FOOD CHAINS On DemandDecember 08, 2014
FOOD CHAINS is yet another example of how broken the food system is in our country, this time shedding a light on the deplorable working conditions many migrant farm workers face while picking the food that feeds us. Most American’s have no idea how our food ends up on shelves in supermarkets. There have been many documentaries exposing everything from factory farms to the dangers of GMO’s, but we rarely hear about the actual people who are in the fields.
In his directorial feature film debut, Sanjay Rawal introduces us to the tomato pickers of Immokalee, Florida as they mobilize a campaign against Publix Supermarket, the largest buyer of tomatoes during the season.
Farmworkers in Florida picking tomatoes are paid by the bucket photo courtesy FOOD CHAINS (Screen Media)
The film opens with scenes of an impoverished section of Immokolee, Florida, where farm workers are living in trailers with as many as 15 other people. These workers leave their homes at 5am and get bussed to farms where they work all day for a penny for every pound of tomatoes they pick. It is back-breaking work in the hot sun, while breathing in pesticides from neighboring farms. They don’t get paid until their first bucket of tomatoes is filled. During this time, they can experience sexual and physical abuse in the largely unsupervised fields, until they arrive back home at 8pm with a check for about $42 for a days work.
“You come to the realization how little you mean to the people you are working for” says one farm worker. The film explains how the retail food giants, the buyers of these tomatoes, yield too much power over the supply chain and set impossible prices which farms must meet or they will get left out of the purchasing cycle.
We meet members of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) who launched the Fair Food Program with the goal of partnering with farms and retail food companies to ensure humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables. They are trying to sit down with members of the supply chain to discuss their program and to garner an additional penny per pound of tomatoes they pick. In an effort to get their attention, the CIW organizes a Hunger Strike outside of Publix Headquarters.
Exploiting migrant workers is nothing new in this country and why the film integrates archival footage such as Robert Kennedy Jr, joining Hugo Chavez, in Los Angeles, during a famous hunger strike in 1972. The issue continues today because the workers feel they will be fired or deported if they speak up which adds to what is truly a modern day slavery situation. Appearances are made by members of the Kennedy Family (Ethel Kennedy and RFK, Jr) who join the CIW workers during their Hunger Strike, keeping their families support of this issue alive.
On-air interviews with Eric Schlosser (FAST FOOD NATION and FOOD INC) and actress and farm worker advocate, Eva Longoria, are included who both serve as the Executive Producers on the film. The 82 minute film is narrated by Oscar© Winning Actor, Forest Whitaker, using English subtitles throughout. The filmmaker does a great job with imagery, working in bright splashes of tomato red color over an otherwise drab and dull backdrop. The film also incorporates colorful info-graphics and factoids throughout, explaining how things work in the supply chain.
Eva Longoria, FOOD CHAINS (Screen Media)
With the recent announcement by President Obama to grant immunity to thousands of undocumented citizens, it appears the farm workers are going to be vastly left out. Many say the lobbyists keep them out of the mix because we won’t have anyone to work in the fields. Given that food is something we are going to need no matter what happens, one thing is certain, we can’t wait for legislation in this country to create the change we want to see.
After watching FOOD CHAINS it will make you want to act, which is what I did first by making sure my parents living in Southwest Florida were aware of this issue.
It’s all about the right for consumer transparency -- we use organic labeling to ensure we are not getting harmful pesticides on our food; we are battling to get GMO labeling; in NYC, food chains must show calorie counts on everything; and we have fair trade labeling for imported crops like coffee and chocolate. How about for workers picking the food in our own country, regardless of their status? Know thy farmer.
Being a conscious consumer and voting with our wallets
for consumer initiatives like Fair Food Program
may be the best option we have.
Kim Gabelmann is a special correspondent to On Demand Weekly and the founder of consciousfork, a farm to table juice bar and vegan eatery in Warwick, NY. She is a marketing and business development consultant and a certified health counselor. She is the former Senior Vice President of Branded Entertainment and Partnerships for Sundance Channel and Independent Film Channel (IFC).
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