Thanks to films like Fast Food Nation and Food Inc., many of us think about what goes into the food we eat, but how many of us think about the people who produce our food? Sanjay Rawal’s first feature film, Food Chains, explores a side of the food industry that hasn’t received nearly enough attention – the labour.

Food Chains Documentary VIFF

Story by Nimritta Parmar

The film follows a group of tomato pickers from Florida who together form the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW was formed to educate workers about their rights in order to avoid abuse and exploitation, but also to fight for fair, livable wages. Members of the CIW share their stories and expose the truth about what really happens on the farms that grow our food. Workers suffer emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers and other workers. To rub salt on the wound, they are paid next to nothing for hours upon hours of grueling work. These workers are kept quiet for a variety of reasons; some are illegal immigrants who fear being deported if they complain, and some simply cannot afford the risk of getting fired.

Food Chains features Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation and director of Food Inc. Both are advocates for the Fair Food Program. The film exposes the systems that allow such atrocities to occur undetected. We see that it is not at the hands of the farm owners, but the people at the top of major corporations. Grocery stores like Publix create high pressure demands, forcing farmers to have unrealistic expectations from their workers. This means that these grocery stores are able to exploit these workers for their labour, and as a result, we are able to buy our groceries from them at a low price. It is a damaging cycle disguised by the idyllic facade these stores present in their advertising, and causes consumers to be complicit in the abuse without their knowledge.

Food Chains presents a terrifying point: this type of treatment has been seen in America before. What these workers endure is nothing short of modern-day slavery. The film offers much food for thought, and is a must-see this award season.

Watch Food Chains at Vancouver International Film Festival on October 1, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. at International Village Cinema in Chinatown.