Fair Food TED Talk on the docket for 2019!

The CIW’s Greg Asbed and Gerardo Reyes speaking at the TEDMED 2018 gathering last month in Palm Springs, California. Their talk, along with 35 other talks that filled out a wide-ranging program under the thematic rubric of “Chaos and Clarity,” will be released next year.

CIW at TED: “When we – workers and consumers – speak with one voice, billion-dollar brands have no choice but to listen… And we are telling them it is time for a human rights revolution.”

In a first for the Fair Food Movement, the CIW’s Gerardo Reyes and Greg Asbed took to the national TEDMED stage last month and delivered a wide-ranging, 18-minute talk on a movement and a model “with the potential to spark a 21st century human rights revolution.”  

Their presentation covered the generational poverty and abuse of this country’s farmworkers; the 25-year history of the CIW’s efforts to address that exploitation from its base in Immokalee, Florida; the proven success of the Fair Food Program in ending decades of human rights abuse for tens of thousands of workers in seven states along the East Coast; and the tremendous potential of the broader Worker-driven Social Responsibility model to spread that success to tens of millions of workers toiling today at the bottom of corporate supply chains around the world. 

The CIW’s talk was part of a three-day program of 36 speakers brought together for the annual TEDMED conference.  TEDMED is:

… the independent health and medicine edition of the world-famous TED conference, dedicated to ‘ideas worth spreading.’  TED Talks have been viewed online over two billion times around the world… Created by TED’s founder, TEDMED convenes and curates extraordinary people and ideas from all disciplines both inside and outside of medicine in pursuit of unexpected connections that accelerate innovation in health and medicine.

This year’s topic was “Chaos and Clarity”, which the organizers explained in the following program excerpt:

Typically, clarity is thought to emerge from chaos. But as we think about these conditions, we’re inspired by their entangled nature, each acting as provocateurs in their own unique ways. We see them as being engaged in an ongoing conversation. Chaos is the question. Clarity is the answer. The more chaos we embrace, the more clarity we can discover.

Join us at TEDMED 2018, where we’ll recognize and embrace the power of Chaos+Clarity in advancing science, global public health, and medical innovation across a wide range of topics.

Speakers ranged from Greg and Gerardo of the CIW to former NBA all-star and current global ambassador for public health, Dikembe Motumbo; from US Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams to community healer Christine Nieves of Puerto Rico; from sound alchemist Yoko K. Sen to immunotherapy pioneer Carl June.  It was an eclectic gathering of leaders that took the audience of 900 on a three-day intellectual journey touching on just about every corner of human experience along the way, from exploring the gut-brain connection to ending child marriage.

The conference was a powerful, thought-provoking experience, and videos from the gathering – including the CIW’s talk – will be coming to your phone, tablet, or laptop as they are released throughout the new year.  Until then, we leave you with an extended excerpt from the CIW’s presentation:


… When we met, the CIW was on the verge of a momentous pivot. For nearly a decade, the CIW had been fighting the local growers and their farm bosses.  They organized community-wide general strikes involving thousands of workers.  They organized marches across Florida, and uncovered multiple slavery operations.  They even organized a 30-day hunger strike by 6 courageous farmworkers.

But, after nearly ten years of pitched battle, it became evident that wealthy growers could always hold out longer than dirt-poor farmworkers on strike. And as for slavery, we eventually realized that successful prosecutions did not constitute success in the fight against forced labor.  The CIW’s efforts sent more than a dozen farm bosses to prison over the years.  But the tomatoes picked by enslaved workers continued to go to market without a hiccup, and more slavery operations inevitably sprung up.  We wanted to end slavery, exploitation, and physical abuse in the fields – once and for all.

And to do that, to build the world without victims that we dreamed of, we were going to need a new approach.


So we stepped back and took a long look at the food industry as a whole. We expanded our analysis beyond the farm gate, and studied the industry from consumers and corporations at the very top, to farmers and farmworkers at the bottom. 

What we found was, the retail food corporations at the top of the food industry had consolidated their power over the years.  Today those companies purchase tomatoes, for instance, with the combined buying power of tens of thousands of restaurants around the country.  And, just like how you get a better price when you buy the big box of cereal instead of the small one, retail food corporations leverage their purchasing power to demand lower and lower prices from the growers.  This, in turn, forces the growers, to cut their costs just to stay in business. And the first cuts, of course, are inevitably to farmworkers’ wages and working conditions.   

In other words, corporate profits at the top of the food industry drive farmworker poverty and abuse at the bottom.  And those giant food brands don’t have to answer to anyone… except their customers. 

From this new analysis, a new theory of change was born: Rather than fight with farmers over a shrinking slice of the pie, we were going to have to make common cause with consumers to demand an entirely new kind of food – Fair Food…

Check back again in the new year for the release of the full CIW TED Talk!