A few nights ago my wife and I watched a really intense episode of Law and Order SVU which focused on a disturbed couple who abused young children and used them as indentured farm laborers. My wife, who is a doctoral student in food policy at Rutgers University then emailed me the following link about a topic we have discussed several times over the past few years: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/09/137623954/the-troubled-history-of-the-supermarket-tomato. This book reveals disturbing details related to conditions in which farm workers often operate, something many who live in Florida have been hearing about for years. In the NPR article referenced above, the author states that "there's an even darker side to the modern commercial tomato…up until recently, workers on many of Florida's vast industrial tomato farms were basically slaves…People being bought and sold like animals…people being shackled in chains. People being beaten for either not working hard enough, fast enough, or being too weak or sick to work. People actually being shot and killed for trying to escape. That sounds like 1850's slavery to me, and that, in fact, is going on, or has gone on." Although the above story is an extreme example of when farm workers are mistreated and taken advantage of, abuse of workers is certainly not rare (http://www.alternet.org/food/outsourcing-abuse-how-farm-workers-are-being-cheated-out-their-hard-earned-money).
The following is a really great blog entry on the topic of farm slavery in America: http://blog.thegreenplate.org/2011/02/beware-far-slavery/. I know at many Passover seders I attended in the past we bring up those individuals who are currently enslaved throughout the world, however, we often forget to recognize the slavery-like conditions that might be occurring in our own back yards. This occurs when as a society we turn a blind eye and allow the most vulnerable to be preyed upon. As Jews, and especially during this time of Pesach, we should feel a strong connection to this issue and make sure our voices are heard. There are many important environmental and health issues related to the manner in which we grow and distribute our food. Equally important, however, are the workers and their families and making sure they are protected and being treated with dignity.
This Passover my family will be joining the new custom of placing a tomatoe on our seder plate in order to recognize the plight of so many farm workers, facing harsh conditions in order to provide for their families (http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tomato-seder-plate-article-1.1296337). I welcome you to join me and during the seder to discuss ways in which we can have an impact on this issue, especially at a time when immigration reform is a hot topic and the minds of most politicians. I also encourage you to go to the Fair Food Program Website and find more ways to get involved: http://fairfoodstandards.org/about.html.