Friday, May 1, 2009

Tomatoes and Pig Farming

Think slavery ended in this country in the 1860s? Guess again.

“A Florida tomato picker, Mariano Lucas, was forced to work without pay and was regularly beaten and chained inside a box truck at night by a family of farm bosses who held him and a dozen other workers captive.

“You might think this nightmarish story took place in some dark period of American history. Unbelievably, it’s a reality today, in the vast tomato fields of south Florida. In December 2008, Lucas’ captors were sentenced to 12 years in prison for ‘enslaving and brutalizing migrant workers.’ At their sentencing, Mariano stood before his former captors and told the judge, ‘Bosses should not beat up the people who work with them.’

“Nobody knows exactly how many people are enslaved in Florida, but federal civil rights officials have prosecuted seven slavery operations involving over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997. One federal prosecutor called Florida ‘ground zero for modern-day slavery.’”

This was part of a press release my sister-in-law Tracy forwarded to me from the company she works for, Bon App├ętit. The company has formed an alliance with a farm labor coalition in Florida to help fight human rights abuses of farm laborers who pick tomatoes.

Bon Appetit’s president and vice-president traveled to south Florida to see the conditions for themselves:

“We saw trailers that are home to upwards of 10 people that are charged astronomical rents (up to $2000 per month), we heard stories of workers being hit and threatened in the fields, and we saw how hard the work of picking tomatoes truly is. We knew we had to take a stand against these abuses. We cannot have a sustainable future without considering the humans in our supply chain.

“We have created a code of conduct for tomato growers requiring them to treat workers well and pay them fairly. If we cannot find a grower willing to abide by our code, we will not buy Florida tomatoes.”

While ALL food should be grown, picked and distributed in ethical and humane ways, it isn’t, just as clothing isn’t sewn together by adults (not children) who normal hours and make livable wages. I cannot fathom what kind of person thinks it’s OK to beat a migrant tomato picker, chain him up at night, and force him to work without pay, but I can’t bury my head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen. The part “We cannot have a sustainable future without considering the humans in our supply chain” applies to consumers as well, and I will work harder to educate myself on these issues so I’m a more informed consumer when I go to the grocery store or patronize a restaurant.

In my December 21 blog entry, “Where Does Your Food Come From?” I chatted lightly about how our food comes from all over the world and that I tried to avoid food from China. Several people left comments and sent detailed email about the importance of buying locally and eating food that is in season. Honestly, these weren’t things I’d considered before and was very glad for the info. Same thing here. How do you know if the food you buy is grown and picked in non-abusive environments, both in terms of the earth and the workers?

I won’t launch into a diatribe about the swine flu, but I’ve long been an opponent of industrial farming, particularly as it pertains to pigs. I’m all for raising animals for consumption, but I prefer we do it by means of small family farms. My late husband and I raised cows and pigs and never were they mistreated, locked in cages, or brought to slaughter sick or lame. I realize some people deplore farming of animals in any way, but I will defend small family farms over industrial farms (be they grain or animals) any day.

My main concern with industrial farming was always for the welfare of the animals, but it is clear that humans are suffering, too, my means of disease. Which animals from what farm gave what to whom is still up in the air, but industrial farming may be to blame for this swine flu outbreak.

I’m investigating online, but if you have thoughts on this subject, and on the subject of farm workers’ plight and rights as it pertains to our food purchases, please share. I’d appreciate it.

REMINDER: I will donate one item for every comment left on my last entry, “A Different Kind of ‘Food Issue,’” to my local food shelf. If you haven’t written a comment on my last blog (or if you did and want to leave another one, it’s fine, I’m counting ALL comments), you still have until the end of today to do it. Thanks!

10 comments:

  1. Lynn,

    I just wanted to say what an inspiration you are. I check your blog daily, and love reading all your updates, especially the ones about exercise and easy-to-make recipes!

    I have lost 40 pounds and have about 45 more to go, but I have been sidelined with knee injuries due to too much interval training. I am aware of all your health limitations, and you have proven that a person doesn't need to do boot camp-style exercise every day to be healthy and fit.

    Thanks for this blog. It is really great!

    Ali

    P.S. I was the Anonymous who asked last week about your weight bench. I intend to look for one this weekend.

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  2. THANK YOU for a comment about family farms! There is a HUGE difference between how a family run farm operates and a corporate farm. Family farmers truly care about their animals and a family life depends upon that care. Small town America and family farms need to be protected.

    Rhonda- here in South Dakota

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  3. Having recently read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" this doesn't come as a surprise to me. I really recommend the book, as it reveals how our food culture has changed the face of farming and labor. Thanks for posting about this...

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  4. Thank you for this post. I'm a former resident of Clarion, and my parents still manage to buy their meat and veggies from local farmers.

    In So. Cal, I belong to a CSA. Our organic CSA treats their farmworkers well and provides housing. Currently yurts, they are raising money to provide permanent farmworker housing on top of that.

    And though I'm mostly a vegetarian, there's no comparison between a store chicken and a local chicken.

    The Omnivore's Dilemma is a great read on the subject.

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  5. Thanks for the book recommendations. I've put them on my Amazon wish list.

    Marcia, while I don't eat pork, my husband does, and we buy it locally at O'Neils. Back when I DID eat meat, I know their ham was the best ever.

    Ali, I hope you find a bench you like!

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  6. We try to buy local whenever we can. But, you still don't know how the workers or animals are treated even on small farms unless you actually go there and or talk to the people at farmers markets.

    I have just finished Omnivore's Dilemma, and I will never look at corn the same way again.

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  7. Thank you for this post. I'm a former resident of Clarion, and my parents still manage to buy their meat and veggies from local farmers.

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  8. Great post, I remember reading that article in Bon Appetit. I would suspect that this is not isolated to tomatoes. I'm amazed after reading Fast Food Nation that I can still stomach eating beef. I lived for 12 years in Denver and when the wind was blowing just right you could smell the corporate farms mentioned in the book.

    If you are looking for farms that certify they treat their animals humanely go to the following website. I have a friend who was a farm inspector for this group.

    www.certifiedhumane.org

    And if you live in Virginia check out http://www.polyfacefarms.com/. Wonderful farm with exceptional products. Gourmet did a write up about them years ago. Really neat place to visit.

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  9. For further information on factory farming, check out the HBO production "Death on a Factory Farm":

    http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/deathfactoryfarm/index.html

    "the question is not, Can [animals] reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" ~ Jeremy Bentham

    ~Shelley S.

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  10. Thanks Shelley and Anonymous for the recommendations. I just bought Omnivore's Dilemma yesterday. I'll check out the websites and documentary next.

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