivering food at a restaurant, again a very physically demanding job for low wages.

All the work he tries is low-wage, some of it below minimum wage. Most of the people he works with are immigrants, either legal or illegal. Someone in a far-away office has decided these jobs are unskilled, and therefore deserving of low pay, but in reality they do require skills and a lot of hard work.

Whether you’re working at a fast-food place or in an apple orchard you’ll find there’s struggle and strife, and at times brain melting boredom, in every job. This book brings to light many of the injustices and fears that many workers run up against.

Makes your job not look so bad, huh?


1 thought on “Working in the Shadows

  1. I was instantly taken with this book–I just happened to see it on the shelf and I’m so glad I checked it out. It is fascinating and written carefully and sensitively–great concept and execution


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