Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Food Issues: Tomatoes and Slavery

When I started out writing about this topic I knew I was in over my head. Like way over my head. I wondered if I could do justice to the subject. I'm still not sure. But I don't just want to sit on the idea of perhaps one day writing this post. So I'm going to recommend you read this.

It's the old story happening again and again around the world. Gangmasters supply workers, who are often indebted to them and/or sigh up under false pretences, to farmers. And every one up the supply chain has no idea (honestly) what the people bellow them are doing. From the conditions the workers are forced to work in
"he expects to spend between ten and twelve hours a day in the exposed tomato fields, picking by hand; bending, plucking and carrying the filled crates. The work is arduous, repetitive and hot. The temperature can reach 40C degrees."
Or live in
"There's no running water or electricity. The men appear to sleep communally on mattresses spread out across the stone floor. The workers cook, wash and shit outdoors... it will be so overcrowded that some will have to sleep outside"
Or how little they are paid especially after:
"Some deduct money from wages upfront for workers' food, accommodation and transport. Others charge for these essentials after they've been paid. Other 'services' and supplies must also be paid for – charging a mobile phone, organising clean drinking water, supplying a bike "
And all this for tomatoes. Slavery to produce what has become a staple in most households, including my own. Which makes it almost impossible to know what to do. The problem stems from the same old issue. Prices of production are going up while prices we pay for food are staying the same, or going down. And while the easy answer of pay more for your tomatoes sits at the tip of the tongue the reality is that in some households that isn't an option.

If it is for you that is great. We'll talk about other options later. It angers me though that we live in a world, we're part of a food system where the only way for some people to survive is to kick others in the teeth. That ethics are something that we pay extra for. Ethical practices should be the default not the selling point. I wouldn't pat a man on the back for not enslaving people but corporations expect a hearty 'well done for not being a monster'.

Tomatoes for passata
So what is there to do? Educate yourself about the issue, advocate for change and, when possible, make ethical choices with your shopping. I'll be reading up as much as I can, not to mention passing my reading along in rants, writing to my supermarkets to ask that they make sure that all parts of their supply chain are fair to their workers.

The other thing we do, and have done for the last two years, is to make our own passata (beware of the cheese when following that first link). This is first year that we are using bought tomatoes. The balcony tomatoes usually supply us just fine - last year we had enough passata for home made pizza every other month - but this year was terrible and so we bought some in from Riverford. This is obviously a very time intensive process and it does involve learning about preserving safely but it is fairly easy and tastes wonderful. If - big if, I know - you are able and willing I recommend giving it a go.

I don't want to write any conclusion here because I haven't got an easy answer but I feel that isn't good enough of a reason to ignore a problem. And even though none of us are able to take big world changing steps here, the little ones can all add up.

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