"To me it means life, it means memories," says Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a farmworker advocate featured in the documentary Food Chains. He's talking about food itself. Director Sanjay Rawal follows the activism of Chavez and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of tomato pickers who've had the audacity to ask for a penny more per pound of tomatoes, an amount they say would contribute mightily to their quality of life. In characteristic face-value fashion, they call it the Fair Food Program, and major corporate food purveyors, from Walmart to McDonald's, have signed on.
With the help of accomplished photography and sometimes mournful, sometimes upbeat Latin music, the film fosters a very human connection to these pickers, whose eloquence comes from their plainspoken arguments, the austerity of their situation, and the modesty of their demands. It's hard to fathom how little has changed from 1960, when Edward R. Murrow covered this same ground in Harvest of Shame. In those days, farmers held the power; today it's fast-food conglomerates and supermarkets. Indeed, it's grocery chain Publix's mind-boggling refusal to even meet with the CIW -- even in the face of a six-day hunger strike near their Florida headquarters -- that is the movie's focal point.
"We work in this life to not worry about food," Chavez says. But Americans remain all too disconnected from those who toil in grim living and working conditions to supply their food. Maybe it's about time to worry.