Photo: Don Bartletti for the Los Angeles Times
Half the tomatoes consumed in the United States come from Mexico. In supermarkets like Whole Foods, Safeway and Wal-Mart, they sit in gleaming, unblemished piles, wearing stickers that dub them a “Product of Mexico.” But although many of these supermarkets say their Mexican suppliers have fair labor practices and decent living conditions for their workers, an in-depth investigation by the Los Angeles Times has revealed otherwise.
After 18 months investigating farm labor camps across nine Mexican states, the paper has uncovered stories of criminally low wages, squalid living conditions, and threats of violence for thousands of workers — all taking place under a blind eye from the Mexican government and the U.S. companies that import this produce for our consumption. These findings are being published in a must-read series about the Mexican mega-farms that supply a lot of our food, the first of which you can check out here.
The Times’ series comes on the heels of the Eva Longoria-produced documentary Food Chains, which explores the agricultural labor industry on our side of the border, and is currently in theaters in NYC. Though the film has a more uplifting focus on The Fair Food Program (FFP) – which you can read more about in our coverage of the film – it also touches on the dehumanizing labor practices that plague the industry in the U.S.
On both sides of the border, the problem is depressingly similar.
In the era of Big Agriculture, it can be really hard to find out where your food comes from and how it’s grown, and the movement to increase transparency about these issues is easy to cast as an upper-middle class obsession.
But pieces like this LA Times series and Food Chains remind us to stay woke.
Food justice is about more than whether your food is “organic” (and organic agriculture is being coopted into more of a premium branding tool than an actual assurance of food quality anyway). It’s also about a fair and sustainable production process. As field hand Japolina Jaimez, who was interviewed by the Times put it: “They want us to take such great care of the tomatoes, but they don’t take care of us.”