I was originally planning to continue to write about how there is no cruelty-free diet, because even in the production of plant-based foods, animals die. We can only do our best. We can't be perfect.
More importantly and more immediately, there's cruelty in our diets from the vegetables we eat that I find difficult to ignore, and that's cruelty to humans. I have a vague anxiety whenever I consider buying conventional tomatoes from Mexico in the wintertime, ever since I read The Death of Ramon Gonzalez by Angus Wright for an ecology class in college. I recall either from the book or from the class discussions that followed, hearing that the tomato fields of California aren't that much better. Laws exist in the United States, but they are broken and not enforced. I hadn't thought much about Florida.
I listen to The Splendid Table when I clean or cook, when I want background noise that is calm and pleasant and not going to cause me anxiety like the news might. However, I had to stop listening in the middle of this week's podcast because of the first topic--winter tomatoes from Florida. At first, I was cleaning, thinking, "Yeah, I know, cardboard, blah blah blah." Then came the discussion of pesticides. Not exactly pleasant or calming, but I thought I knew what I was going to hear. And then I heard the account of three pregnant women who were forced to work in the fields, where laws regarding pesticides and human workers are consistently broken, or they would lose their homes. All three women gave birth to children with awful birth defects; one died.
That's the real cost of winter tomatoes. While the cost of organic vegetables seems outrageous, I think that human cost is what's really outrageous.
But let's be realistic. Most people can not pay that former outrageous price. They are stuck with the latter. And this doesn't just come up with respect to cardboard-tasting fresh tomatoes in winter, something we can arguably live without. The circumstances are not always identical, but choices between cash costs and ethical costs arise with food besides animals and tomatoes, perhaps all of our food. To choose not to support such practices costs more money than a lot of Americans can afford to spend on food. That's a battle that's worth fighting--making a less cruel diet accessible to people who want to make that choice, regardless of income.
"Grow your own and then can it" is not the answer. For many people, that's not a viable choice, either. I'm tired of hearing that argument.
So, back to The Splendid Table. After the report of pesticides and the three pregnant women, I got to the part about slavery. That's when I had to hit pause, because this podcast was neither calming nor pleasant! I definitely didn't know about modern day slavery, in America, as a widespread factor in the production of winter tomatoes. Tomatoes definitely aren't worth that!
Before I wrote about it, I decided to do a little research so I could provide you with some text. Here's something brief from NPR. What I learned from that link is that McDonald's and Burger King have signed an agreement not to work with "growers that support serious worker abuses" and even better, to pay an amount of money for their tomatoes that will enable growers to pay the workers a living wage. I think that is great!
But Trader Joe's won't sign that agreement.
Trader Joe's, I am very disappointed in you. I feel let down. I've always admired you for making ethical food choices available to people who aren't wealthy (or in their twenties with low expenses and/or parental subsidies.) You were my favorite grocery store. I don't care if Whole Foods charges more for the same exact tempeh that you sell, Trader Joe's. I'm going to think twice about buying your tempeh if you continue to support slavery. Whole Foods signed that agreement! Please prove me wrong, and go back to being my favorite store, and sign that agreement! Those tomatoes taste like cardboard, anyway!
Instead of boycotting Trader Joe's, maybe I'll bring them one of the letters you can print out from this website. Maybe I'll bring one to Fred Meyer, too, to get the message to Kroger (who has not refused to sign the agreement, by the way. They just haven't yet.)