Part 3 of 4 in “Hunger in the Valley of Plenty,” a series by KQED and the Center for Investigative Reporting. 

Lack of access to fresh produce is one problem in farmworker communities. Another is changing young people’s eating habits. Jane Carretero, the daughter of farmworkers in Fresno, recorded her impressions for this food diary, produced in collaboration with the kNOw Youth Media, a project of New America Media.

Jane Carretero has been learning more about nutrition, but finds lifestyle changes hard. (Marci Lopez/The kNOw at New America Media)
Jane Carretero, 15, has been learning more about nutrition, but finds lifestyle changes hard. (Marci Lopez/The kNOw at New America Media)

Aug. 16, 2013

My name’s Jane Carretero. I turned 15 years old on August 12th.

Everything’s OK. As OK as I can be, being a 15 year old that’s pregnant.

Since I got pregnant, my doctor and mom have really been trying to get me to eat vegetables, but I can usually get away with not eating any vegetables or fruit.

Whenever I pass by McDonald’s I usually end up getting something, which I eat instead of the food my mom makes. She gets really mad because she tells us it’s not healthy. My doctor tells me the same thing. It’s not healthy for me or the baby.

I do care about being healthy, but it’s just to a point where if I really want a certain food I’m not going to think about it being healthy or not. I hardly ever eat any real food. I see that I should be healthy, but if I really want something I’m going to eat it.

The things in my fridge right now? We have the milk, tortillas and eggs and the tapatio sauce that you’d find in every Mexican household ‘fridge. We also have a corner in our refrigerator filled with packets from fast food restaurants: ketchup and hot sauce.  It’s all from McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Panda Express and Carl’s Jr.

Sept. 5, 2013

My mom is a traditional Mexican mom. She’s the kind of mom who likes listening to old-school Mexican music while she cooks. She’s hardly ever home, but when she is she likes listening to old-school music and cooking.

She makes posole, menudo and tamales, all traditional Mexican dishes. I love it when my mom makes birria, the whole house smells like it and makes it feel like home.

But I usually end up eating hot Cheetos or slushies instead of the food my mom makes.

She the only parent I really have left. She does everything she can to support us and feed me and my two older sisters.

She usually works in the grape fields or picking string beans. She works even though it’s 100 degrees outside and she’s in the hot sun.

My dad passed away when I was in third grade. He had leukemia and lymphoma.

He was the greatest dad ever. Even while he was doing chemotherapy, he was still working in the fields, and trying hard to support me and my family.

At one point, my dad was really sick and weak, and he couldn’t go to work. That’s when we had to go to the food bank. We didn’t have any money or food. We were only able to get hamburger buns and jam, that was what we ate for a whole week before we went back to the food bank. At one point my mom gave us her food because she didn’t want to see us not having anything to eat.  We learned even though fruit grows on trees, food doesn’t come free.

I live in an apartment in the west side of Fresno. People say it’s horrible. There are drug dealers and drive-by shootings sometimes. There are people that do drugs around. But as long as you stay clear from them, they don’t bother you. My apartment is surrounded by fencing, so I feel safe at night.

My mom and stepdad get one room and my two older sisters get another room. That leaves me with no room. I sleep in the living room with an air mattress next to the sofa. It’s not the greatest thing, but I’d rather be sleeping on an air mattress than on the floor.

I used to be the black sheep of the family. I would sneak out easily since I was right next to the door, and no one could tell I was leaving.

Sept. 25, 2013

The last week of my pregnancy, I ate a lot of takeout and fast food. I had McDonald’s breakfasts two days in a row.  I didn’t mind it. It was food.

Carretero feeds her infant son. (Marci Lopez/The kNOw at New American Media)
Carretero feeds her infant son. (Marci Lopez/The kNOw at New American Media)

My baby boy was born on September 11, 2013. It’s crazy how you look at the baby that was in you, and now you’re holding him in your arms and you think, ‘wow, you were in me for the past nine months.’ On the day he was born, I found out about a new kind of love.

Now that I have the baby, I have to watch my diet, because I really want to go back to my original weight.

I’ve never told anyone my weight before, but I’m going to tell you now. By the end of my pregnancy, I was at 200 lbs. When I found out about my weight, I started crying. Now I need to start watching what I eat and stay away from McDonald’s or junk food.

  • halberst

    To solve problems with poverty, before we even address food we need to talk common sense. Of course we need to do what we can for those already born, but why on earth are there people with five kids without really good incomes? Even for the wealthy, five kids seems excessive. But for one income family seasonal workers….WHY?! Birth control is cheap, children aren’t.

    Another comment I found really strange and I’ve heard before is that water is more expensive than soda. Virtually everywhere in the US tap water is safe to drink and almost free. For those of us lucky enough to get our water from Hetch-Hetchy our water even tastes better than bottled water straight from the tap. But I still see lots of (presumably poor people) filling up on expensive filtered water or buying water bottles.

