Posts Tagged ‘the price of tomatoes’


Immokalee Workers, by fairfoodnyc

Immokalee Workers, by fairfoodnyc



One of my favorite days of the month is when my Gourmet magazine arrives. Gourmet’s simple, warm and rustic photos visually stimulate my senses, the flavor-packed recipes rev-up my salivary response, and their articles…oh how I love the Politics of the Plate column, the Good Living Travel section, and of course their ever-changing features. My goal as an aspiring food journalists is to write for Gourmet. The magazine stands for everything I believe food is–a right to all, fair to producers, workers, consumers and the environment, and of course an outlet for creativity, nutrition, and fun. The reiterates my belief that Gourmet magazine cares about people more than advertising revenue.

The article, The Price of Tomatoes by Barry Estabrook moved me. Estabrook took a simple grocery store item-the tomato-and told its story. Now, let’s consider the tomato. This versatile fruit is used in everything from pasta and pizza to salads and soups. Since it is a common staple on many grocery lists, supermarkets now keep these plump, acidic products in the produce section year round, despite that tomatoes are not in season during harsh winter months.

So where do these tasteless tomatoes come from? If they are from the United States, 90% come from Immokalee, Florida. Immokalee’s population is 70% Latino (primarily illegal immigrants). Over 1/3 live below the poverty line, and the average yearly income is a meager $8500. Not to mention, a large majority of the population is uneducated.  Sounds sad, right? Not if you are one of the men that exploit this uneducated, underpaid and vulnerable population. These tomato farmers see the hispanics as a gateway to higher profits. It amazes me how invaluable the human life is to some. I’m pretty sure much of corporate American doesn’t see humans when they look at their working crowd, they see dollar signs. If not, how could they ever live with themselves?

Here’s a look at the life of tomato picker, Cesar Navarette, 23, from Mexico. Navarette began working illegally to send money home to his family.

  • Residence: the back of a box truck where three other workers live, no running water or toilet–$20 dollars a week
  • Hygiene: cold showers with a hose behind landlord’s house–$5 each
  • Food: two meals of eggs, beans, rice, torillas–price varies
  •  Work: Attend hiring fair at 5 a.m., and board bus to be taken to tomato farm. Grab bushel bag, and fill it with 32 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Each bag pays $0.32, and on a good day you make $50. That assumes you are in peak physical condition and that environmental factors are favorable (no dew, no rain, etc)

So, there it is. That is how the tomato you’ve eaten this Winter, probably even today, traveled from the field to your plate. An enslaved worker made it all possible, just for you and the tomato you bought to put in your salad. Maybe you didn’t even eat all your tomato, and the backbreaking work was done for nothing.  Still skeptical about slavery in the tomato industry? This powerful quote from Douglas Molloy, chief assistant to U.S. attorney in Fort Myers in response a question by Estabrook should confirm any suspensions you may have.

Estabrook: “Is it reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave?”

Malloy:  “It is not an assumption. It is a fact.”

As with most stories, there is hope ahead. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) convinced Whole Foods, Yum Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John Silvers, and A&W), McDonalds, Subway, and Burger King to pay one cent more per pound of tomatoes to go towards workers.  However, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange that represents 90% of farmers, refused to agree to the raise. Since then, “Whole Foods is the only supermarket to sign the Campaign for Fair Food–meaning, they won’t buy from growers who tolerate serious worker abuses, and when buying tomatoes, to pay a price that supports minimum wage.”

So, next time you go to the grocery store and see the ripe tomatoes, try this before you buy them…smell the, hold the fleshy fruit, and imagine the tomato’s journey from farm to table and ask yourself, ” Is eating a mushy, flavorless tomato in January really worth a human life?”


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