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 Appétit. 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!