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Agriculture Is Great, As Long As You Aren’t A Farm Worker

Today I found myself watching an amazing 2014 documentary, hosted by Forest Whittaker, titled Food Chains.   This insightful documentary centers around  Immokalee,  Florida, known as the tomato capital of America, and depicts the horrible conditions that tomato farm workers, and farm workers in general, have been forced to endure in the past decades.  Human rights violations are particularly high for farm workers due to little or no government legislation, as well as a fear of reporting by the abused farm workers themselves. The video shows an in-depth examination of the atrocious treatment (human slavery, sexual harassment, low wages, long term exposure to pesticides, etc) of farm workers throughout the country, with a particular focus on Immokalee and the steps that a small group of tomato farm workers took to take a stand against these deplorable conditions.

One such story focuses on a slavery ring discovered in Immokalee, Florida in 2007.  Farm workers seeking employment were giving farm jobs and housing and charged exorbitant rates.  These high rates led to the workers incurring debt to the two brothers that had established the ring.  These debt-incurred workers were then treated as slaves with wages being stripped away and nights spent chained in the back of a u-haul truck.  One such worker, after spending a year in the back of this truck, noticed a hole in the roof and managed to break free of his chains and escape out the hole.  This is not an isolated story.

This slave ring eventually became a case before the justice department and brought national attention to the deplorable conditions that farm workers are being faced with.  This national attention has recently led to an interest by some senate members,  although to date, no official legislation has been formally passed to protect farm worker’s human rights.  To date, slavery, and particularly, sexual harassment are still rampant.

Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook
Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook

An excerpt from Barry Estabrook’s newly released and highly acclaimed book, Tomatoland (a book I highly recommend), further describes these atrocities:

…Although there have been recent improvements, a person picking tomatoes receives the same basic rate of pay he received thirty years ago. Adjusted for inflation, a harvester’s wages have actually dropped by half over the same period. Florida tomato workers, mostly Hispanic migrants, toil without union protection and get neither overtime, benefits, nor medical insurance. They are denied basic legal rights that virtually all other laborers enjoy. Lacking their own vehicles, they have to live near the fields, often paying rural slumlords exorbitant rents to be crammed with ten or a dozen other farmworkers in moldering trailers with neither heat nor air conditioning and which would be condemned outright in any other American jurisdiction…

…And conditions are even worse for some of the men and women in Florida’s tomato industry. In the chilling words of Douglas Molloy, chief assistant United States attorney in Fort Myers, South Florida’s tomato fields are “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” Molloy is not talking about virtual slavery, or near slavery, or slaverylike conditions, but real slavery. In the last fifteen years, Florida law enforcement officials have freed more than one thousand men and women who had been held and forced to work against their will in the fields of Florida, and that represents only the tip of the iceberg. Most instances of slavery go unreported. Workers were “sold” to crew bosses to pay off bogus debts, beaten if they didn’t feel like working or were too sick or weak to work, held in chains, pistol whipped, locked at night into shacks in chain-link enclosures patrolled by armed guards. Escapees who got caught were beaten or worse. Corpses of murdered farmworkers were not an uncommon sight in the rivers and canals of South Florida. Even though police have successfully prosecuted seven major slavery cases in the state in the last fifteen years, those brought to justice were low-ranking contract field managers, themselves only one or two shaky rungs up the economic ladder from those they enslaved. The wealthy owners of the vast farms walked away scot-free. They expressed no public regrets, let alone outrage, that such conditions existed on operations they controlled. But we all share the blame. When I asked Molloy if it was safe to assume that a consumer who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store, fast food restaurant, or food-service company in the winter has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave, he corrected my choice of words. “It’s not an assumption. It is a fact.”

The Food Chains documentary goes on to detail the formation of CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers).  Tired of the unfair and cruel treatment and very low wages, a few of these tomato farmers formed CIW in the 1990’s and have gone on to become a huge success in the advancement of human rights and fair wages for farm workers through myriads of hunger strikes and tireless activism, as well as the establishment of the Fair Food Program  and a Code of Conduct (designed to place the responsibility of providing better working conditions and wages on the food corporations that are buying the Immokalee produced tomatoes (Publix, Wendy’s, Walmart, Taco Bell, et.al.).  The Fair Food Program asks large retailers like supermarkets and fast food restaurants to pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes and to refuse to buy tomatoes from farms with human rights violations. Their model has been touted as one of the better working models to date and has gained international recognition.

