Naked Lunch

Friday, March 06, 2009

Barry Estabrook, contributing editor at Gourmet magazine, talks about why he says Florida is fertile ground for forced labor. He's joined by Gerardo Reyes-Chavez, farm worker and staff member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW).


Barry Estabrook and Gerardo Reyes-Chavez

Comments [16]

JP from Hackensack

Siena Chrisman,

Actually your wrong, the majority of our “cheap food” comes from corn, wheat and soy, not tomatos or restaurants. In fact its foolish to think eating out is a way to save money, even at fast food restaurants. There are no migrant workers harvesting wheat, corn or soy. It’s all mechanically harvested by the farmers and any member of their family old enough to see over the combine steering wheel. Where our food supply goes wrong is how we process the wheat, corn and soy after its harvested. But that’s a whole other issue which I’m quite sure you’re aware of.

Historical fact, whenever American society and government has come down on migrant workers with stricter immigration laws, farming has not gone down the drain. It becomes more mechanized. This helps in two ways. It makes for a far more efficient crop to grow and it helps American farm equipment companies. I know first hand to build a half a million dollar combine requires skilled labor that you’re just not going to find in the migrant labor force. Why? Because the majority of the machine is hand built. You need to be a certified welder or fabricator to work on these assembly lines. Plus the majority of these manufacturers are unionized. Unions are not going to let migrant workers in the front door or the back door.

At the end of the 19th century, mill owners testified to congress that cheap child labor was absolutely necessary to keep the mills and the country’s economy going. Child labor was outlawed and yet the industrial revolution kept on going and flourished for several more decades. How did we do it? Simple, mechanization.

Mar. 06 2009 03:58 PM
Siena Chrisman from World Hunger Year, NYC

Thanks for this segment, Brian. I just had the privilege of being part of a delegation of sustainable food leaders to Immokalee. The day, billed as, "Human Rights on the Menu," was for a diverse group of "foodies" -- advocates for a just and sustainable food system, really -- see the situation on the ground there, meet members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and strategize on how we can work together.

Please check out for more on the delegation and -- more importantly -- for photos of the conditions in which the farmworkers live.

This country's system of cheap food is based on an invisible underclass of workers from the fields of Florida and California (and NY and NJ, seasonally) to restaurant kitchens everywhere, doing jobs most of us wouldn't be caught dead in. Some of them are beaten, confined, or kept in debt, in situations the federal courts have called modern-day slavery. The more fortunate of the Immokalee workers have to be up at 4am in hopes of being chosen for an 11-hour day of backbreaking work, make about fifty cents per 32 lb bucket of tomatoes picked, live in squalid trailers with 7 other workers at rents comparable to those in Park Slope, and have no rights to organize under the National Labor Relations Act.

All the CIW is asking for is that growers pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes, which would add up to something approaching a living wage. They've been remarkably successful in getting major fast food corporations to agree to this modest increase -- and their ongoing campaigns are a place where consumer voices really count. (

Mar. 06 2009 02:50 PM
JP from Hackensack

Very simple solution, mechanize it. It costs more initially but it’s far more efficient then manual labor and would ultimately bring crop prices down. Plus it allows food bought here to be grown here. in most cases it takes a much larger carbon footprint to import produce from foreign countries then if we grew it here. No farmer can afford to pay any worker $40,000 year when he only needs workers during harvest time. If you really want to see immigrant abuse and slavery go away, mechanize the tomato crop. You wont see immigrant abuse on a wheat farm because there is no need for cheap labor on a wheat farm.

Mar. 06 2009 12:36 PM
William Betz from Port Washington, NY

Your guest's appearance was appreciated and informative. However, in his 2007 book "Nobodies, Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy" and in a previous New Yorker piece, John Bowe discussed the Immokalee situation in much greater detail. It would be well worth reading for your listeners who are interested in this issue.

Mar. 06 2009 11:59 AM
BigGuy from Forest Hills

Thank you for airing this segment.

Thank you for not having balance by having someone from the Right speaking during the broadcast.

Thank you very much.

Mar. 06 2009 11:43 AM
Michael M Thomas from Brooklyn

Mar. 06 2009 11:39 AM
Michael M Thomas from Brooklyn

It turns out to be Edgerrin James, the Arizona Cardinals' star running back. His story was very inspiring.

Mar. 06 2009 11:38 AM
Michael M Thomas from Brooklyn

Until I went here and saw how Immokalee is spelled, I hadn't realized that this is the community (sic) from which a highly-regarded NCAA or NFL prospect has been recruited (or so I recall reading in NYT or somewhere). Be interesting to see how aware this kid is of what's going on down there.

Mar. 06 2009 11:36 AM

Brian, you didn't seem to be really taking this issue all that seriously. Also the question for the activist if he ever "considered himself a slave" struck the wrong chord, not only just weird, but also as if being a slave was perhaps just an extreme way of defining oneself.

Mar. 06 2009 11:27 AM
hjs from 11211

people should know this is how the middle class is financed in america

Mar. 06 2009 11:21 AM
Nick from Atlanta, GA

"Voting with your dollar" is the biggest farce I've ever heard. This is just a lie. So many factors play into my buying habits. Locality, availability, seasonality, and sure some of it is ideologically driven but most importantly, it's usually price. For an economy that has put labor at the bottom of the priority list for the longest time, we don't have options anymore.

Mar. 06 2009 11:20 AM
LIAM from East Elmhurst

Organized Crime???

Aye, it's business.

Mar. 06 2009 11:20 AM
Maud Kelly from Brooklyn, NY

This article is almost 100% a retread of a New Yorker article by John Bowe in 2003 - you can read it here:
It was later turned into a book:

Mar. 06 2009 11:18 AM
Barbara from Montclair, NJ

Southern Poverty Law Center has done some great investigative journalism on this type of modern slavery -- it's not just in Florida. Ever person who whines about immigrants needs to read this stuff. Hell, every American needs to read this stuff and burn with shame that it exists in our country.

Mar. 06 2009 11:17 AM
robert from park slope

The slavery described by guests suggests that organized crime is behind supplying and controlling the workers. Is that the case?

Mar. 06 2009 11:12 AM
hjs from 11211

winter tomatoes are the grosses of fruits (sacks of pinkish water.) I don't know why anyone would bother with them

Mar. 06 2009 11:04 AM

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