You probably like tomatoes, right? Plum, cherry, roma, heirloom and perhaps the most common canned tomatoes are part of our daily life. They cover entire plates, palaces and kitchens, they are all over. We’re talking about pizzas, pastas, salsas, chutneys, mashed potatoes, pastas, soups, curries and, of course, salads to name a few. They seem to be a central part of our cooking, maybe even our lives. However, like most systems, agriculture cannot escape capitalism, and therefore produce like the beloved tomato does not exist without exploitation. Or more exactly, without some blood.
Activist based in Italy Diletta Bellotti has been on a mission to reveal the grim reality behind the world’s most popular fruit. Bellotti continually fought to challenge the systems at play and reveal to the masses the truths behind food, consumption and climate justice under capitalism. A strong advocate for these issues, the revolutionary activist spoke to Screen Shot to share the reality of where our tomatoes come from, what his work entails, and how we can all push for revolutionary change.
In an incredibly passionate and insightful TedxTalk titled Welcome to Italy, enjoy your bloodstained food, Bellotti has revealed the gruesome details of the more than 100,000 migrant workers currently enslaved in Italy’s agricultural sector, workers who often go unpaid, threatened with death and even raped. Many die. Such a practice occurs as a result of what Bellotti reveals as the “caporalato”.
In a conversation Bellotti had with Cristiano Diprima, the corporalato and its consequences are defined: it is undoubtedly an illegal form of “recruiting” carried out by a person known as a gangmaster which involves the illegal acquisition of migrants for agricultural work. The gangmaster in question has absolute control over the lives of the people he “employs”, from their wages to their living conditions, to food and transportation. It was witnessing the life experience of migrant workers with his very eyes that changed Bellotti forever, leading him to graciously share his life experience with these slave workers with us.
âThe living conditions in these slums are the worst you can imagine: no sanitary facilities, no clean water and [frequent] fires which burn the slums and the people who live there â, she declared, continuing:â The worst thing is that these camps are evacuated and destroyed by the local authorities without giving anything. real Solution. “Her experience of staying in these informal settlements is very complex,” she explained in our conversation – recognizing herself as a white and relatively privileged person, Bellotti does her best to interact in this world as respectfully as possible.
At this same notion (with many workers coming from North Africa), I asked Bellotti what role race thus played in the modern day slavery that plagues our plates. âAgricultural work is certainly racialized and the kind of discrimination migrants face when forced into dangerous and unhealthy living conditions is a fact,â she said. However, to understand the true structure of such violence, intersectionality is essential, the activist explained.
âRace, or more accurately ethnicity and migratory background, needs to be understood in a context where what matters is someone’s ability to exploit a person. It happens to East Europeans as well as Italians, men and women, adults and minors, âshe continued. The integral factor of any exploitation at stake, for Bellotti, is whether those who are at the mercy of such exploitation have bargaining power, namely the socio-economic class to which they belong. âThe marginalized, irregular migrants, the excluded, the poor, are first exploited because they ‘fail’ to file complaints or find opportunities for emancipation,â she explained. Thus, Bellotti argues that the essential lenses of intersectionality must be used to analyze these social issues, be it gender, class, or ethnicity, among others.
So how can the corporalato (gangmasters) get away with such horrific acts of slavery and abuse? Well, according to Bellotti, such examples in Italy simply reflect that of a global structural implementation of exploitation, which results not only from the violent corruption of infrastructure and its failures, but from its horrific normalization in society. . This rise of a food mafia in Italy is therefore a consequence of such institutional errors.
âIt is essential to understand that the Mafia is first and foremost the result (and, later, the agent) of an institutional vacuum. It is a space that institutions, historically, fail to reach and which is literally occupied by something else, it can be [filled by] mafias as well as excellent examples of community organizations, âsaid the activist. Fundamentally, when an institution fails to put in place an appropriate and ethical structure, a vacuum is created where other more dangerous surrogates can take its place. Bellotti uses migration to make this point clear.
