Following the monumental week-long fast undertaken by 19 Ohio State University students and alumni in the lead up to the Return to Human Rights Tour’s culmination in Wendy’s hometown of Columbus a few short weeks ago, rolling solidarity fasts by students have spread around the country like wildfire. Responding to the call of OSU students to take up their fast as they demand that their university terminate its contract with Wendy’s, the message of this unprecedented action is simple: young people and students, anchored and supported by institutions and communities of faith, are willing to go hungry to demand that Wendy’s join the Fair Food Program because Wendy’s continued disregard for farmworkers necessitates such action.
The fast first took off at the University of Michigan, where as at rival campus OSU, students are calling on the administration to end UMich’s contract with Wendy’s -- just as that university successfully did with Taco Bell more than a decade prior. It was soon taken up by five courageous students at New College of Florida and Valencia College, who over the course of their five-day fast were joined by more than 80 of their peers and college President Donal O’Shea -- each making a direct call to the Ohio State University administration to end OSU’s contract with Wendy’s.
As Sarasota- and Orlando-area students broke their fast in the presence of allies from local UU, Presbyterian, UCC, and Catholic congregations who could think of no better way to celebrate Good Friday than honoring the students' sacrifice in the name of justice, they were joined by the next group to take up the fasting torch in Florida. This past Monday, nearly two dozen students from three Tampa Bay-area schools -- the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, and Eckerd College -- came together for a rolling five-day fast that passes from school to school this week.
Just yesterday, students at Vanderbilt University began a seven-day fast to advance their own campaign to put an end to Vanderbilt’s business agreement with Wendy’s.
Over the course of the past year, Vanderbilt students have called repeatedly for the university to end its “Taste of Nashville” relationship with Wendy’s, by which students can use their meal plan to purchase food at Wendy’s. Yet the university has failed to act, despite meetings with students leaders and over 700 signatures on a campus petition in support of Booting the Braids. Ania Szczesniewski, one of the students fasters in this week’s action, described the choice before Vanderbilt in a powerful op/ed:
… Behind every tomato served by the Wendy’s fast food chain, with only their own Code of Conduct and no third party holding them accountable, there’s no saying how many men, women, children, and pregnant bellies get sprayed with pesticides, subjected to wage theft, denied water breaks during 12 hours or more of daily toil in the fields, or are faced with other crimes against humanity.
After months of investigating this labor rights catastrophe, a group of students confronted the head of Campus Dining with a petition in spring of 2016. The document bore over 700 signatures and asked Vanderbilt to cut ties with Wendy’s by removing them from the Taste of Nashville Program. They asked that the chain not be invited back as an off-campus dining option until they stopped violating human rights.
For them to prove there is fair treatment of workers in the tomato fields they source from, Wendy’s could join the Fair Food Program (FFP) by signing the Fair Food Agreement (FFA). The FFP acts as a third party between corporations and farmers. By signing on, the corporation pledges to only source from farms that are also part of the program, meaning that they are monitored by Fair Food, which watches out for labor rights infringements…
Schools and communities in fair food strongholds are currently in the process of planning the fasts that will follow this week's in force. Stay tuned for more on how you can support the rolling fasts!
And as Passover draws to a close and the joyful Easter season begins, we end today where these fasts began: in Ohio, where the support of faith communities in the Columbus area and beyond bolstered 19 OSU students and alumni to fast for a week. Longtime CIW allies at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Interfaith Worker Justice have recently joined T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the National Farmworker Ministry, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and others in sending letters to the Wendy’s Corporation urging them to heed the message of the tour and the fast. Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of the Disciples Refugee and Immigration Ministries, writes:
...Meanwhile, Wendy’s has continued to turn a blind eye to human rights. So long as Wendy’s continues to refuse to join a proven solution to abuse in the fields, farmworkers in Wendy’s supply chain will be denied the guarantee to report mistreatment without fear of retaliation, or to enjoy the premium that constitutes workers’ first pay increase in over three decades. Therefore as Disciples of Christ, we continue to boycott Wendy’s until you will SIGN THE FAIR FOOD PROGRAM. Please do it now—even as we know this week students at Ohio State University, and faith leaders outside your offices, will be joining in the National Day of Prayer and Fasting to urge you to do so!
The support from people of faith was felt deeply at a local, not just a national level. Indeed, during OSU’s week-long fast, students at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio fasted in solidarity for two days to underscore the support of future Methodist ministers and leaders in Wendy’s home state.
We'll end with a moving prayer penned by MTSO student Alex Clemetson, inspired for the occasion of the Vigil for Human Rights and on the cusp of what's now become a widespread rallying cry to take on the mantle of the Wendy's Boycott.
Holy God, we gather as your people to pray and worship together and express our thanks for your creation that sustains us and gives us life.
For the life we have and for the blessing of Earth’s beauty and bounty, we promise to become caretakers of the earth and our brothers and sisters that journey with us.
We ask blessings for the earth, the people and the hands that produce our food as we are mindful that the rights of workers are not always upheld by those they work for.
We ask forgiveness for the ways we perpetuate the oppression of those who allow us to eat. Sometimes we have the privilege to make different choices and yet we do not, forgive us. We remember and lift up to you Oh God those who do not have the means or privilege to make choices at all because food is food. Be with us as we seek a food system that feeds and cares for all equally.
Give us strength for the journey as we seek justice for all those doing the work of fasting and fighting to bring light.
Give us strength for the journey as you lead us into solidarity and support of human rights for farm workers and for all people