T’ruah rabbis and farmworker activists protest at a Wendy’s in Naples, Florida, calling on the fast-food giant to join the Fair Food Program. Photograph by Coalition of Imokalee Workers.
Who picks the food you eat? How are they treated? How much are they paid?
These are just a few of the critical questions that we often overlook at mealtimes. “Food Chains,” a new documentary, offers some powerful answers.
“Food Chains” is a snapshot of the current state of American farmworkers: underpaid, undervalued and facing a violent and unpredictable workplace in which they can’t report abuses because of fear of reprisals.
Why was a group of rabbis singing around some tomatoes at a Publix supermarket in Naples, Fla.? No, it wasn’t a new ritual about mindful eating, but rather an act of protest. Would you pay one penny more per pound for tomatoes to ensure a better wage and a more dignified workplace for farmworkers? That’s the underlying question our prayer circle was asking.
Through Rabbis for Human Rights-North America (where I run a campaign on modern slavery), the fifteen of us have traveled from all over the country to learn about the abuses of the Florida tomato industry: sub-poverty wages, violence and sexual harassment, wage theft, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and — in six successfully prosecuted cases over the past ten years (resulting in more than 1,000 people being freed) — modern slavery. Florida produces most off-season tomatoes eaten by those of us who live east of the Mississippi, so the chances are pretty high that if you’ve eaten a fresh tomato in the winter, it came from Florida. Immokalee, where we were visiting, has been called “ground zero” of modern slavery by a federal prosecutor.