"Food Chains" unveils the true cost of fresh food


Every growing and harvest season, hundreds of thousands of legal and undocumented immigrants flow into the major farming areas of the United States to provide a labor force that cares for its harvests. It is easy to forget these people whose hands pour 8-12+ hours a day into our fresh fruits and vegetables, and only receive around $42-50 dollars a day for their backbreaking labor.

Sanjay Rawal does not want us to forget these individuals.

In 2014, Rawal filmed a documentary called Food Chains, which exposed the condition of farm laborers in the United States. Specifically focused on Immokalee, Florida and the tomato industry, his work unveiled the exploitation that occurs right in front of our eyes.

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Large supermarket and fast food industries have a monopsony, controlling the rates of what they will pay for products. If something can be purchased cheaper overseas, companies will invest there, pushing domestic and international farms into bankruptcy and making the cost of growing crops, such as tomatoes, three times as much. As a result, farmworkers are riddled with constant struggle and abuse. As one worker states in the film, “You are poor because you are making others rich.”

Framed around a six-day hunger strike against Publix by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rawal addresses a core issue within the food industry: the unregulated and lack of government oversight for these farms where sexual and physical abuse and labor trafficking easily occur.

It is staggering to think that there are only 14 farm inspectors for the 40,000 farms in Florida. Without oversight, it is easy to understand how exploitation is taking place in these locations and how the farmworkers’ lack of a living wage forces them into homelessness. A simple request for Publix to provide just one more penny per bushel of tomatoes would only cost them 1 million of their 31 billion profit, but the decision-makers remain silent throughout the film. This is why the hunger strike was key.

This film is a poignant reminder of how this issue has been repeatedly dealt with in our society: ignored and denied.

And this film is not the first time this issue has been addressed. In the 1960’s, CBS did a report about the conditions of farm labor called Harvest of Shame, which speaks about exploitation that is still continuing today. It is chilling to think that the lack of ignorance and awareness still exists, keeping a form of slavery alive and active on our farms today. Traffickers exploit the most vulnerable groups, threatening to expose those in fear of deportation if they speak against the abuse they are experiencing. The CIW reports that 80% of women in farm labor experience sexual assault and harassment, and most of these abuses go unreported because there has not been a system to defend and protect undocumented workers.

The crux of the matter is this: Denying individuals the right to have a living wage to be able to provide food and shelter for their families is a key part of the food industry. They are forced to sacrifice their energy, time, and dignity in order to produce the stacks of fruit and vegetables that line our grocery store aisles. The CIW is working to change that dynamic by asking major supermarket and fast food industries to agree to a Fair Food program that requires them to adhere to standards that will help give needed provision to farm laborers and improve working conditions.

And CIW is making change happen! Since 2011, the Fair Food program has educated 220,000 workers on their rights, resolved 2,000 workers complaints, and received $26 million in premiums from the companies that have agreed with their terms. This is a hopeful indicator that this issue is one that can be dealt with if individuals and the food industry begins to care about the workers that care for our food.

Not only are large corporations being invited to change their behaviors. Consumers are being asked to be aware and involved in the movement to end labor trafficking throughout the states. As a worker in the film stated plainly, “If you eat, you are affected.” Food Chains calls us to be a part of the stories of the many hands that go into our fresh produce by not being passive, silent, or ignoring the suffering that they experience. We already are a part of this system that exploits, but we also are a part of a community that can see change happen for the most vulnerable populations of our society.

So, how can we do this?

We can be INFORMED and EMPOWERED by:

  • Shopping at organizations that support the Fair Food Program, like WalMart, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Yum Foods, Sodexo, Aramark, Chipotle, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald’s;

  • Checking out these resources to learn more:

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About the Author


Grace is a survivor of human trafficking who is working on a degree in professional psychology. She is passionate about being a part of the movement to end slavery by providing trauma-informed services to fellow survivors after her schooling is finished. She is an avid reader, loves to create art and music, play with animals, and take note of the little bits of beauty that make up ordinary life.