Barry Estabrook wrote a book called Tomatoland. It is not necessarily the type of book that I would normally read, but I heard the author on a radio talk show, and he captured my imagination. Not because of my great love for tomatoes, but because he explained some things about the working conditions of the tomato pickers.
He explained that he was visiting his father in Naples, Florida when hard green missiles began falling off the truck in front of him and bouncing across the road. He had first assumed that they were green apples, but because his passion is food and his curiosity was aroused, he pulled over, picked up one of these foreign objects and discovered that it was, in fact, a tomato.
Although this fruit/vegetable had fallen out of a truck going the speed limit on a Florida four lane, and although it had bounced across the highway, when he began looking at the fallen tomatoes, he saw no nicks, no dents, no cracks and no significant scratches. Obviously, they were bred to be transported.
I’m not going to continue writing about the tomato itself or the extremely detailed account of the Florida Tomato Growers except for one particular section that deals with those people who live every day in those tomato fields. People who are exposed to “Pesticides, so toxic to humans and so bad for the environment that they are banned outright for most crops, are routinely sprayed on virtually every Florida tomato field, and in too many cases, sprayed directly on workers, despite federally mandated periods when fields are supposed to remain empty after chemical applications. All of this is happening in plain view, but out of sight, only a half-hour’s drive from one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with its estate homes, beachfront condominiums, and gated golf communities.”
Estabrook goes on to describe the horrific birth defects of the children being born from those pregnant female workers who have worked in the fields during the insecticide spraying, and the sheer abuse that these workers suffer from at the hands of the tomato growers. The most devastating examples of this abuse, however, come in the sections describing the fact that over the past decade and a half, numerous mid-management picker bosses have been arrested and prosecuted for actually holding immigrants as slaves, in chains, within high fenced areas and then buying and selling them to other mid-management picker bosses.
So, let’s recap, we are growing rock hard green tomatoes that can roll off of a truck at 65 mph, not bruise or break, are gassed to turn them red, are submitted to seven or eight times more chemicals than in California and that are picked, in the most extreme cases by SLAVES. Oh, yeah, and they taste like cardboard . . . or worse.
It simply puts this whole IPad manufacturing issue into perspective when we cry out about working conditions in other countries. Do we really want to know how old the little girls are who weave our Persian carpets, make our tennis shoes, or sew our suits? Do we really want to know what it costs to hire someone to pick something by hand in a field? Do we really care if the million and billionaires who run this country are paying taxes at the same level that we are? It’s always been very interesting to me as to what we ignore. In healthcare for example:
What is the infection rate at the hospital where you are going for surgery?
How about the patient or employee satisfaction rate is?
Or the re-admission rate for patients?
Do you know if your doc has a file with the National Physician Data Bank?
Or what his or her success ratio is for the type of surgery you’re having?
Probably not . . . but now, at least you know a little more about those rock hard tomatoes you’re eating in the winter!
Maybe, little by little, we’ll know where to look to protect ourselves and our fellow human beings.