Imagining a Fairer Food System
By: Wendy Silvius, Slow Food Cincinnati Education Chair
How do we consider what fairness means when we think of the food system? My good friend Remo often reminds me that we are to advocate for “the right to the pleasure of food for everyone, “ a beautiful ideal and the heart of what the Slow Food movement stands for. In other words, delicious shouldn’t be exclusive to those who can pay top dollar and “good” needs to become the birthright of all who share the planet. Everyone should be entitled to the bounty Mother Earth provides, and should be able to enjoy the terroir of the land they inhabit in the food it produces. This is the heart of “food sovereignty,” and is one important angle on the complex topic of “fair food.”
Modern Reality and the Food Chain Worker
But we live in an economically interconnected world where global capitalism dictates food production as often as climate and culture in rich countries like ours. Regions (even entire countries) specialize in producing certain foods so that those of us living in the northern latitudes can enjoy winter fruits and veggies; including the all-important fresh winter tomato which is most-often provided to us by my home state- Florida. The tomato fields of southwest Florida are responsible for ⅓ of the fresh tomatoes grown in the United States. Florida ships more than 1 billion pounds a year to the rest of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Americans bought 5 billion dollars worth of commercially-grown fresh tomatoes in 2009¹; despite the fact that most of us don’t like the taste of these supermarket tomatoes and would much prefer homegrown. This brings me back around to my point on fair food: I want the workers providing the food I prefer not to eat to be treated fairly and receive a decent wage. When they do not, the system we would like to change continues to make too much money by cheating people out of fair pay and decent working conditions. Thus the industrial food system remains strong economically, despite the ecological, social and environmental damage it does in the interest of producing cheap food with little-to-no taste. All the while, we consumers can to continue to pay less than the real price for our food, perpetuating the illusion of cheap food without any reminder of the significant external costs being paid by workers and the planet. This affects local small-scale organic farmers who, because they pay the real costs of production and must charge more, are thought to be “expensive.” We know that on the human level, it is just plain wrong to allow food chain workers to be underpaid, stolen from or abused. It should also be recognized that when we allow workers to be exploited we contribute to perpetuating the industrial food system. Like many modern social movements are acknowledging these days; we must own the fact that issues around creating a better food system are intersectional – impossible to isolate. We won’t be able to have “Good,” on a larger scale without “Clean” and “Fair.”
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers
These were the reasons we at Slow Food Cincinnati sponsored the Fair Food Forum, which took place on March 1st. Although we actively work for a movement that seeks to transition us humans away from an industrial model of food production, we acknowledge that change will come slowly, and thus we feel compelled to work for justice within the system we currently have. Large-scale, export-oriented farming still exploits food chain workers in ways that haven’t changed enough in its 500-year history on this continent. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers represents Florida farm workers employed on industrial tomato farms, the majority of whom are Latino(a). ”The CIW is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work. Built on a foundation of farmworker community organizing starting in 1993, and reinforced with the creation of a national consumer network since 2000, the CIW’s work has steadily grown over more than twenty years to encompass three broad and overlapping spheres: The Fair Food Program, the Anti-Slavery Campaign and the Campaign for Fair Food²”. The organization has won many awards for their work and has created a model for other farm worker movements. By going directly to the corporations who were using their buying power to dictate prices for tomatoes, the CIW has raised wages for farm workers in Immokalee and gained protections such as shade from the Florida sun, bathroom breaks and freedom from unpaid wait time in the fields. By asking for just one penny more per pound of tomatoes picked, the CIW brought corporate buyers onto this program, the Fair Food Program, with their first direct action against Taco Bell. Since that time they have added Whole Foods, Wal Mart and several others, resulting in $20 million of fair food premiums paid into the program which has directly supported the community of Immokalee and allowed the CIW to fund its other important human rights work. For more information on the CIW, check out their website: http://www.ciw-online.org/. Stay tuned as we at Slow Food Cincinnati promote their direct actions in Ohio, the home to two corporate players who have not yet signed onto the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s and Kroger.
1 Estabrook, Barry, Tomatoland, 2011