I grew up eating a lot of tomatoes, learning at one point how to can tomatoes, and appreciating the bounty and deliciousness of summer delivered to you from just a few yards away from your doorstep.
But earlier this week, I participated in a march led by the The Coalition of Immokalee Workers with members of my home congregation, The Fourth Universalist Society, because it’s astounding to me how long this fight is taking.
This organization of field workers from Florida, and their partner, The Alliance for Fair Food has made great strides in insuring that those people who do the back-breaking labor of getting food to the supply chain from the fields, to growers, to large corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Subway or Stop & Shop are free from gross exploitation.
The Immokalee workers come from one center of the Florida growing region, known for tomatoes among other crops.
Because domestic workers and farm workers are not covered by labor laws in this country such as those that endure safety and allow for unions, they organized to bring about the “penny a pound” system. Corporations have signed on pay a penny per pound of the produce they receive to set up a body that independently investigates complaints of abuse – particularly sexual violence against women in the fields and modern-day slavery conditions.
But there is one hold-out corporation – Wendy’s corporation. For several years, Wendy’s has refused to sign on to the Fair Food agreement.; they source their tomatoes from Mexico, and have enacted heir own “code of conduct”
The march started at a Wendy’s restaurant on 45th and Third Avenue, and went several blocks to the offices of Norman Peltz, Chairman of Wendy’s board, on Park Avenue and 49th.
28 members of the Immokalee coalition, came from Florida. including Sylvia Perez and many others, including the youth-children of the workers.
The focus of this march and rally was to highlight women. A traveling exhibit up at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and Columbia University in the previous week told their stories.
Wave after wave of allegations about sexual assault, harassment, and predation of women has been permeating the news – largely about the celebrities and politicians. But the food we eat is also touched by this exploitation and violence against women, who are often harassed in the fields and on the job in fast-food restaurants.
As Ruth Messenger, former New York City democratic politician and current president of the American Jewish World Service, the food of Wendy’s tastes like injustice to us.
Why put it in our bodies?