At the Farmer’s Market, a set on Flickr.
What you’re missing if you’re not shopping locally!
At the Farmer’s Market, a set on Flickr.
What you’re missing if you’re not shopping locally!
Been writing on some heavy stuff this week, so I wanted to end the series on a positive note, with some ideas on how you can help make a difference in the lives of the people who pick your food.
Even I have found myself getting increasingly depressed as I think about my own small ability to change anything. Yeah, I’ve changed my shopping habits, and yeah, I write about it on here and maybe somebody somewhere reads it (though from the number of comments this series has garnered – exactly ZERO – I doubt it). Maybe we’re all just too tired and disheartened to think about changing the world any more.
Well, for what it’s worth, here are some things you can do. And I’m stealing some from other people because frankly I’m spent after reading and writing about this stuff for a week!
Here is the “Take Action” page from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, about whom Tomatoland is written.
From Barry Estabrook’s original article, The Price of Tomatoes:
In the warm months, the best solution is to follow that old mantra: buy seasonal, local, and small-scale. But what about in winter? So far, Whole Foods is the only grocery chain that has signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, which means that it has promised not to deal with growers who tolerate serious worker abuses and, when buying tomatoes, to a pay a price that supports a living wage. [UPDATE: Trader Joe’s has since signed on; CIW’s Take Action page linked above has sample letters you can send to your local grocery conglomerate]
When shopping elsewhere, you can take advantage of the fact that fruits and vegetables must be labeled with their country of origin. Most of the fresh tomatoes in supermarkets during winter months come from Florida, where labor conditions are dismal for field workers, or from Mexico, where they are worse, according to a CIW spokesman. One option during these months is to buy locally produced hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes, including cluster tomatoes still attached to the vine. Greenhouse tomatoes are also imported from Mexico, however, so check signage or consult the little stickers often seen on the fruits themselves to determine their source.
- To start, buy as much produce as you can locally. Cutting out the cost of distribution systems and nation- or even world-wide transportation goes a long way towards keeping prices low. If the farmer’s market seems to expensive, go at closing time – you’ll get great deals on whatever’s left.
- If possible, join a CSA, which will ensure that your money goes straight into a farmer’s pocket (then get to know the farmer, and ensure he or she is paying a fair wage to fieldworkers).
- Avoid large farming corporations (even organic ones), as their infrastructure prohibits paying close attention to conditions in the field (most subcontract their labor anyway), and their corporate obligation to profit requires them to cut corners (sadly, it is often easiest to hurt people, rather than product).
- Avoid huge retailers like WalMart that make plenty of money off other goods but mark up the cost of fresh food (since it spoils and therefore cannot be bought in the huge quantities that are their advantage over smaller competitors). An orange may cost 50% more at WalMart than the local grocery store simply bc it doesn’t fit their pricing scheme (see McMillan, 136-7, for her comparison shopping between WalMart and the local Mexican grocery).
To keep it simple: buy fresh, buy local, buy in season, buy from small farms, and cut out as many middlemen as possible.
And to finish, some hope: things are getting better in some respects. The CIW’s “Campaign for Fair Food”, seeking to raise wages by “a penny a pound” and ensure basic rights for tomato pickers started in 2001 and has successfully enrolled Taco Bell (2005), McDonald’s (2007), and Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods (2008). The next years were spent fighting the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which initially resisted (even though the wage increase was entirely paid for by the buyers and didn’t affect the Exchange or growers one way or another – except to ask them to treat their workers better). They finally relented in 2010 and now the extra pennies, previously sitting in escrow accounts, are finally reaching the workers for whom they were earmarked.
The CIW’s next target is grocery stores, and from their website I gathered that they have added to Whole Foods’ early participation the signature of Trader Joe’s and several food management companies (e.g. Bon Appetit, food supplier to many of the colleges with which I’ve been affiliated) to the growing roster of companies on board with the Campaign. Sadly, the rest of the major grocery chains – including WalMart, which takes in ONE of every FOUR food dollars in the United States (more than the next three grocery corporations combined) – have yet to sign on. Read more about the Campaign for Fair Food here: http://ciw-online.org/101.html#cff.
Summing up: big campaigns definitely help, but it’s also the choices you and I make every day that eventually will turn around the whole system. So don’t you be discouraged, and I will try not to be either!
“Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave.”
Tomatoland, p. 75
Yesterday I wrote about tomatoes as a case study for farm worker rights – or rather, the lack thereof. This issue came to my attention when I heard an interview with investigative journalist Barry Estabrook on one of my favorite food shows, KCRW’s Good Food.
Estabrook was talking about the winter tomato industry in Southern Florida, and he began describing conditions there that sounded like fiction or ancient history. People chained up to sleep, forced labor without escape, beatings by “field bosses”, transportation in vans crowded with 25 or more men lying on the floor and not released for days, urinating into jugs and sharing maybe one bag of chips for sustenance.
But this is not history. It is now. It is happening. Right. Now.
Why? So that we can go to the grocery store and buy tomatoes in winter. So that we can go to a fast food restaurant and imagine we are having a “healthy” lunch of a salad. So that we can add a “vegetable” to our sandwich or burger, no matter the time of year.
But it’s fair to say that most of us had no idea this was happening. I didn’t, and I follow food news pretty closely. Fair enough.
But now you know.
If you’re like me, you probably think of modern-day slavery as human trafficking for sex, or maybe child soldiers. Both are abhorrent. Both have become big ISSUES that churches take on. Christians are all up in arms about modern slavery, but despite the fact that the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was instigated over an agricultural slavery case, none of us seem to realize that this hits a lot closer to home than we’d care to admit.
I’ve been thinking about why this is; why are we so gung-ho about stopping slavery in the sex trade, and ignoring it in the produce aisle? I don’t think it’s just ignorance. Does any of this feel like it might be true?
Maybe I’m terribly cynical, but I fear something: what if Christians aren’t forming organizations around and donating in huge numbers to the small groups fighting food slavery because this would touch our lives directly.
We participate in this slavery because it gets us what we want: a winter tomato, good prices at the market, a false sense of adding something nutritious to our fast food meal. We are sacrificing lives for convenience and economy.
Perhaps you might say that this is how the business runs, and we can’t control what they do, it’s not our fault. Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what people said about plantation owners, too. And who says we can’t control them? Activists have been stamping out slavery – and changing entire political and economic systems – since William Wilberforce and others organized boycotts of sugar in the 18th century, a hundred years before our country nearly split over the issue.
And – unless you know exactly where they come from – stop eating tomatoes in winter.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Here is wisdom,
Let one who hath understanding explain its secrets.
Behold the list of ingredients!
Canst thou comprehend it?
If thou know not what thou art consuming,
How shall its purpose in thy body be determined?
The parts of your dish shall number four, or six,
or several more if they be but spices,
But lo, you shall know their names,
And shall be able to speak them aloud,
And shall keep them at hand in thy dwelling.
Of all the leaves of the plant,
and its stem and its roots in the ground
You shall eat;
But among them you shall not eat that grown in the tampered soil,
for it is unclean;
And you shall not eat of the potato as flakes,
for it is unnatural.
And of all the fruits of the trees and shrubs
and which grow on the vine,
you shall eat your fill.
But the forms in which you shall not eat them
are such: as candies, as gummy, as flavoring,
nor even as Jello-O or Kool-Aid.
Eat them whole and clean,
for that is how I the Lord have given them unto you.
And you may eat of all that are in the waters,
But anything in the seas or streams
which is not swimming freely,
or of which kind there are not sufficient numbers,
you shall regard as destestable,
and of their flesh you shall not eat.
And of the animals from which you eat,
flesh or milk or any other issuance from their bodies,
They shall roam upon the earth,
and feast upon its gifts,
and shall not be prevented from the blessings of this world.
For I, the Lord, hath ordained their natural ways
and thou shalt not prohibit them.
Do not break apart your food into its component parts,
Nor concern yourself with its nutritional data.
For it is good and holy
as I, the Lord, hath created it
to nourish you in its perfect state.
Thou shalt not eat of the Crisco,
nor of its kindred,
the margarine and the spread.
For they shall cause your days to be short
in the land which I shall give unto you.
All things must meet their end,
But the Twinkie, it hath no end.
And so it is an abomination.
Eat not from the box that saith “Helper”,
For G-d alone is your Helper.
His handiworks far exceed those of humankind,
So feed upon the works of the hand of the Lord,
And lean not upon human creation,
For lo, you are my people
And I have given unto you all that you need.