âThink about the case of migration: we are closing the borders and people continue to migrate and will continue to migrate as they always have. The fact that the border is closed only makes migration more dangerous and simply fosters a system of institutional and structural violence that leaves people in precarious situations and more easily victims of labor exploitation. When institutions don’t recognize this simple fact, they are actually promoting and relying on the exploitation of people to support their economic systems, âshe said.
The capitalist society in which we live provides the ideal ground for this exploitation and structural violence to flourish. It extends well beyond the borders of Italy. Without the modern slavery we know today, our consumption and consumption systems simply would not exist, Bellotti argued. The activist highlighted figures from 2018 which indicate that more than 40 million people (71 percent of whom are women) have been victims of some form of exploitative labor â exploitative labor that we pay and benefit from it.
âThe fact that we have access to fresh and plentiful food, as well as inexpensive and always new clothes, or that we order something online and have it delivered within hours, is based on the exploitation of people. It is “natural” for us to live this way, so we can tolerate it. So it’s not just the farming system, it’s all we consume and we need to reform to protect people and the planet, âBellotti noted.
In his phenomenal activist work on the ground in Italy, Bellotti could be seen standing in a plaza holding fake bloodshot fruits and vegetables. The provocative and visceral imagery does its job as it brilliantly sums up the murder in our mouths. The message is simple but effective: bite, squeeze and smash the flesh of a ripe tomato, its “blood” flowing and staining the Italian flag wrapped around it. âMade in Italy is made of blood. “
But Bellotti would like to remind you that it’s not just tomatoes and it’s not just Italy. “It is absolutely not only related to the tomato industry, I chose tomatoes as symbols because the picking of tomatoes is done during the warmer months, and it is easier for the farm workers to die in such heat, âshe noted. “It’s just not related to Italy. Other European countries are shifting the responsibility of exploiting agricultural labor to the countries from which they import food: like Italy, Turkey and the Spain But this is also their problem, the high demand for cheap food (food which is also often wasted, by the way) creates an unfair supply.
It only exacerbates a cycle of slavery, abundance and waste. Bellotti, in his work, shows that a cheap and often available labor force means that other countries that import such products live in a privileged and disturbing abundance where they have the opportunity to Actually spoiled food. But how to put an end to such a diabolical capitalist cycle? What role can we play?
For Bellotti, she found meaning in this fight, “I couldn’t act differently, I couldn’t wait or compromise.” However, she understands the position of those who have not yet participated in activism: âPeople are moved by different things and most do not engage in advocacy because they are not yet suffering themselves. sameâ¦ I totally understand it and honestly I don’t understand it. judge him. She believes those who have the compassion and the sensitivity to truly see it will one day join the movement.
The activist also told us that it is for this reason that she does not have a big problem with performative activism itself and maintains that she would rather we talk about a problem than not. not do it. However, there are two things she has a problem with – and rightly so. Performative activists “shouldn’t be idolized and they shouldn’t take up space (since we normally speak of white, wealthy, able-bodied people)”. She continued, âI [also] do not condone neoliberals who appropriate and exploit socio-political struggles. Not just because they don’t belong to them, but because they have no interest in destroying oppressive systems.
Performative activists have no interest in radical change, we have seen this time and time again. By addressing issues like Black lives matter and violence against women at COP26 (and beyond) we all witnessed many rounds of perfectly maintained PR stunts and promotions, but none real cash. So what can we do to cut through the bullshit?
âThere are many things that can and should be done: local organizations, like Sindacato di strada and Camper dei Diritti, must be supported, in particular financially. The privileged voices must act as megaphones of the experiences of the excluded, they must create spaces, moments for them to express themselves and organize themselves, âsaid Bellotti. This is especially vital in this case, those who are oppressed and abused by mafia farming systems should be seen as the leaders of the movements we should support, she suggested.
âAt the national level, we must push for a clear understanding of the phenomena and ask the institutions to continue working and the general public to support the agricultural realities which de facto hamper agro-criminal systems. “