The Ugly Tomato

Yesterday I received notice from our friends at Soulsby Farm of their upcoming Ugly Tomato contest. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing the entries though unfortunately I am not sure that my own tomatoes will be ripe enough by the end of August for any photos at all. This is definitely shaping up to be an ugly tomato season here in Seattle, though I must confess I usually think that about this time of the year and am usually pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately there are other ugly aspects to tomatoes I have been learning about this week that are not quite so much fun. Like this story that International Justice Mission shared in their Recipe for Change newsletter this week.

Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers, the Navarretes. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. Read more here

It is hard for many of us to accept that slavery occurs in our own backyard. Yet it does and all of us can make a difference just by deciding where to shop and what to buy.

Today the nation’s largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida’s largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida’s tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers’ basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Unfortunately it is not just the tomato industry that takes advantage of workers. As we shop at farmers’ markets and fair trade stores we realize the true cost of our food and consumer goods – if all those who produced what we eat were paid a fair wage. Christians should be at the forefront of movements like this that raise concerns about how we treat the disant neighbours who produce our food.

My biggest concern is that we look for the same cheapness regardless of the costs to others when we view our faith. Several years ago I wrote about this in Cheap Faith? 

We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change. Read more 

So what do you think? How does our quest for the easy life with cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap living extend to our faith and impact our values?


The Price of Tomatoes: Keeping Slavery Alive in Florida


Brian McLaren at tomato pray in

Brian McLaren at tomato pray in

I love tomatoes and as those of you who follow this blog regularly know Tom & I are still waiting hopefully for some of our crop to ripen this year and we are not hopeful as the weather in the Pacific NW continues to be cool.  So can imagine I am anticipating we will be buying a lot of tomatoes from Florida this year.  Or at least I thought we would until I heard an NPR interview yesterday with Barry Estabrook the author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.  The book was based on a James Beard Award-winning article that originally appeared in Gourmet magazine, where Estabrook was a contributing editor before publication ceased in 2009.

Tomatoes are big business, but it looks as though little about the growing of tomatoes in Florida should make them appetizing to us.  And its not just the lack of taste or the huge amount of chemicals (more than 8 times what is used in California that is the concern – it is the slavery that goes into their production

“Of the legal jobs available, picking tomatoes is at the very bottom of the economic ladder. I came into this book chronicling a case of slavery in southwestern Florida that came to light in 2007 and 2008. And it was shocking. I’m not talking about near-slavery or slavery-like conditions. I’m talking about abject slavery. These were people who were bought and sold. These were people who were shackled in chains at night or locked in the back of produce trucks with no sanitary facilities all night.  read the entire article and listen to the interview

It seems to me that a lot of the agricultural industry still depends on the use of near slave labour and the exploitation of illegal immigrants but this seems to go even beyond that.  We cry out about the slavery in other parts of the world but tend to ignore our own complicity by the very decisions we make about what food we eat.  And in both cases you may be right.

So maybe I will learn to enjoy green tomatoes this year or to do without.  The thing that concerns me is that it does nothing to alleviate the plight of those who pick tomatoes in Florida.  Some of you may be saying that it also seems to have nothing to do with the series I am doing on tools for praying which I started this morning.  But I think that there is a connection. Estabrook refers in his article to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers  a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida that works to increase wages and improve conditions.

When I went to their website I read this article Fair Food Pray-in at Publix!

Yesterday, in Naples, Florida, several local clergy joined with farmworkers from Immokalee for the first-ever Fair Food “pray-in,” held in the produce aisle of a Publix supermarket, in protest of Publix’s ongoing refusal to support fairer wages and more humane working conditions for the workers who pick their tomatoes. Here’s an account of the action, from the Ft. Myers News-Press (“Immokalee coalition to pedal to Lakeland,” 8/20/11):

I noticed that in one of the photos was someone that looked surprisingly like our good friend Brian McLaren and guess what it was.  (see photo above).  This is not the first time Brian has stepped out in this way showing that prayer and action are closely linked.  Active involvement in issues like this is an important part of our prayer toolkit.  You can read the prayer they read here  or watch on youtube and maybe as Brian suggests it will stir you to prayerful action too.