Justice Tastes Better

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

Yet another good reason to know where your food comes from: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) exposes the harsh working conditions of immigrant farmers who harvest most of the nation’s winter-grown tomatoes in Immokalee, Florida.

From CIW’s website: “For several months now, Burger King and the Florida tomato growers’ lobby have joined forces to “debunk the myth” of farmworker poverty, in their effort to fight back against workers demanding a raise in the picking piece rate.

The piece rate — defined as the price paid to pickers for every 32-lb bucket of tomatoes they pick — has remained effectively stagnant for nearly thirty years. In 1980, the going piece rate was 40 cents per bucket. Today, twenty eight years later, workers are paid an average of only 45 cents per bucket.

Burger King and Florida’s tomato growers say farmworker poverty is a “myth.” The US Department of Labor says farmworkers are “a labor force in significant economic distress,” suffering “low wages (and) sub-poverty annual earnings.”

I’m trying to imagine throwing a 32-lb bucket of tomatoes, over my head, roughly 100 times a day. For $0.45 a

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

throw.  After leaning over to pick approximately 60 tomatoes to fill my bucket – all in the space 10 minutes or so.  Every 10 minutes, I pick 60 tomatoes, walk down the line, throw them up into a truck, then walk back and pick some more…this to earn $45 in a 10-hr workday that starts at 4:30am.

It’s just kind of staggering.  Don’t get me wrong – I am no stranger to hard work.  I’ve been working one job or another since I was 11 years old and some of them were not exactly cushy:  cleaning toilets and frathouses, lugging kegs and double- and triple-stacked racks of beer, and waitressing triple shifts all summer long among them.  But the money I was making then, as a kid in the 80’s, was still more than these workers make now, 20-30 years later, and I didn’t have to go home to over-crowded, broken-down living conditions, and then worry about whether or not I could even get my crappy job day after day after day.

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

Photo credit JJ Tiziou.

This is the true price of $1 hamburgers at Burger King and $1.99 ‘meal’ specials at Taco Bell. This is the true cost of buying cheap winter tomatoes because you “can’t imagine” a salad without fresh tomatoes.  This is the consequence of not knowing where your food comes from, of being so divorced from our food and how it is produced that we do not spend a moment to think “How can they afford to charge only $2/lb for tomatoes in February?”

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