There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved – all within the borders of the United States.
Food Chains reveals the human cost in our food supply and the complicity of large buyers of produce like fast food and supermarkets. Fast food is big, but supermarkets are bigger – earning $4 trillion globally. They have tremendous power over the agricultural system. Over the past 3 decades they have drained revenue from their supply chain leaving farmworkers in poverty and forced to work under subhuman conditions. Yet many take no responsibility for this.
The narrative of the film focuses on an intrepid and highly lauded group of tomato pickers from Southern Florida – the Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CIW – who are revolutionizing farm labor. Their story is one of hope and promise for the triumph of morality over corporate greed – to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain.
Food Chains premiered at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival and screened subsequently at the Tribeca Film Festival and Guadalajara Film Festival. Food Chains will be released nationwide November 21st. The film’s Executive Producers include Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser.
Eva is best known for her role on the hit series Desperate Housewives and is also a noted activist on Hispanic issues. She has been honored with countless awards for her achievements, including “Philanthropist of the Year,” “Latina Visionary and Community Empowerment Award” and the “Cesar Chavez Legacy Award.”
Her last documentary in collaboration with Academy Award nominated Shine Global, The Harvest, on child farm workers, won a number of awards at film festivals.
A renowned labor activist, author (Fast Food Nation) and filmmaker (Food Inc.), Eric appeared in The Nation Magazine’s food issue in 2011, writing “I hope that the food movement will continue to grow and thrive. More important, I hope that it will become part of a larger movement with a broader vision—a movement committed to opposing unchecked corporate power, to gaining a living wage and a safe workplace and good health for the millions of Americans who lack them.”
Sanjay spent over a decade working in the non-profit and government sectors while running a small agricultural genetics company with his father, Dr. Kanti Rawal. After working with Abby Disney and Gini Reticker as a consultant to their hit documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), he was bit by the film bug. His first short, Ocean Monk (2010), took the Best Short Doc Prize (online) at the 2010 St. Louis Film Festival.
His second film, Challenging Impossibility (2011), premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and played in 75 more, winning a number of awards. Food Chains is his first feature.
Smriti is a personable film producer, shooter and storyteller with a focus on drawing conclusions within complex systems and connecting dots on the plain of human behavior. She has a roster of highly notable projects, all of which have explored lands, stories or issues not heavily reported. She has a keen eye for choosing narratives that offer underrepresented perspectives and inspire social action.
She has produced several short documentaries as well as a recently acquired television series, Surfing 28 States: India. She has also contributed to ESPN original content (ESPN Films, X Games, E:60) and has had her photography showcased in numerous publications.
Hamilton is a champion of social justice whose accomplishments include the reinvigoration of The Nation magazine making it the exemplary journal of politics and protest that it is today.
He is also an accomplished filmmaker, having produced The Memory of Justice and the Academy Award-winning documentary Hotel Terminus.
Forest is an acclaimed professional photographer (2011 PDN) whose photos regularly appear in various publications (National Geographic, Forbes, Patagonia, Daily Beast).
Forest brings a photographer’s perspective to filmmaking and his cinematography has appeared in various commercials (ESPN, Coachella), short films and feature length documentaries.
Erin is a dynamic and insightful editor who began her career in the cutting room of Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions under award-winning editors Sloane Klevin and Chad Beck. She worked in the editorial departments of notable social issue documentaries including Mea Maxima Culpa, The Last Gladiators and Park Avenue.
Gil Talmi is a world-renowned film composer with a focus on socially conscious projects. Gil’s music can be heard in a variety of award winning films and TV programs worldwide, from productions for Warner Brothers, Paramount and PBS to pro bono collaborations with The International Rescue Committee and StoryCorps. Gil was nominated for a “National News and Documentary Emmy Award” for his work on CBS Evening News. More at www.giltalmi.com
Lekha Singh, Bob Leary, David Damian Figueroa, Alisa Swidler, Alfonso Montiel, Abigail Disney, Mayra Hernandez Gonzalez and Roberto Gonzalez Barrera. Co-produced by Barry Estabrook. Associate producers include Katie Leary and Jonathan Cogut.
Also edited by Emily Clifton.
Additional cinematography by Ben Wolf.
Film graphics by Drew Jordan & Sissy+David Hobizal.
Additional graphics by Mark Thompson.
While groups like the UFW achieved historic successes for farmworker justice, farm labor remains today remains one of the most difficult and most underpaid jobs in America.
Farmworkers are generally paid by the piece rather than strictly by the hour, a system that is a direct legacy of slavery. Forced to work at a brutal pace in order to earn the equivalent of minimum wage, farmworkers live well below the poverty line. An average farmworker earns about $12,000 a year providing the goods that enable large retailers to make billions in annual profits.
While the situation for women in any workplace is far from ideal – one in four American women experience sexual harassment in the office – female farmworkers face an endless barrage of abuse. It is estimated that 80% of farmworker females experience sexual harassment in the fields.
In the most extreme cases, farmworkers have been held in debt bondage or modern-day slavery. These are not rare occurrences, but rather, a by-product of an agricultural system that relies on the desperately poor. When one is living in poverty, the loss of a job can have brutal effects. It is this poverty that can place farmworkers in unpredictable situations – ones that can lead to modern-day slavery.
The primary subject of Food Chains, a grassroots labor organization called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), has developed a remarkable program to end poverty and exploitation in the tomato fields of Florida. 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.
To date, twelve major retailers have signed on including Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonalds, the YUM Brands, Chipotle, Burger King, Aramark, Compass Group, Bon Appetit, Sodexo, and Subway.
The Fair Food Program has been called “one of the great human rights success stories of our day” in a Washington Post op-ed, “the best workplace monitoring program” in the U.S. in the New York Times, and a “smart mix of tools” that “could serve as a model elsewhere in the world” by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights.
There are a number of retailers who have resisted signing this landmark agreement including Publix, Kroger, Safeway, and Wendy’s. Their forceful stand against the dignity and rights of workers is shameful.