In 1937 George and Ira Gershwin probably didn’t think that they would change the way an entire country thinks about tomatoes with one line from one of the many songs in the film Shall We Dance. Ever since, the divide between tom-ay-to and tom-ah-to has been about as fundamental to sandwiches as sliced bread.
In 2021 La Storia’s DP and co-founder, RC Walker, traveled to what is known as America’s tomato capital and had a similar experience. True, hours were not spent debating the better pronunciation, though we did compare our Spanish accents of el tomate; but after putting together a documentary-style video for the Fair Food Program in collaboration with the agency Made Outside, a tomato will never quite look the same way to us.
The town goes by the Mikasuki word Immokalee, meaning “your home.” If you’ve ever been to Florida — let alone the southern tip of the state — you know that it is very hot, and very humid. It was all the more impressive, then, to see just how incredibly fast the farmworkers move through the rows of plants to fill up bucket after bucket of ripe tomatoes. RC and his 2nd Cam Op, Chris Calnin, had to be as nimble as they were focused to keep up, and the drone footage of the workers almost looked like it had been speed ramped.
Given the circumstances, it was all the more shocking to learn that the FFP and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers had to fight to provide something as simple and necessary as clean drinking water and shade structures for the workers. Waking up at dawn, and running over acres of farmland under the blazing sun with a fully built, 30-lb. camera strapped on, will give you a new appreciation for a safe drink of cool water and a few minutes out of the 90º heat.
It’s all too easy to take things for granted, and even easier to forget about the people that work to make such things available in the first place. Luckily, there are people at the FFP and CIW who — tom-ay-to or tom-ah-to aside — are not, as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang, going to “call the whole thing off.” We love sandwiches. And burgers. And pizzas. And salads. And we love them with tomatoes.