I used to eat way too much fast food. Those who have been with me awhile know I have read a few books on the subject of the food industry, but even with all I have learned, I have struggled in the past to avoid the comfort and convenience of food handed to me through my car window. I am doing much better today: In 2011, my New Year’s Resolution was to not eat anything from McDonald’s (this was extremely difficult at first, but now, over a year later, I still haven’t had so much as a french fry from there) and I gave up all fast food for Lent (this was a challenge). I can’t remember how many times I have had fast food so far this year. I think it was once, but it may have been twice. The fact that I have lost 20 pounds has certainly helped me stay motivated, but it’s more than that – I feel better overall about the choices I’m making for myself and my family.
I read chapters 5-6 of the book, and learned about a national anti-fast food campaign that did not sound one bit familiar to me even though it originated right here in Florida. This part of the book talks about what the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) have accomplished through grassroots efforts. It took them several years, but they were able to talk several major fast food chains to pay an extra penny per carton of tomatoes (not sure how many tomatoes this is) and have that extra penny go directly to the workers who pick the tomatoes. One penny. They started with Taco Bell over ten years ago, and moved on others. Now they have moved on to grocery stores (more on that later).
They have also put themselves at risk to stop modern day slavery and to end the practices of terrorizing (beating, etc.) farm workers to force them to put up with horrible working conditions. The group actually started after a man was beaten by a crew leader. “The next morning, when the crew boss who had beaten Edgar pulled up to the parking lot in his bus, not a soul would get aboard. Other crew leaders took note. That happened in 1996.” Coalition members say that beatings stopped after this action – before this, workers were so afraid for their own safety that they would look the other way instead of banding together.
This chapter really exposed gaps in my education and cultural knowledge. Not only was I not away of the CIW, I was also very unfamiliar with the methods used by civil rights groups to train victims on how to protect their own civil rights. Estabrook specifically mentions “popular education” techniques, developed by Paulo Freire in the 1960s. I had to look up his book: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is still in print. Estabrook elaborates on some of the popular education techniques, namely how they use nontraditional teaching methods – using music, theater, etc. in part to help bridge language barriers while establishing solidarity. I would like to learn more about Freire’s teaching methods.
About grocery stores, the book says that Whole Foods penned a deal with the CIW, but that other grocery stores did not (at least they had not at the time this chapter was written). According to their website, Trader Joe’s recently signed with them, too (how I miss you, Trader Joe’s). Guess what store they are targeting now? Publix – the store I shop at. On the CIW “take action” page, there is a letter template to take to Publix managers (you have to scroll down a bit) – I have already printed my copy and will advise our family to take copies to the store as well. There are letter templates for others grocery chains, as well as a generic one for everyone else.
the life expectancy of a migrant worker in the United States is only forty-nine years. According to U.S. Labor Department figures, migrant workers typically make between $10,000 and $12,000 a year, a figure that is distorted because it includes the higher wages paid to field supervisors. Based on forty-hour work weeks, that means workers’ hourly earnings are between five and six dollars, well below minimum wage. The average household income for farm workers in the United States is between $15,000 and $17,500 a year, well below the federal poverty line of $20,650 and less than half of what is considered a living wage for someone residing in Immokalee.
Once again, we have evidence that our food choices affect the civil rights of others. I am doubly sure we won’t be buying tomatoes from Publix for the foreseeable future.
This section of the book also allows the growers to share their side of the story. It was pretty upsetting to read – I can’t say I felt any sympathy for them.