tomatoes on vine

I’m an elementary kid, spending a few summer days at my grandma’s house, and when she says she wants to make sauce for dinner, I know it means stepping from the dining room onto the back porch, down steps to the yard and its back-corner garden, where we’ll pull ripe tomatoes straight from the vine. The first time I ever see tomatoes growing in the ground and not stacked up neat and shiny at the store is in this yard, the same yard where my brother and I fight with water guns and talk to the the neighbor’s dogs through a chain-link fence and step on massive ant hills in the holes of Grandma’s concrete driveway.

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Over 20 years later, I’m an adult, and I’ve grown other plants and I’ve stepped in other yards, but still, when I think of tomatoes, I think of Grandma’s garden, the one bordering her lilac bush and the neighbor’s fence, and of the weeks of harvest it would give each year. And lately in Nashville, as our Tuesday pickups are piled high with tomatoes—orange, red, yellow; big and grape—I hold the box of them, inhaling their scent, which is as much summer as it is that plot of land in Maywood, and I think what a gift this time of year is, what a blessing filled with rich fruit, tomatoes that are not even worth comparing with what you find at the store in January, not even close.

tomatoes

So in the midst of this, when Nicole says to me one Friday afternoon, in a quick email conversation about risotto and cooking and tomato jam that, hey, speaking of tomatoes, you might like to know about this, referring to the upcoming campaign she’ll be launching, through her organization The Giving Table, to have food bloggers come together to encourage some sort of change to end slavery in Florida tomato fields, I’m kind of confused.

All I can say is I didn’t know—because maybe I’m one of the rare Americans who had never read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article last summer; never heard of Barry Estabrook’s book when it came out; never crossed paths with someone talking about International Justice Mission’s summer program, “Recipe for Change,” a campaign to end slavery in Florida’s tomato fields.

chopped tomatoes

But Tim and I get reading articles and seeing statistics and saying to each other, This is insane! We were just in Florida! It’s happening here, not three hours south of where we laid by the beach! And I’m getting that horrible sick feeling in my stomach, the one that comes from seeing you’ve been unaware, from seeing what you have not seen—that it’s not just better-tasting tomatoes I’m getting when I grow them in a garden or pick them up from a local farmer or buy some at Whole Foods; it’s tomatoes that have been fairly harvested, without slavery, abuse, mistreatment and other tragedies that are occurring now, here:

A third of our fresh tomatoes are grown in Florida, and much of that production is concentrated around Immokalee (rhymes with “broccoli”) … The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water … Unlike corn and soy, tomatoes’ harvest cannot be automated; it takes workers to pick that fruit. And not only have workers been enslaved, they have been routinely beaten, subject to sexual harassment, exposed to toxic chemicals (Estabrook mercilessly describes the tragic results of this) and forced to wait for hours to find out whether they have work on a given day. Oh, and they’re underpaid. – from “The True Cost of Tomatoes,” Mark Bittman, The New York Times, 6/14/11

Mariano Lucas Domingo discussed being locked in a tomato box truck for 15 hours one day by his employer, Cesar Navarrete. The Immokalee farmworker had to find his way out, he said, and then help others. – from “Brothers Receive 12-Year Prison Terms in Immokalee Human Slavery Case,” Steven Beardsley, Naples News, 12/19/08

roasted tomatoes

The idea behind today’s campaign is that bloggers are donating their posts to raise awareness for a very real problem of oppression. Some facts:

  • Over the past 15 years, there have been seven cases of forced labor slavery successfully prosecuted, resulting in the release of over 1,000 people being treated unfairly in U.S. tomato fields.
  • IJM’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers has developed, along with the tomato pickers themselves, what’s called The Fair Food program, which works against the slavery, child labor and serious sexual abuse happening in Immokalee, Florida, by setting clear standards against them.
  • Supermarkets and fast-food chains and other retailers who join The Fair Food program pay a little more ($0.015 higher per pound) for their tomatoes, but are guaranteed they’ve been fairly harvested.
  • What The Giving Table, with International Justice Mission, wants to accomplish this summer is for more companies to sign this pledge, so that as purchases shift from fields improperly treating workers to those adhering to fair standards, the issue of slavery can be abolished.

grape tom_roasted tom

Would you consider raising your voice to do something about the issue of abuse happening here in America? McDonald’s, Subway, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have already endorsed the pledge, but many major retailers have not. Here are a few ways to help:

  • With your pocketbook: Buy tomatoes from local farmers—or from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, both of which are already on board with the Fair Food program.
  • With your computer: Take two minutes and send a message to execs of the major supermarket chains yet to sign the pledge, asking them to change their stance. (It’s as simple as filling out your name/email and hitting send)

tomato tart from above

In light of Recipe for Change and today’s campaign, Food Bloggers for Slave-Free Tomatoes, we’ve created this roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, made with tomatoes grown right here in Tennessee, from the local farm that supplies our CSA.

tomato tart on the table

For more information on slavery happening in American tomato fields, visit the websites of The Giving Table, Recipe for Change and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.






