Directed by Sanjay Rawai (2014)
This documentary concerns a week-long hunger strike the Coalition of Immokalee (CIW) workers held in 2014 in front of Publix headquarters in Lakeland Florida. Their goal was to pressure Florida’s main supermarket chain to join the Fair Food Program. Under this agreement, supermarkets pay slightly more for tomatoes to allow growers to pay farmworkers better.
At the time of filming Florida tomato pickers were averaging $13,000 a year working 10-12 hour days, while enduring toxic chemical exposure from pesticides and herbicides, wage theft. exploitation by slavery rings and (in the case of women workers) rape and sexual harassment.
As the filmmakers document, the complexity of US supply chains means that retailers like supermarkets and fast food restaurant, rather than growers, set the wholesale price of tomatoes and other vegetables. There are many years the prices growers receive are so low (due to competition with cheap Mexican imports) they leave their crop in the field because they can’t afford to harvest it.
For me, the most interesting part of the film traces the history of US farmers replacing African American slaves with immigrant agricultural workers. Initially the industry relied on Chinese, Japanese and Punjabi workers. In the 20th century, legal Mexican migrants replaced other nationalities.
I find it intriguing that most of the industrial North relies on immigrant labor (from destabilized third countries) to harvest food crops.** Squeezed by low prices they receive from supermarkets and fast food outlets, they can’t afford to pay a living wage to native workers.
*Companies that have signed onto the Fair Food Program include
- Ahold USA (2015)
- Aramark (2010)
- Bon Appetit Management Company (2009)
- Burger King (2008)
- Chipotle Mexican Grill (2012)
- Compass Group (2009)
- The Fresh Market (2015)
- McDonald’s (2007)
- Sodexo (2010)
- Subway (2008)
- Trader Joe’s (2012)
- Walmart (2014)
- Whole Foods Market (2008)
- Yum Brands (2005)
**In New Zealand, growers pay immigrants from the Pacific Islands to pick their crop.
The full film can be viewed free on Beamafilm.