BY MARC RODRIGUES
Tomatoes … red, juicy and sweet. They taste great in Chalupas and Big Macs, but do you ever wonder where they come from? Many come from the southwest corner of Florida, near a town called Immokalee.
There, tomatoes are grown by huge corporations. Even bigger corporations like Taco Bell and McDonald’s buy these tomatoes. Behind that funny talking dog, Taco Bell’s mascot, is the reality that Taco Bell’s food is cheap because it demands that its ingredients — like tomatoes — are cheap. And cheap tomatoes mean low pay for the people who pick them.
Many farmworkers in these fields are no older than 15 or 16, and are immigrants from Mexico or Guatemala. They get paid about 40 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes that they pick. The fastest farmworker makes barely enough in one hour to buy a Happy Meal from McDonald’s.
About 10 years ago the tomato pickers came together and formed their own organization, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). CIW led a boycott* of Taco Bell. Young people across the country helped the farmworkers’ campaign. They persuaded 22 high schools and colleges to kick Taco Bell out of their cafeterias. After four years, the campaign won! Taco Bell now pays the workers more.
But McDonald’s still refuses to raise the farmworkers’ wages. The workers are not asking for a lot — just one more penny per pound of tomatoes and work without mistreatment. In October, CIW and the students will drive from Immokalee to Chicago, where McDonald’s has its headquarters, to protest the conditions of the farmworkers. On the way they’ll talk at schools, churches, and community spaces about the conditions in the fields and what people can do about it.
McDonald’s thinks that we young people are easily fooled by their advertising. They want us to think that eating their food makes us “cool” and happy. They don’t want us to question where that food comes from. But now that you know, will you ever look at Ronald McDonald the same way?
• • • • •
*BOYCOTT: An organized campaign to encourage people to not buy certain products so that a company will make less money or gain a bad image with the public.
Marc Rodrigues is co-coordinator of Student/Farmworker Alliance.