As We See It

Why I am saying goodbye to Trader Joe’s

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Most tomato pickers in Florida receive 45 cents for each 32-pound basket.
Photo: Luis M. Alvarez | AP

Four years ago I was living in Naples, Florida, a sunny, Gulf Coast community that, at the time, boasted an average household income of $97,341, an average home price hovering just above $1.25 million and 210 golf courses within the surrounding 30 miles, according to CNN Money. If it sounds luxurious, it mostly was.

About an hour east sits the town of Immokalee, a farming community that provides much of the tomatoes that end up in grocery aisles and on dining tables across the country. The median household income in Immokalee? $25,909, according to 2009 US census data. A whopping 38.4 percent of families come in below the poverty line.

Of course, Immokalee’s struggling farmworkers don’t have much to do with Las Vegas—except that they do, every time we go to Trader Joe’s. The friendly, yuppie grocery store that boasts bargain-basement prices on everything from produce to butternut squash bisque to frozen biryani, has refused to sign the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food. Among the campaign’s demands: not to employ growers that tolerate worker abuses (which have gone as far as slavery) and a penny-per-pound price increase to be passed along to the people who do the picking.

TJ’s isn’t the only company ducking the CIW’s demands. Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Whole Foods have all inked agreements, but to date, no other grocery chain has joined the campaign. Still, it’s Trader Joe’s that has me the most rankled, what with its organic and gluten-free options, ethical ambiance and smiley, Hawaiian-shirted staff. But mostly I’m upset, because TJ’s is my favorite. They even say they don’t have a problem paying the extra penny, they just object to some of the language and terms in the agreement. But until they sign, I won’t be going back. So please, Joe, get your act together. I miss that damn bisque.

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