COMMENTARY | A tomato starter plant display was prominently located at the front entrance of our local Publix grocery store on Sunday. Ironic, given The Orlando Sentinel’s report that Ethel Kennedy joined 1,000 tomato farmworkers at the Lakeland, Fla., Publix headquarters on Saturday. Tomato farmworkers have been fasting for a week in protest of a fair wage contract dispute that Publix hasn’t signed.
If the tomato farmworker protest had been against any other supermarket chain, my family would completely boycott shopping at the grocery store. As it stands now, we’re only boycotting tomato purchases from them. We’ve shopped at Publix for decades. It’s sparkly clean, has nice workers, is senior friendly, and continues to rate highly in the annual Forbes Top 100 best companies to work for list.
We were relieved when ABC News reported on Thursday that Publix does not use that nasty pink slime stuff in their beef. When ABC first broke the pink slime in beef story last week, we suspected that our usual grocery store’s ground beef would not be affected. In my family’s memory, anytime there’s been a ground beef recall or grocery meat scandal like pinking up the color of expired beef, Publix beef was not affected. How wonderful that again, it was so.
Yet we’re puzzled why such an upstanding, innovative, customer and employee friendly company would be uncooperative with tomato farmworkers. Approving a 1 cent fair wage compensation agreement to benefit low-wage tomato farmworkers goes against company policy and procedures?
It doesn’t seem reasonable to my family that the details concerning the method used to ultimately benefit the farmworkers, at the bottom of the payments food chain, would be a significant enough issue to withhold approval. More so since 90 percent of the rest of the state’s tomato buyers have already approved it according to the Sentinel. A Forbes Top 100 company to work for can’t adjust to a new process. Really?
South Florida’s tomato pickers have been the stuff of Florida scandal for decades. Often characterized as “modern slavery”, national news outlets like NPR have reported on their exploitation and abuse as recently as 2011 and as far back as 1997 when six tomato pickers held a hunger strike. Yet, meaningful improvement seems elusive.
So my family won’t be buying pink slimed hamburgers or ground beef from fast food joints, restaurants, or in frozen food entrees. We’ll make meatloaf, beef tacos, and hamburgers at home using Publix beef, but we’ll hold the tomato — maybe the lettuce too.
We were thinking about trying the new weekly home delivery of organic fruits and vegetables from the local farmer’s co-op anyway. We may also buy organic soil and tomato seedlings to try growing our own.
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