Why you should reconsider the price you pay for this summer favorite.
The terrible working conditions in tomato fields have become the subject of hot debate. We talked with Eric Schlosser, author
of Fast Food Nation and executive producer of the James Beard Award-winning film Food Chains, which is about
the tomato-worker revolution.
Q: Why did you decide to make a film about tomato workers?
A: The tomato fields of Florida have had some of the worst working conditions in the United
States—even modern-day slavery. Picking tomatoes is hard: hot, stressful and a single worker may harvest and carry 4,000
pounds of tomatoes in one day. It’s some of the hardest work you can imagine for some of the lowest pay. Wages had declined
over the last 30 years (relative to inflation), and minimum-wage violations and wage theft were routine. So was sexual
harassment and farmworkers being treated like indentured servants. A farmworker group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
(CIW), has been working hard to change the conditions in Florida.
Q: What is the CIW doing to change tomato-farmworker conditions?
A: They’ve been working on this issue for more than 20 years. One of their initiatives is
asking retailers to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes. That extra penny subsidizes a wage premium, a worker hotline and
an oversight and enforcement agency—the Fair Food Standards Council—that makes sure workers get treated with dignity and
respect. Thanks to the CIW’s program, the working conditions in Florida tomato fields are now considered some of the nation’s
Q: What’s a Fair Food
The Fair Food label shows that workers who pick those tomatoes were treated right: there
was no sexual harassment, the wage was decent, they had avenues for complaining about working conditions. [Look for Fair Food
tomatoes at participating stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Walmart, and restaurants including Taco Bell and
Q: What’s the difference between a Fair Food tomato and one that’s organic or local?
A: Everyone who eats fruits and vegetables should care about the farmworkers who harvest these
foods. Our good health depends upon their hard labor. The organic label is wonderful, but it only describes how a food was
produced. And local agriculture is important, too, but it doesn’t guarantee that workers are treated fairly. I’m a big
supporter of organic agriculture—but, ultimately, I care more about protecting basic human rights. The Fair Food label lets
you know that when you buy that tomato, you’re helping people, not subjecting them to misery.