The fair food movement

I have heard of actor Eva Longoria and the hit TV show Desperate Housewives that she starred in but had never actually seen her perform. So I was initially inclined to give her appearance on The Colbert Report a miss because celebrity interviews with people whose work I am not familiar with tend to bore me.

But I am glad that I decided to watch because it turns out that she is also an activist and producer of documentaries seeking to improve the conditions of farm workers. She spoke about her work with the Fair Food Program that seeks to persuade consumers (individual and especially corporate) to pay just a tiny bit more for produce, that can make a huge difference in the wages of farm workers. This is because the actual labor costs in picking the food from the fields form just a tiny part of the price that we pay at the retail level. Most of the money goes to fertilizer, transport, marketing, and the various markups as it moves from vendor to vendor.

For example, tomato pickers get paid just one cent per pound for tomatoes. By being willing to pay one cent more per pound, we can double the wages of the workers, while not even noticing the extra cost. I was staggered to hear her say that a tomato picker picks about 40,000 lbs of tomatoes per day. And on top of this, they are often severely abused and harassed and taken advantage of. This is staggeringly hard and back-breaking work by people the oligarchy likes to label as moochers and looters.

[Update: It looks like she made a slip of the tongue because according to this article, it works to about 4,000 lbs.)

Florida tomato pickers, such as Cruz Salucio, 23, currently earn 40 cents to 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes picked. Salucio said to earn $50 in a day, he would have to collect 125 buckets of tomatoes.

Farmworkers regularly work 10- to 15-hour days with no overtime pay, no health insurance, no right to organize, no sick days, no holidays and no benefits.]

Her documentary is called Food Chains and here is the trailer.

All of us really have to be wiling to pay a little bit more for food and other goods and services where the workers get paid a pittance and the labor costs just a tiny fraction of the price that we pay.

It is an interview worth watching.

(This clip aired on November 18, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    If we assume the average tomato weighs four ounces, then the picker would need to bag 160,000 tomatoes to hit that 40,000-pound target. If we further assume a 12-hour workday (12 x 3600 seconds or 43,200 seconds) then the worker would have to pull nearly 4 tomatoes a second, without stop, for the whole 12 hours to hit that 40,000 pound target.

    Having picked produce on Southern Ohio truck farms in my early teens, I suppose that is possible, but I wouldn’t want to have attempted such a goal.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  2. Randy Lee says

    Even if we were talking about one/third lb tomatoes a picker would have to pick 120,000 tomatoes to reach the 40, 000 lb mark. Thats slightly under three tomatoes per second. I think that even this amount is unbelievable since it would require this amount to be picked continually every second for 12 hours straight. How many workers do we really think could accomplish this feat?

    Another figure that is unbelievable is the 1 cent per pound paid to the workers. If we accept the 40, 000 lb figure as true That would come to 400 dollars per day, or about 33.33 dollars per hour.on a 12 hour day.
    Finally, assuming the figures cited in the article are correct, we can understand why these guys want to risk death to come work here. Wile our people are forced to accept minimum wage these immigrants are getting rich. Maybe I will try picking tomatoes.
    The likely truth is that workers recieve much more than 1 cent per pound. With tomatoes selling from .99 to 2.99 per pound it is hard to imagine that the difference is all other expenses and protits to owners and middlemen.

    Something smells in Denmark when it comes to the figures cited by this article. Another example of how bleeding heart liberals will twist the facts to promote an agenda.

  3. Mano Singham says

    I wouldn’t draw too deep a conclusion about this. It looks like Longoria made a slip of the tongue and was off by a factor of 10. In this article about the same group she portrays, it looks like it works out close to 4,000 lbs.

  4. ShowMetheData says

    @ Randy Lee
    “Another figure that is unbelievable is the 1 cent per pound paid to the workers”

    On what basis is this unbelievable? Your vaunted perfect knowledge of the vegetable distribution system?
    .003(share that farm-workers receive = 0.3%) x $3.50 per pound = (knock yourself out)
    There are numbers there to drain your sub-humanity -- maybe you can calculate your privilege per meters squared.

    What a terrible agenda you have to live with -- Really?
    Using back of the envelope calculations to derail hope and a future? And fairness -- you got your share; let’s steal others -- tomatoes taste much better when salted by the tears of the poor. Maybe you can wait until they are on sale? SCORE!

