Winter tomatoes

13 Mar

I’ve been meaning to post about this Gourmet magazine story, “The Price of Tomatoes” for a few weeks now, ever since I saw it on Metrocurean. The Internet Food Association wrote about it last week as well. I finally got around to finishing the article last night. If you haven’t read it, you should. It discusses the modern-day slavery conditions that winter-tomato pickers endure in Florida.

Immokalee is the tomato capital of the United States. Between December and May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes we eat come from south Florida, and Immokalee is home to one of the area’s largest communities of farmworkers. According to Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Immokalee has another claim to fame: It is “ground zero for modern slavery.”

This story, and others like it, have garnered enough publicity to start the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a non-profit group that works for farmworkers’ rights in Florida and gets restaurants and grocery stores to agree to buy produce grown without slave-labor.

The article demonstrates the importance of buying local (a kick I’ve been on since reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma). The IFA agreed:

The wrong message to take away from this story, however, is that it is doubly tragic because the tomatoes we get in the winter are pretty much inedible anyway. Would it be any more forgivable if they were harvesting delicious summer tomatoes? I would also imagine, sadly, that you could write similar stories about other summer vegetables that improvements in growing and transportation have made it possible to have all year round. To me, this again highlights the fact that it is important to eat seasonally. Eating a summer vegetable in the winter, for example, increases the likelihood that it is trucked in from somewhere else where there is less oversight over how the workforce is treated.

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