www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqZLrXVAde4 In Immokalee, Fla., after driving around the country visiting farms, Sanjay Rawal found the solution — at least one of them.
He’d been looking, after reading the book "Tomatoland" by Barry Estabrook, for a way to show on film the struggles facing farm laborers. The result, his first feature-length film, "Food Chains," debuted in Washington at the West End Cinema (2301 M St. NW) on Friday.
“In an age where we all take photos of our food with our phones, we care so much about our food, but we’re not protecting the hands that pick our food,” Rawal said.
The solution he found was a worker-based organization that started the Fair Food Program, which asked for something simple: That one cent per pound of tomatoes be added on and given back to the workers picking those tomatoes. That penny would nearly double the wage of the workers back in the field.
“That penny can mean the difference between sub-poverty wages and a living wage for these farm workers,” Rawal said.
Rawal worked on the documentary for three-and-a-half years, editing it out of New York City and flying down to Florida, and other shooting locations, at least once a month. As a former nonprofit worker-turned-documentary filmmaker, he knew how to raise money for issue-based work. But, even with a rise in food and immigration awareness in the country, he found himself struggling to find his niche fundraising source.
“This isn’t necessarily a sexy topic; it’s not a politically powerful topic,” Rawal said. “It’s not like people in the state capital or on the Hill are talking about farm worker rights, so it’s difficult to get the attention of major funders.”
After making countless calls, the funding gained momentum, and big names like Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser jumped on.
The film documents issues surrounding farm labor that Rawal compares to slavery. Low wages, tough work and lack of opportunity take their toll on the workers. He said this film is an opportunity to spread the message that problems run deep in the American food supply, even while the political system is consumed with immigration and Americans are increasingly aware of where and how their food is made.