Despite the efforts of Cesar Chavez in the 1960’s and 1970’s, farm workers are still exploited by the companies who hire them. In Sanjay Rawal’s documentary, “Food Chains,” we learn that we rely on these workers to get produce from the fields to our grocery stores and restaurants. Yet, we demonize them because the majority of them are undocumented.
Meanwhile, many of them work as much as 15 hours a day for less than $45 while being sprayed by dangerous pesticides and leaving their kids all day with babysitters. Another little known issue that comes forward in the documentary is that there are slavery rings among some workers, and the few women who are employed are subjected to sexual harassment from both employers and coworkers – with no recourse at all.
As Eva Longoria, who served as one of the executive producers, says in an interview in the film, this is not an immigration issue; it’s a human rights issue.
According to Eric Schlosser, another executive producer and the author of “Fast Food Nation,” the fix would actually be quite simple, but the entities at the top of the “food chain” – supermarkets – are unwilling to make the necessary changes. For example, tomato workers receive only about a penny for each bucket of tomatoes they pick. If that were increased to two cents, it would cost Publix Supermarket about $1 million annually. Putting that cost on the consumer, the price increase in the grocery store would equal only an additional 44 cents per year for the average household.
As depicted in the film, the workers went on a hunger strike, as Chavez had done before them. Despite their efforts, however, Publix would not speak to them.
Unfortunately, this human rights issue extends beyond your grocery bag. Your wine bottle is also a culprit. According to those interviewed in the film, the labor cost of a $40 bottle of wine is just 25 cents. Farm workers in the Napa Valley make so little that they are rendered homeless because the area has no affordable housing.
The film also includes information about the devastating effects of NAFTA, and the continued efforts by the Kennedy family, which began with Robert Kennedy and now includes Kerry, Ethel, and Robert, Jr., to bring more attention to this problem. As Robert Kennedy, Jr. says toward the end of the film, “If we cannot win this fight, we have lost the soul of America.”
Forrest Whitaker narrates the documentary, which is now streaming online. I recommend it to anyone who wants to stay informed.