Politics of the Plate: A Real Whopper

tomato workers

I frequently vacation in Southwest Florida, and I suggest that if you’re looking to experience culture shock in one of its starkest forms, drive from Naples to Immokalee. It takes about 45 minutes on a straight road, but it’s a journey from one of the most privileged enclaves of the First World (houses in Naples are fetching as much as $28 million) to the gritty squalor of the Third World. In Immokalee, a community of 20,000 dependent upon the surrounding tomato fields and citrus groves, 70 percent of the population is Latino; four in ten of its residents (and nearly half its children) live below the poverty line.

To alleviate some of that poverty, a group called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers came up with a seemingly modest suggestion a few years ago: Ask giant fast food companies to pay Florida farmworkers one penny more per pound for their tomatoes. That less-than-princely sum would be small potatoes to the billion-dollar-plus corporations, but it would add $20 to a picker’s daily wage of about $50.

Yum! Brands, Inc., the world’s largest restaurant company (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John Silver’s, and A&W), agreed to the proposal in 2005; McDonald’s Corp. came aboard last fall. But Burger King Brands, Inc. has so far refused. Last week, in an attempt to persuade the Miami-based corporation to come to the table, about 100 members of the coalition and their supporters went to Burger King headquarters to present management with a petition containing nearly 85,000 signatures.

The rather low-key civil disobedience drew some particularly vitriolic criticisms on Internet news sites, particularly from one correspondent with the screen name surfxaholic36, who accused the workers’ group leaders of pocketing donations. Amy Bennett Williams, a reporter with The News-Press in Ft. Myers, FL, did a bit of investigation and discovered that the Internet alias was used by one Shannon Grover, who just happens to be the middle-school-aged daughter of Stephen Grover, a Burger King vice president. Grover, Sr. did not return Williams’s calls, according The News-Press. But when Shannon Grover was reached, she reportedly denied authoring the postings and said, “that was my dad.”

It just goes to show you, in this day and age, kids really need to be monitoring what their parents are doing online.

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