Catholic colleges join nationwide hunger strike protests against Wendy's

by Shireen Korkzan

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Three Catholic colleges have joined a rolling series of nationwide protests against fast-food chain Wendy’s.

Dozens of students and alumni from John Carroll University, Georgetown University and University of Notre Dame have collaborated to participate in three sequential 48-hour fasts this week. Since March, students from colleges across the country have been participating in hunger strikes to protest Wendy’s in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a cohort of farmworkers in Florida that has been lobbying to improve farmworkers’ rights since 1993. Participating colleges in the solidarity fasts include the Ohio State University, University of Michigan, New College of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Eckerd College and Vanderbilt University.

In 2011, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers launched the worker-driven Fair Food Program, a partnership among farmers, farmworkers and food companies that ensures livable wages and humane conditions for produce pickers. The program was designed and implemented by workers, and now protects thousands of farmworkers. Fourteen major food retailers currently participate in the program, including Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.

Wendy's, however, has yet to join the Fair Food Program. In addition, the Dublin, Ohio-based chain imports its tomatoes from Mexico, which the coalition claims is unethical, citing Richard Marosi's four-part series of articles on the slavery conditions Mexican farmworkers face that appeared in The Los Angeles Times in 2014.

Related: Ohio State students fast, protest against university's lease renewal with fast-food chain Wendy's, March 24, 2017

The coalition says it shares a longstanding partnership with John Carroll University through the Jesuit institution’s alternative spring break program. Through the spring break program, students have the opportunity to build relationships with farmworkers in Immokalee by participating in various community service projects and engaging in local cultural activities, including Mass. According to Shelby Mack, an organizer for the Alliance for Fair Food, a large number of the farmworkers are Catholic. The alliance is a partnering organization of the coalition.

Five John Carroll students launched their fast on April 24, which ended with a delegation to a Wendy’s near campus at noon local time on April 26.

Six Georgetown students will pick up the fast later this evening and spend the next 48 hours educating other students about farmworker conditions through a series of educational events on campus, including a screening of “Food Chains,” a documentary about agricultural labor in the United States. The Georgetown students will conclude their fast with a vigil organized with students from George Washington University and DC Fair Food, a local chapter of the Alliance for Fair Food.

Three Notre Dame students will conclude this week’s series of hunger strikes, beginning their 48 hours of fasting with a “Last Supper” and hosting several educational events on campus over the next couple of days. The coalition says Notre Dame was one of the first colleges to join the Student/Farmworker Alliance, a national network of students and youth fighting to eradicate the exploitation of farmworkers in solidarity and partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers.

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