Let’s Talk Tomatoes…And Modern Day Slavery (Recipe Too!) By Jacki Christopher and Chad Linderman

This summer International Justice Mission (IJM) has been working hard to promote awareness about their campaign Recipe For Change. The movement seeks to bring awareness to the scandal of modern day slavery taking place in the tomato farms of Florida, and the businesses and enterprises that are perpetuating it. While the issue of slavery is a relevant topic of discussion on any grounds, the fact that 70% of the individuals identified as victims of slavery are Latino means this topic certainly merits discussion on this blog.

Most people are surprised to hear this, but slavery is still happening in this country. If you don’t know about it and understand how it works, it’s time to get it. Because whatever America lacks, we must hold to some really important moments in our country’s history and abolition of slavery was one of those moments.

Put simply, the workers that have been ‘hired’ or ‘coerced’ to work in the Florida tomato fields are systemically underpaid, deprived of safe housing and working conditions, held against their will, and subject to physical abuse. Florida isn’t the only state in which individuals have been prosecuted for enslavement, but it has been identified as a hotbed of criminal agricultural activity. The other offense, which has been partially resolved, is the issue of fair payment for tomatoes to ensure that workers receive fair wages.

Two organizations are headlining the movement against slavery this summer. One is the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) and the other is International Justice Mission (IJM) through their summer campaign “Recipe For Change.”

The CIW, based in Florida, has been indispensible in the fight to end slavery among tomato growers and to ensure that tomato consumers and vendors such as Chipotle, McDonalds, Trader Joe’s and Publix are paying fair prices.

According to CIW website, “the CIW believes that the ultimate solution to modern-day slavery in agribusiness lies on the “demand side” of the U.S. produce market — the major food-buying corporations that profit from the artificially-low cost of U.S. produce picked by workers in sweatshop and, in the worst cases, slavery conditions.”

Barry Estabrook delved deep into the subject in his book, Tomatoland. While the book is in my queue and I intend to review and report on it once I have read it, I couldn’t wait until then to start addressing this issue. The enslavement of human souls must stop and moreover, we must believe that it has to stop. Before there can be action, there must be a fundamental shift in our belief about the very wrongness of this.

One premise guides my entire stance on this issue: the value of human life, as bestowed by God, trumps any national or ethnic status. The Antebellum South declared slavery legally legitimate because black people had been officially defined as subhuman. We all have accepted the fallacy of that position. Thus Mexican people, regardless of their legal status in this particular county, are God-created humans and thus entitled to the dignity commensurate with that status. Any treatment that would be defined as “subhuman” is therefore wrong.  Undocumented immigrants or “illegal aliens,” as some call them, are, at their core, humans, souls, people.

Said one comment on Huffington Post: “To me, human working conditions should be right for all. Slavery, regardless of legal status, is just not right. These are simple working people. How can anyone say that chaining them to their living quarters and not providing water and sewage is justifiable because they are illegal?”

Another poster had a response: “They do have an option to go home where they belong.” Charming solution from one of our fellow countrymen.

Here is the reality of the situation and my response to the above: if any one in this country expects to consume any agricultural product (including livestock) outside of what we grow for a few months in our gardens or hunt on select days of the year, we are going to require massive amounts of Mexicans to come here to do the deed.

And why is this? Put simply, white people don’t’ want to work farm labor. They would sooner live at home and play video games than de-tassel corn, pick rocks, or harvest lettuce on a twelve hour shift in 80 to 90 degree weather for a pittance. That means Mexicans and other various immigrant or indigenous groups. There is no way around it.

Once that fact is accepted, it is a short leap to come together around ensuring that these necessary workers are performing their jobs under conditions that meet at least a baseline for decency, safety, and respect.

To further explore the work of CIW, click HERE.

To read more about IJM’s campaign, Recipe For Chance, and to sign a petition asking grocers to pay fair wages for tomatoes, click HERE, or visit their Facebook page HERE.

Hey, Check This Out!

One fun part of the IJM campaign is the Recipe For Change Recipe Contest on their FB page. Check out the contest HERE and be sure to ‘like’ my Tomato-rific Caprese Salad on a Stick!

Here’s the recipe, though it barely needs one. As I cannot think of anything greater to do with a fresh tomato than pair it with fresh bufala mozzarella, pesto, and balsamic, my recipe is a simple yet irresistible. And it’s State Fair season in Minnesota, so this is on a stick!

Caprese Salad On A Stick


6oz home grown tomatoes (Cherry, grape, or Campari varieties work best)

4oz fresh bufala mozzarella broken into bite-sized pieces

2T basil pesto

1oz 18-year aged balsamic vinegar


In a small bowl, gently combine mozzarella pieces and pesto. Set aside.

