By Alex Galimberti, Taranta’s Beverages Director and Chef Instructor
For over a year Taranta has been dedicated to learning and supporting what we consider to be a most important element to creating a sustainable food system: ensuring good work conditions for our nation’s farmworkers. It all started during the Chef’s Collaborative Annual Summit that took place last September in New Orleans. There, we met Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Through the connection we established with the CIW we decided to learn about farm work at the source. Chef Jose Duarte, general manager Chris Titus, and I took a trip to Immokalee where we became aware of exploitative conditions and even verified cases of modern day slavery in the tomato fields of Florida. By understanding the scale of the issues being addressed by the CIW’s Fair Food campaign we realized that as chefs and restaurant workers we represent the final link connecting the food chain from farmworker to consumer. Our position in the food chain enables us to raise awareness to our consumers and also to question the practices of the large food producers. We knew that getting chefs involved would make a great impact in this cause. Chef Duarte decided to reach out to the chef community and through the support of Star Chefs a panel entitled The Human Cost of Food brought together Gerardo Reyes, Barry Estabrook (author of the book Tomatoland), and chef Duarte to present at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in New York City that took place from Sept 30 to Oct 2. The key strategy employed by the CIW is to request that the largest tomato buyers in the country sign into the Fair Food Agreement that promises that they will only buy from producers that were verified by an independent auditor to be compliant with a basic set of standards that include (among other measures) zero tolerance for physical abuse or sexual harassment of farmworkers. A question that was raised during the three day congress was that Chipotle one of the nation’s largest buyers would not sign the agreement. Chipotle research and development chefs Nate Appleman and Joel Holland were also presenting in the congress. Gerardo Reyes was courteous to ask them about the reasons why Chipotle would not sign the Fair Food Agreement and he also invited them to listen his presentation. One comment that Chef Appleman said was that he is just a chef and it is not his job to worry about this. We believe that as restaurant professionals this is exactly our job. There is no food without farmworkers and there is no sustainable food without fair treatment of farmworkers. This is a human rights issue that is much affected by how we act within our industry. We would like to believe that our efforts sharing this story with the chef community has paid off. On Thursday afternoon Chipotle chairman Steve Ells signed the Fair Food Agreement with representatives of the CIW. We are happy that such an important company in our industry is now an ally in this cause. The battle is far from over but this week has showed great strides.
To learn more about Taranta’s visit to Immokalee please visit NPeaches productions and watch this video: http://vimeo.com/50532219
To learn about the Fair Food Program: http://www.ciw-online.org/FFP_FAQ.html