Food Chains: The Revolution in America's Fields

from our edible Community

By Sarah Wood, Edible Monterey Bay

Despite America’s pervasive obsession with food and the state of our food system, far too little attention is given to the price paid for our food by farmworkers.

FOOD CHAINS, opening December 4th at Gateway Film Center, is the latest film produced by author Eric Schlosser and actress Eva Longoria. It exposes the human cost of our food and the complicity in this of supermarkets and fast food outlets. It also provides hope for a better way. 

To view the trailer and learn more, go to:

Edible Monterey Bay: The release of FOOD CHAINS is generating a lot of excitement. What most excites you about the film?

Eric Schlosser: My introduction to America’s food system occurred twenty years ago when I followed the strawberry harvest in California, depicting the plight of migrant farm workers. It feels good that a film is finally addressing the issue of how we treat the workers who feed us. If you care about creating a sustainable food system, you have to care about the people at the very bottom of it. Because this system will never be sustainable if it’s based on the exploitation of the poorest, most vulnerable workers in the United States. 

EMB: You’re well known for writing Fast Food Nation and producing Food Inc., but lately you’ve been focused on nuclear weapons, which you write about in your new book, Command and Control. Why did you decide to revisit your concern about food and the people who produce it by making FOOD CHAINS?

ES: Of all the issues addressed in FAST FOOD NATION, the abuse of immigrant workers is the one that I care most about.

EMB: If people see just one documentary this year, why should it be FOOD CHAINS?

ES: If you eat a healthy diet, if you consume as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, then you are connected to these workers with every bite. I know a lot of vegetarians are concerned about animal rights, which is terrific. But we need to have more concern and more activism on behalf of human rights. 

EMB: What about this movie will surprise people?

ES: That slavery still exists in 21st century America.

EMB: What would surprise people about the treatment of farmworkers today?

ES: That in many ways thing are worse than they were decades ago, when Cesar Chavez and the UFW first made it clear that farmworkers deserve a living wage and life of dignity.

EMB: FOOD CHAINS examines the complicity of grocery chains and fast food companies in the poverty of farmworkers in America. What do you think it will take for them to start paying farmworkers their due? 

ES: Pressure from consumers will have a wonderful effect. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and even Wal-Mart are now part of the Fair Food Program, committed to eliminating abuses in the fields. There’s really no excuse at this point for the companies who refuse to do the right thing.

EMB: How do you see consumers as being complicit in the poverty—and even the enslavement—of farmworkers today?

ES: We are complicit by being unaware. We need to know where our food comes from and ensure that the people who bring it to us are treated fairly.

EMB: Is the welfare of our local farmworkers better than the average for farmworkers in the U.S.? Or worse? And why do you think that’s the case?

ES: It all depends on the farm and the farmer. I know that Driscoll’s traditionally has paid some of the highest wages in the industry and has been responsible for some of the best working conditions. Housing remains a terrible problem in our area. And there needs to be a stable work force so that growers don’t have to worry each season about who will be available to harvest their crops.

EMB: What is the good news to be gleaned from FOOD CHAINS?

ES: The good news is that within a decade, a small farm worker organization called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, based in one of the poorest agricultural communities in the nation, has eliminated slavery from local fields, ended the sexual harassment of female workers, and signed agreements with some of the world’s largest food companies that guarantee better wages and working conditions. The coalition’s success provides a model that can be emulated and extended to farm workers in other crops throughout the United States.

EMB: What are the most important things that individual consumers can do to help the plight of farmworkers?

ES: Open their eyes, look clearly at the problem, and take action. Every supermarket in this country should be supporting the Fair Food Program—and consumers can make that happen.