Tomato Fields

An article in this morning's New York Times titled A Penny Buys Progress caught my attention. It's about the plight of tomato pickers in Florida and what some companies are doing about it. For those of us who eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, it comes naturally to feel a connectivity with those who pick and bring our food to us.

Unfortunately, as described in the article, conditions in the fields are almost akin to slavery. Workers are bused to the fields as early as 6 a.m., but then they wait for as much as four hours before they can clock in and start picking tomatoes. Women workers have described being groped and even raped by supervisors. And workers worked in 95 degree heat for hours on end without a break.

Some companies are doing something about this. The companies have agreed to pay a penny a pound more for tomatoes in exchange for stopping the kind of practices just described. The companies have also stated that they will not purchase from tomato fields that don't comply. The problem is, elimination of those practices is specific to the tomato fields in Florida. And the companies involved are not necessarily companies that are at the top of the list for people on a whole foods, plant-based diet. They include McDonalds, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC.

Recently, Walmart joined ranks as well by agreeing to pay a penny a pound more and to not buy from fields that don't comply. But even more importantly, Walmart is expanding the reach of its efforts to also hold to those same standards for tomato growers in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia as well. And taking it even further, Walmart officials have said that they plan to extend the same standards to apple orchards in Michigan and Washington State as well as to strawberry fields in many other states.

This is significant because Walmart is a major retailer of fruit in the United States. Twenty percent of all tomatoes in the United States are sold by Walmart.

Is everything perfect? No. Will everything be perfect? No. But it's a start. There's hope for more ethically-grown food in our future. There's hope for those who work in the fields to bring us the foods that our bodies need. It may not be perfect, but it will be better.