Roasted Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart
Makes one 10-inch tart or, about 6-8 servings

Speaking of comfort food, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, at least not in terms of warm, creamy, tangy goodness. Tim and I made this one morning and ate through the week for lunches, and every time I had another slice, I fell in love with the vibrant flavor of fresh tomatoes all over again.

Ingredients:
1 pie crust (recipe below*)
2 1/2 cups sliced, roasted tomatoes (we combined grape and heirloom)
Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Sea salt
A few big sprigs of fresh basil, torn roughly
4 ounces goat cheese, sliced

Directions:
Prepare crust and press into pan.* Preheat oven to 350 F.

After the tomatoes have roasted, combine in a bowl with a couple glugs of balsamic vinegar and about a tablespoon or so of honey. Salt well. Add to the prepared crust and toss torn basil throughout. Lay goat cheese slices throughout.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until crust is golden.

*Tart Pie Crust
As written, this recipe will give you the perfect amount for a 10-inch tart crust that’s thin and flaky. If you want to use a smaller pan, you can make the crust thicker or cut off the edges to save for another project (like a mini tart!).

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) butter, cold and cubed (part can be subbed with coconut oil)
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon plain yogurt

Directions:
Grease a 10-inch tart pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until the mixture looks crumbly. Add butter and stir together. Add the water and yogurt. Stir. Use clean hands to thoroughly mix and form into a ball.

Set out parchment paper and toss flour on top. Toss flour on ball of dough and rolling pin, and roll out dough to the size of your pan. Lay it in tart pan, pressing it up the sides.

Cooksnaps
Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Kathryn

    What a perfect recipe for such a good cause, I think it’s so wonderful how the community has come together to raise awareness of this issue and hopefully bring around real change.

  2. Helene

    Thanks for this, I am also completely caught unaware of this issue, I will look into it now to see if I can donate a post and help out somehow. Your tart looks delicious, will be making that very soon. :-)

  3. Sarah

    Woah, I didn’t know anything about those tomatoes in Florida. I hope other supermarkets change to slavery free tomatoes because there are no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods around here. But that tart looks delicious, especially with the goat cheese. Yum.

  4. Jacqui

    I had no idea. I’ve always been wary of when and where I buy tomatoes. I rarely buy them out of season anymore, just not worth it, and in the summer I try to stick to farmers markets and gardens. I do buy grape tomatoes pretty regularly from Trader Joe’s, so it’s good to know that they’ve signed the Fair Food agreement. Hopefully next year I will be growing as many vegetables as I can on my own. Thanks for posting this, Shanna and Tim.

  5. sarah kate branine

    I had absolutely no idea. No idea. So sad. Thank you for informing me! I signed the petition and shared the link via facebook. I appreciated the quote by Burke that you shared– so true. The murder of the unborn has been on my mind today too. Sometimes I feel so helpless to help. I’m thankful that God hears my cries for these situations and that he knows all of this.

    1. Shannalee

      To be honest, I’ve done it at all different temperatures, adjusting the time accordingly. This last time, I had them at 250 for two or three hours because I was after a slow roast, but I’ve also done 400 for an hour or less (although then I would use coconut oil instead of olive, as olive has a lower smoke point). The constants are oil, salt and pepper and patience. : )

  6. Jennifer

    Yet another reason to buy locally and seasonally when you can; I am not aware of issues beyond flavor, but asparagus from Peru and garlic from China are also on my avoid list. The garlic from my garden is moist, beautiful and it’s so easy to grow.

  7. Sharon (a Great Grandmother)

    Thank you for the enlightenment. I, too, was totally unaware. I have signed the letter to other grocery stores – primarily Publix and Kroger – since that’s where I do most of my shopping. I do some shopping at Trader Joe’s and will make sure I add tomatoes to my list in the off season. I look forward to making the Tart.

  8. Kim

    Wow, I hadn’t heard about this at all! Thank you for the eye-opener! I mostly shop at Trader Joe’s (or my backyard, as soon as my green tomatoes turn red!), but I’ll keep my eye open for Florida tomatoes to avoid when I’m at the big chain supermarkets.

    And that tart looks divine. And I want to eat it right. this. instant.

  9. Shannalee

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this post—and more than that, thank you to everyone who’s signed the petition and asked for something to be done about slavery in tomato fields. It’s so encouraging to think of the repercussions from The Giving Table’s initiative!

  10. Paula @ Vintage Kitchen Notes

    How inspiring to see this initiative take root so quickly. You wrote a great post and it really gets your voice out there and joins so many others. It´ll keep growing and things will eventually change.
    The tart is perfect with few ingredients and all balancing each other so well!

  11. Wholesome Hedonist

    I love a good tomato and goat cheese tart! Though sometimes I cheat and use puff pastry when I’m in a rush :) Will try this one next!

    ps – I love that you are shedding light on such a serious problem. Now to find a slave-free tomato supplier here in Toronto, Canada!

  12. Pingback: Slow Roasted Tomatoes | Poole Party of 5

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