  5. bmiller says

    Denmark is actually a social democracy that looks askance at the sociopathic philosophies of those like “Randy Lee”. Which makes his use of the cliche even more laughable.

  6. Mano Singham says

    Randy Lee,

    Why is is so hard for you to believe that tomato pickers get only one cent per pound? The fact that the actual producers of mass-produced goods get only a tiny fraction of the retail price has long been well established in many industries.

    In this article for example, we are told that the manufacturers of t-shirts get 3 cents for each, while the shirts retail for anywhere between $3 and $15, roughly the same price/wage ratio as the tomato pickers.

    Also, I have never quite understood why to be moved by the dire plight of extremely hard-working but poorly paid people is pejoratively described as being a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. If you are not so moved, you have ceased to be human.

  7. Randy Lee says

    Real slick how “ShowMetheData” conflates the income percentages taken from tobacco statistics with those of the tomato industry. The check shown on the website paid to a tomato picker, shows however that the worker was actually paid 94.20 for one 12 hour picking period. $94.20 is the sum of piece picking incentive payments on top of minimum wage payments paid over the one 12 hour period shown on the check. Certainly not very much money for a long day in the sun, however if we assume that each piece refers to a 50lb crate or box then this worker recieved approx. $8.00 per crate/piece. That is approx. $16.00 per 100 lbs, or 16 cents per lb. No information was cited in the article as to the number of lbs n the box, but even if it was twice that, a 100 lbs, the worker would still be recieving 8 cents per pound. This far exceeds the figures cited by Longoria or those assumed from tobacco data suggested by “Show Me the Data”. Something still stinks in Denmark.
    Funny how people south of the border will risk their lives for an opportunity to make a small check, as opposed to most US citizens who are too lazy to even risk getting sunburn to participate in farm labor.
    As long as we have borders, and states, and laws supporting the same, all of which I disagree with, shouldn’t we expect those laws to be recognized by illegal immigrants? Otherwise why should we suggest that more laws be created and followed to solve some other social issue?
    Even those immigrant farm workers who are legal, are here because they percieve what they can make here as much better than what they are able to get back home. The income disparity between what the growers, the workers and the manufacturors and distributors recieve is ultimately the result of state sustained corporatism which is mistaken as simple capitalism. But corporate capitalism is at the root of all income disparity in this nation.
    We as a nation, are so short sighted and ignorant that we allow corporations to enjoy fictional limited liabilities to which individuals are not entitled. We in fact subsidize the very existence of the very parasites that destroy us from within, while at the same time attempting to justify their existence. All corporate privileges that are extended to corporations by the State, are in fact subsidies that create an unlevel playing field in the marketplace.
    We are unable to concieve how combinations of people can operate together outside of a corporate context without all the legal protections afforded to corporations. This short sighted inability keeps us enslaved to the wealthy class that have by their corporate ventures transferred the majority of the wealth and political power to themselves.
    And then that same sort-sightedness causes many to demand what appears to be simplistic social fixes such as raising the minimum wage, never considering the repercussion of such economic manipulation.

  8. Randy Lee says

    Mano, i am certainly moved by the hard-working plight of the poor. I myself have lived below the poverty line all my life. But I do not think that knee-jerk simplistic price manipulations are capable of actually solving an underlying structural problem that is more complex, much larger and founded upon centuries of political propaganda.

    I would best be described as a “bleeding heart libertarian”. The perjoritive term “bleeding heart liberal” has deep partisan nuances. These nuances are inherently statist in their nature as they operate in accordance with predatory principles based upon Machiavellianist ideologies and the Hegellian dialectic.

    My heart bleeds not only for the poor, but also for the blind who have been ensnared by the Great Statist Hope.

  9. Randy Lee says

    Tell me bmiller,

    How much more sociopathic can one be than those who have resigned to accept the predatory underpinnings of the state as their means to their end?

  10. lpetrich says

    Randy Lee, what would you prefer? Militant labor activism? It looks like that’s what we are likely to get. Look at the recent strikes by fast-food workers and Walmart workers and the like.

    Also, Randy Lee, do you government want military and police forces disbanded? Those are nothing but coercive “men with guns” that libertarians never tire of whining about.

  11. Holms says

    Actually, paying the lowest tier of worker is precisely the sort of simplistic policy that will improve the lives of untold millions.

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