Simple Sides: Tomato & Chickpea Salad (A Recipe for Change)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Instead of blogging about an adventurous night in the kitchen, I'd like to share one of my favorite tomato dishes in honor of an important cause. I was asked by my friend and fellow social activist Luis Gomez to join other food bloggers in raising awareness for Slave-Free Tomato Day. Most of us rarely stop to consider where our food originated and how it made its way to our plates. We often think of widespread controversial labor issues as a thing that happens overseas or in third-world nations. But right here in the tomato fields of Florida, where a huge portion of America's tomatoes come from (up to 90% in the winter), immigrant workers are being subjected to harsh working conditions, brutal heat, long hours and shockingly low wages. Think about the cost of tomatoes where you shop. You're likely to be paying anywhere from $3 to $5 for a small carton of cherry tomatoes, and around $2/lb or more for most vine-ripened tomatoes. Now what if I told you those same tomatoes are often picked by a laborer being paid no more than 50 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes collected, and even then may have been cheated out of full pay for a day's work? Let that sink in a little bit.

In the region of Immokalee, where the vast majority of Florida tomatoes are harvested, labor camps have been setup to house these workers, but the cost of renting a trailer far outweighs the meager wages earned. As a result, workers are forced to share small living spaces with multiple families and often become indebted to the farm owners. In some camps, actual conditions of slavery have been discovered, where farm workers were being held in captivity and against their will, forced to work the tomato fields to pay off their debts. Here's a short video sharing one worker's story of life in Immokalee:

What can be done to stop this injustice? For starters, the Coalition for Immokalee Workers has established the Fair Food Program, which calls for improved working conditions and a wage increase that amounts to 1.5 cents per pound, and asks that purchases of Florida tomatoes are made from farms that have agreed to abide by acceptable labor practices. Several national corporations (to include McDonald's, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's) have agreed to work with the CIW in support of fair wages and just working conditions for tomato workers. Who hasn't? Major buyers of tomatoes such as grocery stores like Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin's, Kroger, and Publix (my local chain) and restaurants like Chipotle, the fast food Mexican chain that hypocritically claims to deliver "Food with Integrity." Unfortunately, we the consumers indirectly contribute to this problem by supporting companies like Publix and Chipotle who refuse to do the right thing and choose profits over people. As Amanda Kloer of writes for CNN's article about the tomato's possible ties to slavery:
Exploitation in the tomato industry isn't just the work of a handful of immoral individuals – it's the result of a supply chain which is set up to support the exploitation of the very people who keep it running.
So what can you do?  Educate yourself about ongoing labor injustices for tomato workers on tomato farms such as those in Immokolee, Florida and demand that the establishments you frequent endorse the Fair Food Program. Take action by sending a message to the executives of the major grocery chains who stand on the wrong side of labor rights, or start a petition to let your local store know that members of your community demand change. Participate in local demonstrations and protests organized by local activist groups.

Most importantly, strive to purchase locally grown, in-season tomatoes and ensure that you are buying slave-free tomatoes such as those sold by farmer's markets, CSA's, and grocery stores that have endorsed the Fair Food Program.  Together, we can help the people of Immokolee and all other tomato workers who make it possible for us to put meals on the table for our families every day.

Tomato & Chickpea Salad (A Recipe for Change)

2 c. mixed tomatoes of various colors
1 can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
1 red onion, diced
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 c. good quality olive oil 
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh flat leaf parsley
Sea salt, to taste

Serves: 4 - 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Equipment needed: None

Slice or dice tomatoes to similar size. In the picture above, I used halved yellow cherry tomatoes and diced plum tomatoes. Whatever you have works! If using whole tomatoes, you will need to de-seed them prior to dicing. Combine the tomatoes, chickpeas and onions in large bowl.

Chiffonade basil & mint leaves and finely chop the parsley to yield 3 to 4 tablespoons of chopped herbs. Feel free to add or substitute other fresh herbs if you have something else on hand. Cilantro or oregano would also work well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the chopped herbs.  Toss the tomatoes, chickpeas and onions with vinaigrette. Season with sea salt to taste. Can be served cool or at room temperature.

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