How I Feel About the Grocery Industry After Watching “Food Chains”: A Film Review

Our grocery list doesn’t remind us to think about where our fruits were grown as we are picking out the shiniest and juiciest red tomato at the grocer. It hardly crosses our mind that the tomato actually went from the farm to the processing facility to a storage warehouse to a distribution center and then to a grocery store.

The film, Food Chains, documents farmers who go on a six day hunger strike for the under payment of workers in the agricultural farm industry in the United States. After watching this film I was inspired to write about the metrics of farmers’ income levels, human rights in farming, and highlight the improvements the workers were able to bring about through their peaceful demonstration.

Workers get paid $40 a day for picking 4000 pounds of tomatoes! That is $1 for every 100 lbs of fresh off the vine fruits. This is hardly compensation enough to justify working conditions, commuting long distances to and from fields, and the possibility of on-sight injuries.

The farmers in Food Chains aim to increase their wages by requesting a penny more per pound, doubling workers’ wages. To put this cost into perspective, a US family would only have to spend an extra $0.44 per year to meet the wage increase. It would cost the Florida grocer Publix (featured in the film), a million-dollars out of a $2 billion annual profit to meet the farmers’ request.

Meanwhile, in Napa Valley, farmers produce bottles of wine that “reap 50 percent gross margins” (Xi). Despite these incredible profits for rich vineyard owners, workers live on an income under minimum wage and cannot find a place to live near their location of work. The film documents that the average annual income of a worker is $13,000. That’s about $6,700 under minimum wage for a family of three.

The cost of a bottle of wine has a uniform labor cost of $0.25 whether the bottle cost $12 or $100 (via Food Chains). Farmers are responsible for the multibillion-dollar wine industry yet face hardships of low wages, long commutes, and live in poverty.

The implementation of NAFTA has greatly affected the amount of immigrants in the US farming workforce. “As heavily subsidized U.S. corn and other staples poured into Mexico, producer prices dropped and small farmers found themselves unable to make a living,” stated the New York Times (Carlsen). Where immigrants are willing to work for next to nothing, wage becomes a human rights issue.

The affects of food insecurity is the catalyst between a challenging family life and women’s rights. If you take away the basic need of food, injustice occurs that does not provide victims confidence to address assaults. Only a ¼ of the farming work force are women and 80% of these women are sexually harassed (Rawell). This is in part blamed on the isolated working conditions in fields and also because food insecurity plays a roll in crime.

Women who are harassed are afraid to report such incidents because they fear being fired and not being able to feed their children. As a US citizen, a single parent with two kids is eligible to receive $357 per month from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This isn’t very much but it helps women feel more secure to report harassment (USDA). But if a woman is an immigrant, she does not receive SNAP benefits and is even less likely to report sexual harassment instances.

The hunger strike featured in Food Chains was a small step in influencing change in the grocery industry:

— The Fair Food Program was implemented and farmers received $0.01 more per pound.

— A Code of Conduct for buyers like Taco Bell was set in place to ensure fair treatment of workers.

— Obama raised the minimum wage to $9 making minimum income of $14,000.

The film stated that there were many more areas to consider in changing the farm industry. Regulation was needed where there were only 14 labor inspectors in Florida to monitor over 40,000 farms.

The farmers’ working condition are not an immigrant issue, they are a human rights issue. The film describes the farmers’ situation as The Harvest of Shame in this quote:

“These are the forgotten people, the under protected, the under educated, the under clothed the under fed.”

People like to imagine the local grocery store as the friendly neighborhood spot and they do a good job of painting it that way but it is important for consumers to be aware of where their food is coming from and what kind of struggle it takes to get it there.

Works Cited

Ackerman-Leist, Phillip. “Rebuilding the Foodshed.” Post Carbon Institute: 2013. Class materials. Web.

Carlsen, Laura. “Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered, and the United States Felt Its Pain.” The New York Times. November, 2013. Web.

Rawal, Sanjay. “Food Chains.” Two Moons Production: 2014. Film.

Xi, Timothea. “The Average Net Profit Margin Per Bottle of Wine.” USA Today: The Arizona Republic. Web.

Jones, Shannon. “Food Insecurity and Hunger.” Class slides. Web.

USDA. “How Much Could I Receive?” Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program. Class materials. Web.