Why I pledge to never eat an out-of-season tomato again—especially not one from Florida.

23 September 2011

factory farm, food system, labor issues

by Rebecca Eiseman, CFJC Intern

Barry Estrabrook’s Tomatoland, one of the hottest food books of the summer and mentioned in The Washington Post, NPR, The Chicago Sun-Times, and countless other blogs and publications, brings attention to an issue that is hugely important, but will that be enough?

There is slavery going on in Florida.

“[We’re] not talking about virtual slavery, or near slavery, or slaverylike conditions, but real slavery. In the last fifteen years, Florida law enforcement officials have freed more than one thousand men and women who had been held and forced to work against their will in the fields of Florida” says Estrabrook. “Workers were ‘sold’ to crew bosses to pay off bogus debts, beaten if they…were too sick to work, held in chains, pistol whipped, locked at night into shacks in chain-link enclosures patrolled by armed guards. Escapes who got caught were beaten or worse. Corpses of murdered farmworkers were not an uncommon sight in rivers…of South Florida,” explains Estabrook in his introduction.

The good news is that there have been some victories won against these slavery cases—seven prosecutions over the past fifteen years. The bad news is that most of the justice has been brought to low-ranking field managers, not the wealthy owners of the giant agribusinesses, who simply get to walk away, unscathed. Furthermore, most instances of slavery go unreported. How many more Florida tomato workers, predominantly Hispanic migrant workers, are suffering down in the “sunshine state?”

How many more farming operations like this are going on right now? How many more fruits and vegetables have similar stories? What will it take to make it all stop? Fortunately I have one possible answer to the last question: YOU.

After learning about these conditions, I am making a pledge to myself and to the enslaved farmworkers in Florida: I will never eat or purchase an out-of-season tomato again in my life. Furthermore, I will never eat or purchase a tomato that has not been locally sourced. Will you take this pledge with me?

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a farmworker advocacy organization based in Florida, believes that the “ultimate solution to modern-day slavery in agribusiness lies on the ‘demand side’ of the U.S. produce market—the major food-buying corporations that profit from the artificially-low cost of U.S. produce picked by workers in sweatshops and, in the worst cases, slavery conditions,” as stated on the CIW website. In other words, vote with your fork! Consumers should demand to pay the true cost of a tomato—fair wage included. If cheap tomatoes are all that’s available, do not eat tomatoes. Those fresh, local summer tomatoes will be that much more rewarding to us.

For more information or to take action with the CIW visit: http://www.ciw-online.org/2010eaction.html.

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