Florida Tomato Growers No Longer Evil, Exploitative, Thanks to Taco Bell
Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine
Years ago, I visited a book club that had selected one of my rants as a group project. The setting was someone's house in Corona del Mar, with a beautiful view of the Pacific. It was a great time save for one awkward conversation: one of the gentleman (whose name I can't remember) began complaining about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which the Weekly has covered for more than a decade despite them being located in Florida. Locally, they're most famous for launching a years-long boycott against Taco Bell because they initially refused to pay a penny more per pound of tomato they bought from Florida growers. The Bell eventually agreed to it, but the gentleman, whose family ran Six L's, one of the bigger Florida firms, grumbled that Florida growers treated workers with dignity and respect, and they didn't appreciate the CIW one bit or Taco Bell, who they felt capitulated to a bunch of Mexicans and Haitians.
My, how the times have changed--and my, how history is forgotten.
Last week, the Atlantic wrote how Florida growers have signed the CIW's Fair Food Code of Conduct, an agreement in which growers essentially promise to treat tomateros as humans. If you know anything about America's atrocious treatment of agricultural workers in its history, this is absolutely momentous: capitalists caring about workers? Carnegie and Rockefeller must be roasting in hell over this.
But what the article doesn't mention is Taco Bell's role in teaching corporations that it's okay to care about people who aren't employees of its company. For years, Taco Bell's strategy in fighting the CIW was claiming it had no say in how Florida tomato pickers were treated because they weren't Taco Bell employees. Because of CIW pressure and a tinge of humanity in their heart, Taco Bell changed its tune in 2005, a move that set the stage for nearly the entire segment of the fast-food industry that buys Florida tomatoes to eventually work with the CIW.
Regular Forkers know I'm not the biggest Taco Bell fan, but let's give the Bell its due. They ain't no Cesar Chavez, but they--in their own little-but-significant way--have helped the U.S. get to a day where we no longer have factories in the field.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.