“It is no doubt impossible to live without thought of the future; hope and vision can live nowhere else. But the only possible guarantee of the future is responsible behavior in the present. When supposed future needs are used to justify misbehavior in the present, as is the tendency with us, then we are both perverting the present and the diminishing future.” -Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture
Yesterday around 50 food bloggers wrote about tomatoes… and slavery. Unfortunately, the two are related.
In Immokalee, Florida—where most of our tomato crop is grown in the winter—immigrant workers are subjected to harsh conditions in the field, low pay, and high rent to live in the labor camps. More information about this can be found here. Over the past 15 years, seven cases of forced labor (slavery) have been successfully prosecuted, and over 1,000 people have been freed from the fields. While it’s good to know the government is actively holding the oppressors accountable, there is a way that we can hold the buyers of the slave-picked tomatoes accountable, as well.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a non-profit organization established in 1993 to improve the lives of the people in the fields, has won some major battles with the food industry over the last twenty years, but they need our help with their current challenge. They’re partnering with The International Justice Mission (IJM) and running a summer campaign called Recipes for Change that will hopefully end with major grocery stores pledging to join the Fair Food Program. Joining means the buyer agrees to pay 1.5 cents more per pound for fairly harvested tomatoes and promises to shift purchases to the Florida tomato growers who abide by these higher standards. Currently, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (who recently signed on after being targeted early this year) are the only two major grocery stores that have joined the Fair Food Program, and the CIW and IJM are targeting Ahold (the parent company of Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin’s, and others), Publix, and Kroger’s to join them.
Many of the bloggers who participated in the campaign yesterday talked about how they usually buy their tomatoes from a local source and only in season, which reminded me of labor issues on one of Hawaii’s farms that was recently in the news. The owners of Aloun Farms, one of the biggest providers of local produce on Oahu, were recently charged with keeping 44 Thai immigrants as indentured laborers. The criminal trial was dismissed last year because of an apparent misstep by the prosecution but the matter is still the subject of a civil suit between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Global Horizons, the recruiting firm used by Aloun Farms. Dismissal or not, my best friend assures me her children’s school isn’t resuming the field trip to the farm.
Short of visiting a farm during harvest season (Oh, how I miss my CSA from Terry’s Berries), it’s hard to know that the food we eat was produced under humane conditions. However, knowing that some corporations have committed to the Fair Food Program and choosing to shop there is a start. Responsible behavior today is the only way to guarantee we’ll have a tomorrow—and I’d prefer it be day full of good meals. There is absolutely a high cost to cheap food and I like that our society is starting to question what is the right price for say, tomatoes. Let’s hope our grocery stores agree it’s worth an extra 1.5 cents per pound and no forced labor. Sign this petition if you agree. This is a very complicated issue, but I’m grateful for the Recipes for Change campaign. Change can only happen when we acknowledge a problem and have a dialogue around a solution.
The contribution that I would like to make to this conversation is my recipe for Pineapple and (Slave-Free) Tomato Salsa. I served this over a grilled piece of Shutome (swordfish), but chips are equally worthy of this sweet, but spicy salsa.
Pineapple and (Slave-Free) Tomato Salsa
Fun fact: Salsa usually has cooked and pureed ingredients, where as pico de gallo is usually fresh and chopped ingredients. This is my recipe for salsa, if you want pico de gallo I’d recommend you call my mom and get her recipe–no one makes better pico de gallo than her.
- 1 pineapple
- 8-10 organic Roma tomatoes
- 2 ears of corn
- 1 sweet onion
- 2 limes
- 1 pepper of your choice (I used a tiny red chili pepper from my garden)
- ¼ cup of chopped cilantro
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Touch of butter (optional)
Yields approximately 6 cups; time required is around 60 minutes
After preparing the ingredients, you’ll grill the corn, then the skewers with the pineapple and onions on them, and ½ the tomatoes. Then you’ll puree your grilled tomatoes with the pepper and lime juice. Lastly, you’ll combine the grilled corn, pineapple, onions, and remaining fresh tomatoes with the puree and chopped cilantro. Season with S & P to taste.
To grill the corn, I followed Mark Bittman’s advice in How to Cook Everything. With the husk unfolded, remove the silk, and then fold the husk back up as best you can. Grill the ears for 10-15 minutes (in the middle of the grill with the outside burners on medium-low), adding a bit of butter for the last few minutes (I used a garlic butter). Remove the corn from the grill and let it cool. Once you can handle the ears, shave off the kernels and set aside.
To grill the tomatoes and the skewers of pineapple and onions, first brush all items with oil that can handle high heat (I used organic Canola oil). Then arrange the skewers in the middle of the grill and the tomatoes on the sides, cut side down. Close the lid and grill for 5 min. After five minutes, turn your skewers (use a cloth if you’ve got metal skewers like mine—learned that one the hot way) and rotate your tomatoes. Chances are your tomatoes will be ready to come off first. You’ll know they’re done when the outside skin starts slipping off the tomato.
Once you’ve got char marks on your pineapple and onions, remove the skewers, and set on a plate. Turn off the grill.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. In a food processor (or a blender), puree the cooked tomatoes with the juice of two limes and the pepper of your choice (I removed the seeds). In a large bowl, combine the grilled corn kernels, chopped pineapple and onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, and the tomato puree. Once you’re ready to serve, add the chopped cilantro and season with sea salt and pepper.