The rebellion in Florida fields by Immakolee workers chronicled in the new documentary Food Chains partially started in Irvine. Tomato pickers, toiling under exploitative conditions, took their fight to Taco Bell's Irvine headquarters during a four-year "Boycott the Bell" campaign that ended in 2005.
The fast food chain finally agreed to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes harvested in a victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). It propelled their Fair Food Program–one of the most powerful examples of labor organizing in the 21st century–to take on other companies with the same demand. The story of their struggle is set to return to Irvine by way of a special Food Chains screening on November 24 along with a protest action against Wendy's!
The film is co-produced by actress Eva Longoria and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser. Forest Whitaker serves as narrator. It debuts nationwide on November 21. "The film is really powerful," says longtime CIW solidarity activist Melody Gonzalez. She had the opportunity to view the documentary and was tasked with providing Spanish translation for it. "People will get a comprehensive view and analysis of the agricultural industry."
But more than a mere explanation, Food Chains portrays the reality of exploitation. "It also shows the human side of housing conditions, wages, and scenes from cases of modern day slavery taken up with the Department of Justice," Gonzalez adds. But unlike other dour documentaries on progressive issues, the film is imbued with an uplifting spirit.
"It shows people taking to the streets with farm workers to demand changes," Gonzalez says. She herself jump-started her own path of activism by joining the successful Boycott the Bell movement in 2003. "At the end of the film people are left feeling inspired and there's still a role for them to play.
The movement is ongoing. Since gaining a victory over Taco Bell in 2005, 13 more companies have signed on to the Fair Food Program including Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, McDonald's and Burger King, but others remain recalcitrant. The Irvine screening slated for November 24 at Woodbridge Movies 5 with a Q&A afterward will only happen with the help of 95 RSVPs by next Monday.
Also, instead of wondering "Where's the Beef?" the CIW is asking Wendy's "Where's the Justice?" with a planned action against the fast food joint at its UC Irvine campus location right before the film screening. See you there!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2