by Alex Galimberti
For over a year Taranta dedicated itself to learning and supporting what can be considered the 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, the Taranta crew met Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Through the connection established with the CIW, Chef Jose Duarte, general manager Chris Titus, and I took a trip to Immokalee where we became aware of exploitative conditions and cases of modern day slavery in the tomato fields of Florida. By understanding the scale of the issues addressed by CIW’s Fair Food campaign, we realized that chefs and restaurant workers represent the final link connecting the food system from farmworker to consumer. Our position as restaurant professionals enables us to raise awareness to our consumers and also question the practices of large food producers.
Through the support of Star Chefs, Chef Duarte assembled a panel entitled “The Human Cost of Food.” Panelists included Gerardo Reyes, author of Tomatoland Barry Estabrook, and Chef Duarte. Together, they presented at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in New York City. Discussed was CIW’s key strategy–requesting the largest tomato buyers in the country to sign into the Fair Food Agreement. Some of these buyers include Whole Foods Market, Trader Joes, Aramark, and Sodexo. These buyers promise exclusive purchasing from producers who are inspected and verified by an independent auditor. Approved producers comply with a basic set of standards, such as zero tolerance for physical abuse and sexual harassment of farmworkers, just to name a few.
One of the main points of contention during the three-day congress was Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.’s stance on the Fair Food Agreement. When the congress was held, Chipotle had not signed the agreement. The company’s research and development chefs Nate Appleman and Joel Holland debated with Reyes over the level of involvement of chefs with labor and human rights issues. Both sides left the congress with a wider scope of awareness of the variable viewpoints of industry chefs. This debate struck a chord with the Taranta crew, for sustainable food cannot exist without the fair treatment of farmworkers. On October 4th, Chipotle chairman Steve Ellis signed the Fair Food Agreement with representatives from the CIW. The Taranta crew and I are happy that such an important company in our industry is now an ally in this cause. The battle is far from over, but we believe our efforts sharing this story with the chef community have paid off.
Alex is a Gastronomy graduate student. He is currently the Beverage Director and Chef Instructor at Taranta Restaurant, Boston. Read Alex’s complete post and learn more about Taranta’s visit to Imokalee here.