2014 CIW Fair Food Event
2014 CIW Fair Food Event

On March 21, 2015, CIW held the largest fair food march and concert in recent years and is making great inroads in eradicating terrible working conditions and poverty for the many farm workers in America, but it certainly has not been easy.  They have faced great resistance from the corporations they seek support from, particularly Publix and Wendy’s, who have flat out refused to even enter into discussions with the CIW in the advancement of better wages and working conditions for these farm workers.  They have stated that they are not responsible for the welfare of the farm workers, that it is the responsibility of the farm suppliers who employ the workers.  Yet these corporate food giants are so very wrong in promoting these statements. Since they control these food supply chains shouldn’t they be instrumental in providing fair and equitable working conditions and wages to the farm workers who supply them?

Fair Food LogoTo quote from the Fair Food Standards Council (overseer for the Implementation of the Fair Food Program):

The Fair Food Program emerged from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) successful Campaign for Fair Food, a campaign to affirm the human rights of tomato workers and improve the conditions under which they labor. The work of the FFSC today is producing a replicable, scalable model for expansion of the Fair Food Program beyond the Florida tomato industry in the years ahead.

Comprehensive, Verifiable and Sustainable Change

The high degree of consolidation in the food industry today means that multi-billion dollar brands on the retail end of the industry are able to leverage their volume purchasing power to demand ever-lower prices, which has resulted in downward pressure on farmworker wages. The Fair Food Program reverses that process, enlisting the resources of participating retail food giants to improve farmworker wages and harnessing their demand to reward growers who respect their workers’ rights.

The Fair Food Program provides an opportunity for those corporations to bring their own considerable resources to the table – their funds and market influence – to help forge a structural, sustainable solution to a human rights crisis that has persisted on U.S. soil for far too long. In the process, the Fair Food Program will help build the foundation for a stronger Florida tomato industry that can differentiate its product in produce aisles and restaurants on the basis of a credible claim to social responsibility and so better weather the challenges of an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Under the Fair Food Program, participating growers have agreed to:

A wage increase supported by the “penny per pound” price premium Participating Buyers pay for their tomatoes;

Compliance with the human rights-based Code of Conduct, including zero tolerance for forced labor and sexual assault;

Worker-to-worker education sessions conducted by the CIW on the farms and on company time to insure workers understand their new rights and responsibilities;

A worker-triggered complaint resolution mechanism leading to complaint investigation, corrective action plans, and, if necessary, suspension of a farm’s Participating Grower status, and thereby its ability to sell to Participating Buyers;

Health and safety committees on every farm to give workers a structured voice in the shape of their work environment;

Specific and concrete changes in harvesting operations to improve workers’ wages and working conditions, including an end to the age-old practice of forced overfilling of picking buckets (a practice which effectively denied workers pay for up to 10% of the tomatoes harvested), the provision of shade in the fields, and the use of time clocks to record and count all compensable hours accurately; and

Ongoing auditing of the farms by the Fair Food Standards Council to insure compliance with each element of the program.

Together, we can make a difference and help eradicate the horrible working conditions and poor wages that these hardworking farmers are subjected to.  One way you can show your support is by signing this Fair Food petition.  For those of you who would like to take even further action in support of this cause, you may be interested in starting a campaign in your area.  Learn more here.

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And lastly, take the time to petition Publix and Wendy’s to join this fair and equitable program and ensure our tomatoes meet the highest human rights standards in the food industry today.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.  For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to watch  Food Chains or read Tomatoland, I urge you to put them on your to-do list.  They are truly eye-opening experiences of our current agricultural and food-supply chain practices.

Original Sin Bars

These original sin bars featured at Lea and Jays are divine…a peanut butter base topped with a deep layer of chocolate and lovingly sprinkled with sea salt…move over Reese’s!

Lea & Jay

Now we’re talking baby! Original. Sin. Bars. This is my kind of treat. Yummy, crunchy, peanut buttery base topped by some decadent, rich chocolate and then alluringly dusted with flaky sea salt. You will find that these bars are an exquisite sweet and salty bliss. I know that Eve was most tragically, tempted by an apple. Well all I can say is that the Old Serpent behind that infamous enticement must not have given her the choice between an apple or one of these Original Sin Bars. Believe me…there is no contest…and  I say this even though my favourite fruit is the apple. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I definitely appreciate the fruit based desserts. They have the potential to be phenomenal when there is lovely fresh fruit to be had. I’ve certainly posted a good number of those seasonal, fresh fruit recipes here. You see, my husband LOVES…

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12 Days of Christmas Holiday Cake and Cheesecake – Day 6

Holy cow!  Christmas is just a mere 10 days away!  I’m sure most of you have been shopping ’til you drop.  It truly is the most wonderful time of year, but also the most exhausting. So with that in mind, why don’t ya’ll come on in, grab yourself a nice cup of hot cocoa and cozy up next to my virtual fireplace.

Christmas Fireplace
Grab your hot cocoa and cozy on up next to my virtual fireplace.

Click here to enjoy the full virtual experience, complete with music! (Just be sure to come on back for today’s delicious Christmas confection.)

