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Don’t buy tomatoes raised by slaves | New World Seeds & Tubers

There are number of somewhat unrelated tomatoes here. If the issue were just quality, go ahead and buy lousy tomatoes if that’s what you want. Just don’t buy tomatoes raised by slaves. If it comes to that, grow your own.

Tears are coming down as I type this, because it’s reminding me of the child-slavery used to make handmade oriental rugs. Remember Iqbal Masih. Shot in the back at the age of 13.

Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.

Barry Estebrook via CNN Report: How the modern day tomato came to be

There are two factors at work here. The first is that the tomatoes are picked when they’re immature and no matter what you do, an immature tomato will never get any taste; though it might look alluring.

The second problem with industrial tomatoes is that for the last fifty years, they’ve been bred for one thing only, and that’s yield. One farmer told me, “I get paid per pound. I don’t get paid a cent for taste.” Sadly, he was right.

This is true of many foods and especially fruits. Some fruits are not available commercially at all because they don’t ship well. This has always been true to some degree but it’s exacerbated by globalization and global monoculture. Local products got to the table faster.

Production has been pushed over almost all other issues for most crops. I think it’s gotten well past the point of diminishing returns. Tom and I tend to care more about disease-resistance, flavor, color, and overall aesthetics.

The main problem is that tomatoes’ ancestors come from desert areas. They’re adapted to extremely dry, low-humidity areas. That’s why Southern Italy and parts of California are so good for tomatoes; it doesn’t rain all summer. Florida is notoriously humid, which is just perfect conditions for all of the funguses, rusts, blights, insects and pests that destroy tomatoes.

That’s why they have to use 110 different chemicals, fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides to even get a crop. Florida and California grow about the same amount of tomatoes. Florida uses eight times to get the same agricultural product.

I was going to say that it would be an exaggeration to say that tomatoes come from extremely dry desert areas, but then I remembered that is true of SOME wild tomatoes. The domesticated tomato comes from seasonally wet-dry areas, and ironically has little tolerance of severe drought either; I suspect most of the drought-tolerance its ancestors had has been bred out. It’s true that they have little resistance to disease, and that’s partially due to their native climate, and part to the genetic bottlenecks they’ve been through.

Being highly reliant on chemicals is not a peculiarity of tomatoes though; it’s pretty common among many modern crops.

Tom fears the health impact of chemicals and doesn’t use them. His tomatoes live or die on their own; he won’t rescue them with coddling or chemicals. It’s survival of the fittest on our plots.

The next part I find disturbing:

Eatocracy: Who are the workers?

Estabrook: They are primarily people from Southern Mexico, Northern Central America, Guatemala. United Farm Workers estimate that 70 percent of all farm workers in this country, not just tomato pickers, are undocumented immigrants.

Eatocracy: What are their working conditions like?

Estabrook: Slavery is what is happening. There is no way to gloss it. You can’t say “slavery-like.” You can’t say “near-slavery.” “Human trafficking” doesn’t even do it credit. Here are some things that are in court records; it’s all been proven.

People are being bought and sold like chattels. People are locked and shackled in chains at night in order to prevent them from escaping. People are being beaten severely if they’re too tired to work, too sick to work or don’t want to work hard enough. People are beaten even more severely or murdered if they try to escape. They receive little or no pay for their efforts.

That, to me, is slavery. It’s like 1850, not 2011.

I am not sufficiently aware of the situation to know what to believe.

I am aware that some human-trafficking rings were busted recently in some of the sunbelt states including California. It was a racket I am familiar with such as operate in a number of countries. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, are lured in with promises of jobs, then they find themselves effectively trapped.

One scheme involved having agencies charge the dupes large amounts of money for immigration and placement, then making it impossible to pay back the money due to low wages, and keeping the virtual slaves fearful of repatriation to their home countries due to the debt they incurred on their fraudulent contracts.

Eatocracy: How does a worker end up in this situation?

Estabrook: First of all, there have been 1,200 slaves freed in seven separate prosecutions in Florida in the last 15 years. The way that they get into slavery is often a slippery slope.

I talked to one guy who’d just crossed the border and hit the town of Immokalee, Florida. He was homeless and staying at a mission. He was standing outside and a guy pulled up in a pickup truck and said, “Hey, want work? I’ll pay you?” and he named a price that was twice the going rate.”

The man told him, “My mother cooks for the crew, and we’ll just deduct that from your check, and you can even stay on my property; I’ve got some buildings. We’ll just take that from your check.”

This all sounded good, but you know what happens. Even though he picked enough tomatoes to supposedly get out of debt to his boss, he was never told that.

Everything cost money. It even cost him $5 to hose himself off with a backyard hose every day. There was plenty of liquor supplied at a very high price. He was kept enslaved for two and a half years before he broke out.

That sounds like entrapment into debt slavery.

Eatocracy: How did he say he broke free?

Estabrook: This is telltale of the conditions they live under. He and three or four other slaves had been locked for the night in the back of the produce truck that was going to go out in the fields the next day. There was no toilet or running water.

As dawn broke, they noticed that there was a little gap between the rivets. He got on the shoulders of another man and they punched and kicked their way through the roof. He slid down the side of the truck and got a ladder so they rest of them could crawl out and run to safety.

I’ve heard similar stories in other contexts. I don’t know if these stories are true, but unfortunately they sound plausible, and I am aware that modern-day slavery does exist.

I’ve also heard people in the investment banking industry defend slavery in personal conversations. “If it weren’t for the carpet factories / sex-industry / sweat shops they wouldn’t have any means of support at all; they’d be out on the streets starving”.

Then why is any element of coercion necessary? If the impoverished are desperate enough, they’ll work for low wages without needing to be kept prisoner.

Folks, if it’s true that Florida tomato was raised by slaves, don’t buy it. Save your soul and grow your own. Enjoy them as a seasonal crop, and work with the change of seasons not against it.


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