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Tomatoes of Death & Devestation

March 1, 2009

The more I try to commit to the whole “eat local, eat seasonal” thing, the more I seemingly stumble across more and more reasons to up that “try to commit” to “whole-heartedly commit”.

For instance:

  • Salmonella outbreak in tomatoes – no PA farms impacted.
  • Contaminated peanuts – no issues with local PA farms.
  • No PA cows have ever been determined to have Mad Cow Disease
  • Only the low-risk H5N1 bird flu has been found in PA (ok, so that’s probably not great) news, but its something.
  • So here’s the next crazy, hippy reason: Slavery.

    Ok, it’s true, I read my share of crazy liberal stuff – but I really don’t think you can group Gourmet Magazine into that category. And yet, all the same, the family and the boy all seemed a bit unconvinced when I was crazy preachy yesterday about the badness (badness? give me a break, it’s Monday) of buying tomatoes out of season, particularly from Florida & Mexico. But here’s what got me all up in arms and railing against current slavery.

    Article exerts and picture are from the March 2009 issue of Gourmet Magazine, written by Barry Estabrook:


    Involuntary servitude—slavery—is alive and well in Florida. Since 1997, law-enforcement officials have freed more than 1,000 men and women in seven different cases. And those are only the instances that resulted in convictions. Frightened, undocumented, mistrustful of the police, and speaking little or no English, most slaves refuse to testify, which means their captors cannot be tried.

    “Unlike victims of other crimes, slaves don’t report themselves,” said Molloy, who was one of the prosecutors on the Navarrete case. “They hide from us in plain sight.

    …When asked if it is reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave, Molloy said, “It is not an assumption. It is a fact.

    Full article…

    Holy hell, batman. That’s right, slaves.

    I can see how some peoples eyes glaze over when I start talking about sustainability or the benefits of buying organic, or even the benefits of buying locally to fuel your economy and fight against global warming. But, um, we can all agree that slavery is bad, yeah?

    And I’m not going to say that Florida is presumably alone in this modern-day indentured-servitude, and that other states (California, I’m looking at you), or even my state aren’t involved in this kind of crappola, but I can sure as hell tell you that I’ve been to Greensgrow and Willow Creek and Pennypack and Kimberton – these are dedicated stuerts-of-the-earth types. And hell, I’ll just say it. They just aren’t the slave-keepin’ type.

    So what to do what to do. I, for one, am not dramatically disappointed that I won’t be buying tasteless tomatoes all winter from the supermarket. I’m generally phasing out supermarket shopping anyway. But this article had some pointers, as well, which I love – much better then the whisle-blowing-but-that’s-the-reality-so-eh-whatca-gonna-do mentallity that I often see in articles coming out against “the man”:

    Buying Slave-Free Fruits
    (again, taken from Gourmet Magazine, same article – my comments in brackets)

    In the warm months, the best solution is to follow that old mantra: buy seasonal, local, and small-scale. [yay!!!!]

    But what about in winter? So far, Whole Foods is the only grocery chain that has signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, which means that it has promised not to deal with growers who tolerate serious worker abuses and, when buying tomatoes, to a pay a price that supports a living wage. When shopping elsewhere, you can take advantage of the fact that fruits and vegetables must be labeled with their country of origin.

    Most of the fresh tomatoes in supermarkets during winter months come from Florida, where labor conditions are dismal for field workers, or from Mexico, where they are worse, according to a CIW spokesman. One option during these months is to buy locally produced hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes, including cluster tomatoes still attached to the vine. Greenhouse tomatoes are also imported from Mexico, however, so check signage or consult the little stickers often seen on the fruits themselves to determine their source. You can also visit the CIW’s information-packed website (ciw-online.org) if you are interested in becoming part of the coalition’s efforts.

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