Wash tomatoes and cut in half if they are larger than bite sized.

Thread alternating pieces of mozzarella and tomato onto skewers. Drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar.

Remember, go to IJM’s FB page and like this recipe!

A Few Articles Worth Reading:



What is your favorite summer tomato recipe? Share in the comments below!


September 16: Mexican Independence Day, But No Freedom.

September 16 (Friday) is the day when Mexicans celebrate the beginning of the Mexican War of independence (1810). With a cry, or grito, uttered from the region of Guanajuato and the ringing of the church bells, the war commenced, and the oppressed Mexican people fought the Spanish colonists. A decade of war later, Mexico gained her independence.

But despite a formal independence from the Spanish crown, Mexico does not enjoy independence today. Her people live in bondage—bondage to poverty, bondage to corruption, bondage to extortion, genocide, gang warfare, murderous machismo, and the whims of the über powerful drug cartels.

Mexico is engaged in a war now—the war that President Felipe Calderon declared on drugs almost five years ago. The casualty toll nears 40,000. Will it be a decade of war before Mexico claims her independence from this plague?

Though Mexico is technically an independent nation, she does not know freedom. When you can’t leave your home for fear of being shot, when you can’t speak the truth in the press, when you have no police protection, no justice system, and no government that you can trust, when your basic human rights are denied you, when your sister nation claims to help you and then sends down the weapons that will be used to manipulate, exploit and kill you, then I would say “Independence Day” is little more than a charade—an excuse for a picnic with a few tamales, a six-pack of Tezcate, and the chance to forget—for a few hours—that independence means nothing to you.

In the (maybe legendary) words of Hidalgo as he let out the grito: “My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves?”

He also finished off with this clause, interestingly, and perhaps prophetically: “Death to bad government!”

What Mexico needs is some more bell-ringers—brave and loud individuals like Javier Sicilia and his posse. (click HERE to read my article on Sicilia). These Mexicans have taken up the charge. But we need bell-ringers on this side of the Rio as well. This is not just a Mexican problem, or a border problem—it is a human problem. People are people and sin is sin. Happenstance geography has nothing to do with it.

I’ll conclude with a few provocative words from Sicilia:

“Albert Camus spoke a terrible truth. ‘I know something worse than hate: abstract love.’ In the name of abstract love, in the name of God and Country, in the name of saving the youth from the drug, in the name of the proletariat, in the name of abstractions, our politicians and war policy makers have committed the most atrocious crimes on human beings, who are not abstractions, who are bones and flesh. That is what our country is living and suffering today: in the name of an abstract goodness, we are suffering the opposite: the horror of war and violence, of innocents dead, disappeared, and mutilated.

Internet news sites have put out their own guides to celebrating Mexican Independence Day—your typical list of suggested banal, pseudo-cultural activities like parades and taco bars. Mexico needs genuine love in the form of prayers, workers, and people who are committed to caring about a very grave situation. Help others know the freedom you know.

Make Mexico Better. Support A Missionary. Click HERE to join Team Meximoxie.


The Gringa’s Guide To The Mexican Kitchen: Poblano Peppers

The word poblano is the adjective to describe a person or thing that comes from Puebla, a state in Mexcio. Like a Candian comes from Canada, a Poblano (or Poblana) comes from the state of Puebla. So that’s how this pepper gets its name—it’s from Puebla.

Characteristics of the Poblano

The poblano is a very dark green to almost black in color and about three to six inches in length. In terms of spiciness, the poblano is flavorful, but mild. It gets a Scoville rating between 1,000 and 2,000 units. Which is to say it’s a little warmer than a pimento pepper, but milder than a jalapeño. In dried form the color is significantly darker and it is known as “chile ancho”

Using The Poblano 

Chiles Rellenos. This is just the Spanish phrase for “stuffed peppers.” Except instead of the traditional bell peppers, they use the poblano. These durable peppers are perfect for filling. And you can stuff them with all kinds of fun things like meat, fruit (yes, really), and cheese. When you see “chiles rellenos” on a menu, it is usually referring to poblanos filled with various cheeses. Some cooks then go on to coat the pepper in an egg batter and deep fry it. I think the frying is gratuitous and rather than boring white cheeses like mozzarella or queso blanco, I prefer it with a mixture of fine white cheeses like chevre. Add a nice Mexican white wine like La Cetta Cenin Blanc, which happens to pair marvelously with slightly spicy, non-meat dishes. I ordered it on a whim and was more than pleasantly surprised.

Chiles in Nogada. This iconic Mexican dish really deserves its own post. Here’s a picture. Note the colors—green (the poblano), white (walnut sauce), and red (pomegranate seeds)—to represent the Mexican flag. Stay tuned.

