In Theaters This Month, Food Chains Examines the Harsh Reality of Most American Farm Workers

“To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd,” author and farmer Wendell Berry once said. And even though Americans are now much more aware of where our food comes from and what goes into it, we still know alarmingly little about the actual people who pick it for us. Food Chains is a new documentary that seeks to enlighten the public about this facet the farming industry by exploring the unfair and oftentimes downright immoral manner in which thousands of American farm workers are treated.

The movie follows a group of tomato pickers in southern Florida as they fight for their basic rights, requesting privileges like taking a break when they are tired or to be protected from sexual harassment in the fields. In addition to highlighting these abuses, the plot centers around a bitter irony: despite picking thousands of pounds of food a day, many of these workers struggle to feed their own families on their meager wage of just one penny per pound picked. One of the stars of the film, Lucas Benitez, explains how he and fellow tomato gatherers would pick and average of 4,000 pounds of produce a day each to be able to take home just $40.

The film was directed by Sanjay Rawal, and produced by journalist and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and actress and activist Eva Longoria. “Today in our time, we have people chained in the fields, we have people beaten, we have people doing work that are not paid, we have women who are sexually abused, we have women who have been raped,” explains Longoria. “And that is today, in America, in our fields.”

Although Food Chains tells the tale of just one microcosm in the produce industry, it also shows how the same issues faced by the workers in Immokalee, Florida are rampant across the United States. Though the film’s subject matter may sound bleak, it’s interlaced with an optimistic and graspable call to action. The Fair Food Program, which was formed by the same oppressed Immokalee farm workers introduced in the beginning of the movie, calls for the supermarkets and fast food chains that drive the produce market to pay a premium that will allow farm workers to be paid just one penny per pound more, thereby doubling their wages. So far, the FFP has convinced nearly all American fast food chains (with the exception of Wendy’s) to make this pledge. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Walmart have also signed on, but other supermarket giants such Publix still refuse — something that can be turned around with pressure from consumers (that’s us).

Yes, knowing the pedigree of an heirloom tomato or what it means to sous-vide a fish are important, but don’t they seem to pale in comparison to making sure that the very first hands to touch our food are treated as human beings and compensated properly?

The film will premiere in select cities (including New York City) on November 21st.

Featured photo credit: Facebook/Food Chains

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