Did you know that our food system features modern-day slavery, substandard wages, sexual harassment, and illegal chemical exposure?
An email from my friends at Food Revolution announced the release of Food Chains, a new film by producers Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation and Eva Longoria, and I knew this was something I’d be so excited to share here. The Food Chains film is a documentary covering the issue of farm workers’ rights in the United States. The plight of the farm workers is beyond terrible: below poverty-level wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and the workers’ near invisible status in this country’s legal system ensures that the issues farm workers face are unknown to most of us. But this needs to change, and the Food Chains film is helping to give voice to this issue.
A few years ago I reviewed Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook which looked at the problem of farm workers rights in the Florida tomato growing sector. The film is a clear companion to Estabrook’s book– Esabrook even makes a few appearances in the film– but the film allows us to delve deeper into some of the issues. And because it’s a documentary, it allows us to meet the farmers, bear witness to their daily reality, and hopefully take action.
What are the big concerns addressed in the Food Chains film?
- The people that pick our strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, wine grapes and everything else make a abysmally low wage for some of the hardest work; their workday is often dawn until dusk, if not longer.
- The living conditions for much of the farmworker community is substandard, often illegal and yet, because it’s managed by the farms, sometimes very costly. Many farmworkers, who travel to follow the harvests, sleep outside in camps or in the open. Many live together as families or groups to share the costs.
- The dangers faced by farmworkers is terrifying: stolen passports, indentured servitude, sexual harassment, daily unregulated pesticide and chemical exposure which leads to an array of health issues.
- Invisibility: many of the workers are undocumented immigrants from Central and South America, with limited English skills and thus afraid of complaining or organizing.
- In the wealthiest nation in the world, it is an embarrassment that farmworkers are still living in awful conditions and being paid a tiny percentage of the cost of food. One example: whether a bottle of wine is $40 or $400, about 25 cents goes to the farmworkers, despite the fact that wine is the most profitable value-added product.
- But change is happening! Groups like Coalition of Immokalee Workers (Florida tomato farmworkers) and United Farm Workers are taking a stand and earning better wages, improved working conditions and raising awareness of this cause.
How You can Help:
You can show the film at your home for movie night, or host a screening at a neighborhood theater. As soon as I got the email from Food Revolution, I scheduled a screening at our local Impact HUB in Honolulu to get the message out to as many people as possible. I loved the film– it was moving, terrifying, embarrassing and engaging. US News and World Report says Food Chains is, “A tremendously important new movie,” and the New York Times calls it “Rousing … emphatic and empathetic.” As the cartoon below shows, there are lots of ways you can engage: by asking the right questions, choosing food you know is fair, and working with your local restaurants and stores to clean up the supply chain.
You can watch the film now on various services for a small fee; I paid only $4.99 on iTunes for the rental. I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about the state of agriculture in this country, and to anyone who eats. We cannot choose to ignore this issue for much longer, or it will be the death of American agriculture and of our integrity of the nation.
In related news, the 2015 Food Revolution Summit starts next week. It’s a week long summit of world-renowned speakers, doctors, and activists like Dr. Vandana Shiva, Dr. Michael Greger, Anna Moore Lappe, and Tony Robbins. It’s free, and I encourage everyone interested in learning more about health, wellness and our food system to tune in. Sign up using the link above!