For all of you who have been following my 12 Days of Christmas posts you know that yesterday I posted a delicious recipe for the French classic Buche de Noel. I love roulades and the Buche de Noel is a fun and festive one to make during the holidays, not to mention totally delicious!

So, since cake was featured for Day 5 I decided for today’s Day 6 post that I would offer up a delicious cheesecake recipe.  I don’t know about you, but I absolutely adore cheesecake, any and all cheesecake.  I have never met a cheesecake I didn’t like. Their creamy, scrumptious goodness sends me over the top – all the way to foodie heaven… yummmmy!

The cheesecake I have selected today is a delicious peppermint, oreo and white and semi-sweet chocolate cheesecake from Kraft recipes.  It is so festive and pretty and would definitely look beautiful on your holiday table.

Kraft's Peppermint Bark Cheesecake
Kraft’s Peppermint Bark Cheesecake

I have had a lot of people tell me they are intimidated by cheesecakes and so they have never attempted to make them.  Let me just say right here and now cheesecakes are easy and fun! Please, do not be intimidated.  Here are some simple steps to follow that will assist you if you are not familiar with making these delicious desserts:

  • If the recipe calls for a springform pan be sure to use it.  These pans have a removable bottom and spring-locked tube that makes it easier to remove the cheesecake from  the pan.

    Springform Pan
    Springform Pan
  • One of the most frequent complaints in making cheesecake is the appearance of a surface crack(s).  This can happen for a number of different reasons but to assist in preventing them it is useful to use a water bath.  This is achieved by selecting a pan larger than the springform pan with a depth of 2 – 3 inches and placing very hot water into it to a depth of about 1/2 to 1 inch.  Before placing the springform pan in the pan with the water be sure to wrap the bottom and partially up the sides with heavy-duty aluminum foil. The water bath will also assist in evenly baking the cheesecake.
  • Always use full fat cheese and milk.  In my opinion, the use of lower fat dairy will result in an inferior cheesecake.  It’s all about the cheese in cheesecake dearies – you want that full fat flavor! And since it is a dessert that you probably won’t be making on a daily basis then, hey, it’s worth the splurge. 🙂
  • Allow your ingredients to come to room temperature.  This is true for all baked goods, but in this case it is particularly helpful in removing all of the lumps from the cream cheese.
  • When adding the eggs avoid over mixing as this can trap air in the batter and also result in a cracked surface.
  • Bake your cheesecake in a low temperature oven… 325 deg. is usually the optimum temperature.  Bake your cheesecake until the center  is just set – it should still be slightly wobbly and slightly moist.  At this point, turn your oven off and allow your cheesecake to remain in the oven for an additional hour.  The slower you cool your cheesecake the less the chance of developing those surface cracks. At the end of the hour carefully take your cheesecake from the oven and remove the foil.  Use a knife to go around the outer edge of the cheesecake and allow the cheesecake to completely cool to room temperature.  This will allow the cheesecake to pull away from the pan as it continues to cool.
  • Once completely cooled again use the knife around the outer edges and remove the sides of the pan.  Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator and allow to chill for an additional 4-6 hours.
  • If you find that you still have ended up with a crack in the surface (because, alas, they do still happen from time to time no matter your precautions) then you can choose a topping to put over the top to hide that pesky crack.  Whipped cream, sweetened sour cream, and fruit make great and tasty choices. Luckily, since this recipe calls for a whipped topping you don’t to have to worry so much in the event of a crack in the surface.

Speaking of whipped cream, this featured cheesecake calls for the use of Cool Whip.  I personally believe that if I am going to go to the trouble of making a spectacular cheesecake then I want a true whipped (chantilly) cream. Nothing wrong with Cool Whip, mind you, because I do use it from time to time but NEVER for cheesecake! 🙂

Here is the recipe that I use:

Whipped Cream (aka Chantilly Cream)

1 cup heavy cream

1 – 1/2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (I aso use regular sugar if I don’t happen to have confectioner’s on hand).

1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For successful whipped cream I always place my bowl and beaters in the freezer until they are ice cold.

Once cold remove the bowl and beaters and add the whipping cream to the bowl.  With your mixer whip the cream until loose peaks form.  Add in the confectioners or plain sugar and the vanilla and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  Do not over beat or you will end up with butter.  Use in place of the Cool Whip called for in the above recipe.

Well ya’ll, I really hope you enjoy this cheesecake.  It’s a beautiful and delicious cheesecake.  The combination of chocolate, oreos, and peppermint is over-the-top, gotta-have-a-second-piece, ooooohhhh sooooo good delicious!

Be sure to drop back by tomorrow for Day 7 of Christmas Cake and Cheesecake as I will have another awesome goody waiting for you to grace your holiday table with.