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An intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants and indigenous people in our contemporary food system.
An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Seth Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and healthcare. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekked with his companions illegally through the desert into Arizona and was jailed with them before they were deported. He lived with indigenous families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the U.S., planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, and accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals. This “embodied anthropology” deepens our theoretical understanding of how health equity is undermined by a normalization of migrant suffering, the natural endpoint of systemic dehumanization, exploitation, and oppression that clouds any sense of empathy for “invisible workers.”
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is far more than an ethnography or supplementary labor studies text; Holmes tells the stories of food production workers from as close to the ground as possible, revealing often theoretically-discussed social inequalities as irreparable bodily damage done. This book substantiates the suffering of those facing the danger of crossing the border, threatened with deportation, or otherwise caught up in the structural violence of a system promising work but endangering or ignoring the human rights and health of its workers.
All of the book award money and royalties from the sales of this book have been donated to farm worker unions, farm worker organizations and farm worker projects in consultation with farm workers who appear in the book.
About the Author
Seth M. Holmes is an anthropologist and physician. He is the Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Associate Professor of Medical Anthropology and Public Health at the University of California Berkeley, and has received national and international awards from the fields of anthropology, sociology, and geography, including the Margaret Mead Award.
Philippe Bourgois is professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Social Medicine and Humanities in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California Los Angeles.
"Holmes brings an unusual expertise to his writing about migrant Mexican farmworkers. . . . [He] goes far beyond mere observation."
— Austin American Statesman
"Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in food and the food system. . . . To say that the book provides a vivid look at farm labor is an understatement."
"Its lessons are invaluable for communities as well as academic audiences."
— American Journal of Human Biology
"The reader is left with a deep understanding of how injustice in the United States is produced and the strength of the individuals that persevere through it."
"Due to in large part of Holmes’ intentional writing style, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is a powerful teaching tool in diverse settings. Holmes’ professional status as a doctor and anthropologist lends him a distinct and commanding authority on issues of health and structural violence. His use of personal narrative and case studies maps onto anthropological and medical students’ familiar learning tropes, respectively."
— Political and Legal Anthropology Review
"A compelling and frightening account of the lives of [Mexican migrant] workers. . . . [Holmes's] tales of crossing the border, doing backbreaking work in the fields, and exploring relationships with these dislocated and largely invisible workers is well worth a read."
— Serious Eats
"An extraordinarily moving ethnographic piece."
— Labour/Le Travail
"A timely, eloquent, and analytically rigourous examination . . . an excellent resource."
— Centre for Medical Humanities
"Holmes guides the reader through this endeavor by providing an intense blend of informant life histories, their clinical case studies, observations of and conversations with additional social actors on the farms and in the clinics he visited. . . . A timely and innovative text blending theory and praxis."
— Allegra Lab
"A provocative, important new book. . . . Part heart-pounding adventure tale, part deep ethnograhic study, part urgent plea for reform. . . . Holmes brings an enlightening complexity to the issue of migrant workers."
— San Francisco Bay Guardian
"The insights gleaned by [Holmes's] participation-observation are priceless."
— National Catholic Reporter
"By giving voice to silenced Mexican migrant laborers, Dr. Holmes exposes the links among suffering, the inequalities related to the structural violence of global trade which compel migration, and the symbolic violence of stereotypes and prejudices that normalize racism."
— New York Journal of Books