    I totally agree that farm workers should make more money and have easier lives. But the path to ending poverty includes birth control and making common sense decisions.

    • Dan Brekke

      Regarding the issue of drinking water, you might be interested in earlier reporting we’ve done on that. Many communities do not have a public source of safe, potable water because of high nitrate levels. Here’s a series KQED’s Sasha Khokha did in conjunction with Julia Scott of the Center for Investigative Reporting:

      • halberst

        Thanks Dan. I take your point…however….

        I live in Alameda, and I’m guessing you might well live in an area served by Hetch Hetchy water, some of the purest and best tasting water anywhere. If you do find yourself at a supermarket in a poor neighborhood served by HH, take a look. You’ll see lots of folks filling up at “water purification” stations out front, and customers leaving with gallon bottles of bottled still water that likely isn’t as good as the virtually free tap water.

        Of course if this young lady relies on well water in an area with a problem- it may be prudent for her to buy bottled water. Also, I assume that if she’s drinking sodas at McDonalds they would have all the same problems as the free water she could get from the soda fountain? That is except the soda would have a bunch of other bad for you stuff too.

        And I apologize if this seems callous. I do feel for this family and others in their plight. But I get frustrated when the solution just seems so obvious.

  • jane

    actually I was on birth control. (: @halberst:disqus

    • halberst

      True, accidents do happen. I don’t think responsible people using birth control accounts for a lot of the large families living in poor conditions, you can tell me if you think I’m wrong.

      But this is one of several sob stories I’ve heard recently with a narrative that includes poor farm workers that can’t make ends meet with lots of kids. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them, and I agree we as a society need to help them out of a cycle of poverty. But the only way out is to stop having so many kids until you can afford them.

    • halberst

      BTW: I guess you are the Jane in the story? I was myopically replying to comments…. I apologize for being so direct.

      This must be really awkward having people commenting publicly on your plight. Though I really stand by every comment, I also don’t wish to offend you or hurt your feelings. Your story is a very common one and I hope that we as a society can help people in your situation out of poverty.

      I do wish you and your kid the best.

    • Tim

      Thanks for sharing your moving story. Your honesty lets the readers know about the personal challenges you’ve faced. It also gives insight into the structural challenges (lack of access to healthy food, historically under-invested areas, lack of decent jobs, etc.) that everyone in our society, including the readers, bear some responsibility for perpetuating.

      Why do you think our produce in metropolitan regions is so cheap? Who bears the greatest health impacts due to pesticides?

      Jane’s story gives us a starting point to talk about questions and issues we’ve never fundamentally dealt with as a society–healthy equity, education, the school to prison pipeline, the disproportionate power held by big ag, racism, etc.

      It’s always funny to hear a person not from Jane’s area say that they would’ve made different choices. Sounds like a guy drinking a beer watching sunday football saying he could’ve thrown a better pass.

      Jane – my wife and I had a baby last year and we have boxes of new, unused clothes and blankets. We drive down to LA from Solano County sometimes and would be happy to drop off a box of clothes if you want them. Good luck with motherhood and we wish you the best! My email is listed below.


  • grace

    breast feeding takes off a lot of weight. when your baby can eat solid foods, use a hand food grinder $14 and put your food (example black beans and zucchini and rice) into the
    grinder, so your baby eats the same healthy food you do. the grinder is easy to carry around too, so take it with you everywhere with you and baby. please eat your mom’s food, it sounds absolutely delicious.

    • grace of course a fork works fine for mashing soft food, but the grinder can cut tougher things like meat. best wishes!

      • grace

        thanks for sharing your story. being a mother will help you grow intellectually, emotionally, creatively .. you can make this work. is age 15 ideal? is age 40 ideal? depends on the person .. keep learning with your baby, and not only in school. hugs :))

        • halberst

          Grace, 15 is not ideal. She may be a great person, a fantastic mother, and end up raising a wonderful successful child. I really hope that’s how things end up for both of them.

          But she’s in this story because things aren’t right. Part of being a parent in modern times is being responsible enough to be able to fend for your child- to have the emotional and financial where-with-all. Lack of family planning is a primary reason for poverty. Hopefully this girl’s son will end the cycle by delaying child rearing until education and finances enable him to enter the middle class.

    • jane

      I’m breast feeding and formula feeding when I’m out in public . Thanks for the advice (: I am now , no more cravings for junk food or fast food any more . (:

  • Anonymous

    @jane – you should think about the long term consequences of your pregnancy. Such accidents can be corrected and at your age your should be thinking about getting educated and skilled so one day you can be an independent woman… Too bad now you are saddled with a baby. Very sad.

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