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Fast for Fair Food: Farmworkers Fast so "Our Children Won't Have To"

The choice to fast is both an evocation of the history of farmworker activism and a moral choice, made to highlight the poverty the workers face.

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Many members of the interfaith community have been blogging their experiences, reaching out to their respective traditions and explaining why they chose to fast. Rev. Noelle Damico, a member of the Presbyterian Hunger Program from White Plains, New York, wrote Monday: 

“It is hot. Searing hot. There isn’t quite enough shade for all the fasters so another tent is being erected. Even necessary tasks turn into opportunities for community. Laughter, string, where to stake? Which way will the wind blow? A good question in more ways than one…”

CIW has also undertaken an innovative social media campaign, posting pictures, videos, and regular updates under the hashtag #fairfoodfast on Twitter, and holding a Wednesday afternoon Twitter chat with Rev. Michael Livingston, former president of the National Council of Churches and current director of the NCC's Poverty Initiative, Gerardo Reyes of the CIW, and Rev. Damico (read the whole conversation on Storify). Online petitions at Presente.org and the National Council of Churches also help broaden the reach of the campaign. Despite working in 19th-century conditions, the workers of the Coalition have been able to amplify their protests through a solid web presence. 

The coalition is known for its creative actions, dramatizing the refusal of giant, profitable corporations to speak to the workers. Recently, three of the farmworkers offered to ride bicycles from Immokalee, where they work in the tomato fields, to Publix headquarters in Lakeland to extend the CEO, Ed Crenshaw, a personal invitation to come see their working conditions himself. While Crenshaw and the higher-ups at Publix continue to avoid facing the workers, they are getting increasing support from Publix employees—who, as stockholders in the company, might be able to help the farmworkers get their message across.

“We're hoping that Publix will agree to meet with us, that God may soften the executives' hearts,” Galindo said.

Making Food Fair

During the day, the participants in the Fast for Fair Food have been holding workshops on social justice, sharing their collective knowledge. They've heard from a small farmer, from members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and from members of clergy from various faiths, discussing the message of social justice woven through all of their respective scriptures. Their protest isn't unlike a small Occupy encampment, claiming space and visibility while working together to create a vision of a system that works for all.

But, of course, the CIW has a very definite request to make of Publix: they want the supermarket giant, which is Florida's largest corporation, to join the Fair Food Program. “Their refusal to participate anchors the resistance of the supermarket industry as a whole,” Oscar Otzoy of the CIW said.

Faster Shannon Gorres, a seminarian from Kansas, explained why the campaign is targeting Publix in particular:

Ten corporations have agreed to this Code of Conduct, but Publix has negated, denying their responsibility to agree to fair food. By refusing to agree, they are sending pressure down the supply chain and threatening to undo some of the gains the Coalition has won. Because they buy in bulk and want the cheapest price, there is pressure on the growers (companies that sell the produce to the supermarket corporations) to get the cheapest labor possible. And if Publix refuses to agree to the Fair Food demands, they will continue to buy produce from growers in whose fields abuses are still happening.

“Despite the fact that we are human beings that harvest the tomatoes sold in the stores, they nonetheless deny our humanity,” Galindo said. “We work incredibly hard under the hot sun, in the heat, the cold, the rain. It doesn't bother me that it's hard work, the problem is that the wages are incredibly low and there's lots of mistreatment.”