Food Chains Links Claremont to Social Justice, Food Sourcing

A few hundred miles up the coast from Claremont lies Napa Valley’s lush landscapes, rolling hills and exorbitant wealth. This wealth is built on the famed wine industry and, unfortunately, on the backs of industrious, often underpaid farmworkers who work in unsafe, unjust conditions. As Forrest Whitaker, the narrator of the 2014 documentary “Food Chains,” explains, “The landscape may be beautiful in Napa Valley and along coastal Florida, but often the beauty of the landscape disguises this incredible poverty that’s right there.”

Pomona College’s Farm Club unearthed this reality at its screening of “Food Chains,” alongside the Pomona Student Union, Claremont Climate Justice and Empowered Latinxs in Action (ELA) at Rose Hills Theatre on Nov. 17. Though the film addressed labor conditions from Napa to Japan, it focused on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in Florida.

CIW is a human rights organization that is currently attempting to implement a Fair Food Program, which would protect farmworkers from abuse and harassment, in addition to gauranteeing them fair wages.

“I really wanted to share that with as many people as possible—where our food comes from, who’s making our food, and what kind of work is behind what we eat, and also how social change can happen in a real way,” said Emily Freilich PO '18, who organized the event through Farm Club.

Traditionally, the term “food chains” refers to the linear relationships that link biological organisms to food. In this film, the food chain in question begins with the farmworker at one end and, through distributors, reaches the powerful fast food and supermarket corporations. The problem, as one farmworker claims, is that “it’s a supply chain that everyone’s linked together, but you know, the link at one end of the chain never really connects to the one all the way at the other end.”

The screening of the film was originally intended to precede a discussion with the film’s director Sanjay Rawal, but because Rawal dislocated his shoulder and was unable to make the screening, the hosts of the event improvised. In his place, two members of CIW and the Student/Farmworker Alliance of Immokalee, Fla., answered questions and spoke via Skype. Despite its last-minute nature, the change was well received by students in attendance.

“It was really cool to put a face to the group other than the one that’s been through the filter of the director and the people making the movie,” Kristen Hernandez PO ‘18 said.

Talking with representatives involved with the Student/Farmworker Alliance also provided attendees examples of how to act as an agent of change. Hernandez, who came out to support ELA, expressed hopes that the Claremont organization would look to tackle the issues addressed in the film.

“Something like the SFA looking at how the campuses relate to the chain of food production might be a good way for us to build community and get involved with issues that directly relate to marginalized groups,” she said.

Audience member Kacey Hopson PO ’16 has her own experience with the movement. Currently a policy intern at the Food Chain Workers Alliance in Los Angeles, Hopson plans to organize those interested in furthering Claremont’s involvement with fair food practices in a meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 23.

“As much as we often talk about how the 5Cs are a bubble, they’re somewhat disconnected from the rest of the community,” Hopson said. “To the extent that all the colleges here have to find and procure food for their students, those are very real, tangible connections to outside communities that we can’t forget that we have. When we are partnering with distribution companies and/or the companies that operate our dining halls, who we choose to partner with is an expression of our values.”

As for the possibility of Claremont’s action against unjust labor practices, Hopson said, “I ultimately think it would be really helpful for the worker organizing that’s going on, that continues to go on at Pomona and is happening now at Pitzer, because there is language in the Good Food Purchasing Policy about labor standards that, if adopted by any of the institutions, would allow organizers here to kind of point to and use as leverage.”

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