My Own Experiment

To put the poblano pepper into practice, I tried out this recipe (below) that initially I thought was little more than just plain goofy. But then I tasted it and loved the fiesta of flavors. For a vegetable side dish (or warm salad, as Kennedy calls it) that’s a little off the beaten track, you might give this a try. It’s also a great way to put some of that bumper zucchini crop to good Mexican use.

Chiles Rellenos Con Calabacitas

(Chiles Stuffed With Zucchini)

Adapted from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy


2.5 T Olive oil

2/3 C. Finely chopped onion (yellow or white)

2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

1.5 lbs. Summer squash (green or yellow zucchini, Mexican zucchini, or patty pan squash) trimmed and cut into ¼” cubes

Salt to taste

½ t Mexican oregano (Don’t fudge this one. Go to Penzeys and get the $2 bag of authentic Mexican oregano)

4 T White wine vinegar

1 T Fresh lime juice

2 T Good quality, fruity olive oil

4 oz. Queso fresco

6 Medium poblano chiles, peeled and cleaned and ready for stuffing

1 T butter

Shredded romaine lettuce, sliced radishes and/or halved cherry tomatoes


I’m not going to lie: this recipe is going to take a little bit of labor, especially if you haven’t done a lot of Mexican cooking, but it is completely doable. And once in a while we really need to flex those culinary muscles. I recommend doing it in parts.

Start with the poblanos. Wash and dry and set them on a cutting board. Pull the grate off of your gas burner and fire it up to high. Taking a long tongs or meat fork, you’re going to roast that pepper until it is evenly charred and blistered all around. Make sure you get the whole thing or the shin isn’t going to want to come off. This is going to take a little time so you might want to put some music on.

As soon as the pepper is charred, you are going to stick it into a large, heavy duty Ziploc bag for at least ten minutes so it can ‘sweat.’ You don’t need to seal the bag, just fold it over. Load up your next pepper. Repeat the process until you’ve roasted all of the peppers.

The peppers can sit in the bag as long as you need them to while you go on to do other things. I recommend doing them in the morning.

When they have cooled, take one out of the bag and lay it on a cutting board. Using a large knife, scrape off the skin. Set the pepper aside and repeat the process. Leave the stem in tact, just get the skin off.

Then take one of the peeled peppers, and this part is a little tricky, so pay attention: whatever you do, don’t take off the stem! The top part will stay where it is. But you will make a slit along the length of the pepper and kind of get in there to get the seeds out. You can use the knife to cut the seeds away from the stem, just don’t cut the stem. A spoon can help pull the seeds out.

Okay, the hardest part is over. Throw those guys in a tupper and let’s get going on the filling.

Put 1 ½ T oil in a large skillet and heat. Add 2 T chopped onion and 1 chopped garlic clove. Fry for about 2 minutes without browning.

Add zucchini and salt and cover the pan. Allow it to cook until just done (about 8-10 minutes).

Transfer to a heat safe bowl. Add the rest of the onion and garlic, oregano, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil and cheese to the zucchini mixture while it is still warm.

Stuff the chiles so they are filled, but not overflowing. Close them with 2-3 toothpicks.

Heat the butter and 1T oil in the skillet and then fry the peppers until they are browned on each side. Be careful when you turn them that the filling doesn’t spill out. Just be gentle and it will be okay. Use a spatula and a tongs together for best results.

Then place the pepper on a bed of shredded lettuce, tomato, and/or radish. Serve hot or room temperature.

To Learn More

When I was recently in Mexico I decided it was time to really start to get my head around Mexican cuisine. So I set out to find the cookbook that would help make that happen. I purchased Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. This cookbook is a compilation of three of Kennedy’s earlier works. It is definitely a good place to start.

If you’re beyond the starter manuals, check out Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. I happened to page through this in a museum bookstore in Oaxaca and if I had been able to squeeze the big honker into my suitcase, I would have. Cookbook-slash-coffee-table-book-slash-food-porn, it’s a real marvel.

Rick Bayless’ works were also a popular recommendation. I would imagine that Authentic Mexican or Mexican Everyday aren’t too far from finding a place on my kitchen shelf.


Wordless Wednesday: Things I Don’t See At My Market


There Is Another Mexico

Picture this: I am sitting in the courtyard of an Italian restaurant in southern Mexico sampling a gourmet combination of three moles prepared by a Florentine chef. I am sipping white wine and chatting on about my day spent touring the Oaxaca’s Cultural Center, and wandering through an art auction.

A week later, in Mexico City, I am caught up in the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), Condesa neighborhood’s trendy restaurants, the markets of Coyoacán, and the art of Diego Rivera, David Siquieros, and Frida Kahlo.

This is not what most U.S. citizens think of when they think of Mexico.

Step into Oaxaca, or Puebla, or Mexico City, and take a break from the newspapers. You’ll see what I see. Amidst the color and the music and the art and the finery, it’s easy to forget about the drug war that’s taking over this nation, or failed NAFTA, or the immigration crisis.

It’s easy to forget that this marvel is a mission field—my mission field—and that in the not-so-distant north, there are people who can’t leave their homes without fear that their head will be taken off. The music and the color and the culture threaten to convince me that everything is muy bien.

To myself I would say: remember, Mexico is more than this. As you drool over modern art, laugh with the locals, and walk the cobbled streets without a shred of concern for personal safety, don’t forget that there is a mission field that awaits you here. As you are enchanted by the sights, and the sounds, and the tastes, don’t forget that this is a country that is suffering. There is no end of need for help and healing—physical and spiritual.

According to journalist Charles Bowden, “The entire Mexican North has become a killing field.” This is the reality of the other Mexico—the depths and darkness of which even our drama-crazed media can’t fully capture. Most U.S. citizens now view Mexico in this light, with its reputation as a dangerous, drug-running, mass killing ground with people living in dumps and a whole lot of bums who are ready to sell their souls to get across the stream and start exploiting U.S. jobs and social services.

If that is the Mexico you know, I would say: remember, there is another Mexico.

Despite what you see in the news, Mexico is still a place of beauty and wonder and regular life. There are people who live in normal families and do normal jobs with no relation to a cartel. There are festivals and celebrations. There are typical families who sit around on a Saturday afternoon and eat homemade mixiote and laugh and poke fun at each other, there are dads who carry their little ones on their shoulders so they can catch sight of the parade marching through the plaza. There are students going to the university and artists practicing their arts. There is life and spirit and history and patriotism.

The challenge is to remember that Mexico, like the U.S., is not a monolithic entity—it is not all good or all bad, perfectly beautiful or horrifically corrupt. Whatever image of our Sister to the South most grips your mind, remember, there is always another Mexico.


Wordless Wednesday: Usin’ Their Heads

(Guelaguetza Festival 2011, Oaxaca, Mexico)


The Gringa’s Guide To The Mexican Kitchen: Mexican Pickled Vegetables

Back in the old days, like when my mom was younger, it wasn’t uncommon to go into a restaurant and find a dish or two or pickled vegetables on the table for garnishing your meal. Perhaps it would be a bowl of homemade dills or a dish of pickled beets. You’d take a few for your Reuben sandwich, and the restaurant would replenish as needed for the next customer–but they didn’t change out the dish. Pickles are made with vinegar, which is a natural disinfectant, so you probably weren’t at much risk for catching anything from someone else’s grubby paws in the bowl.  My mother has often recounted her fond memories of devouring whatever pickled delights might be found on a restaurant table, and lamenting that this practice (with the advent of stricter food safety laws) has fallen out of favor in our country.

Despair no more. If you’re looking for a restaurant where you can get the complementary communal dish of pickled vegetables, look to Mexico. For better or for worse, food safety guidelines there are a little more, shall we say, relaxed. But you aren’t going to find your traditional deli-style pickles or beets. This is Mexico, not New York. What you will find is a semi-spicy, totally tangy blend of veggies like jalapeños, carrots, onions, garlic, and the occasional cauliflower floret.

Mexican pickles are easy to make and a treat to eat. This is a fantastic recipe to have in your summer arsenal when you have more jalapeños that you can possibly put into a salsa.

Mexican Pickled Vegetables

Recipe adapted from: No Recipes

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons kosher salt (not iodized table salt!)

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns

6-8 jalapeno peppers, sliced into 1/4″ wheels*

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4″ wheels

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into wedges

6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled

Apple cider vinegar, as needed

*Note: for a less spicy version, remove jalapeño seeds and pith.

Put all the ingredients in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Continue boiling until the jalapenos have gone from a vivid green to an earthy olive green and the carrots have softened (should not be mushy). Turn off the heat and allow the pickled vegetables to cool.

Once cool, put the finished product into a large mason jar with a lid, or reuse a clean pickle jar. If liquid does not cover the vegetables, top off with a bit of apple cider vinegar. Pickles may be extra salty immediately after cooking. Let them sit a day or so in the refrigerator. They can be stored for several weeks.

What Can You Do With Your Mexican Pickles?

  • Eat them straight out of the jar.
  • Garnish tacos, nachos, and other Mexican dishes
  • Pair with small pieces of tangy Pecorino Romano cheese for a simple, yet tasty hors d’oeuvre. Excellent with a semi-fruity white wine.

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