Tomasita Project (1994-2002)
Why give a research project a name like Tomasita? Because it is a playful way of acknowledging the central characters of my research on the global food system: a tomato and a Mexican woman worker.
When I began teaching in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies in 1993, I wanted to develop a research focus that embraced the interdisciplinary approach of my new academic home and that built upon my decades of work as a researcher, popular educator, artist and activist in Central and Latin America. January 1994 marked the implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement (that included Mexico), and the Zapatista uprising in response to this neoliberal attempt to control land, production, work, and culture in the Americas.
I wanted to use popular education methods to demystify new concepts like “globalization” and to unearth the impacts of neoliberal trade on the land and the workers, the most marginalized in the Global South, and, in the global food chain: the women workers on the front lines: from fields and packing plants to supermarkets and fast food restaurants.
We put together a collaborative research team the involved both feminist academics as well as popular educators in the three NAFTA countries. Two academic books resulted: an anthology Women Working the NAFTA Food Chain: Women, Food, and Globalization, and Tangled Routes: Women, Work and Globalization on the Tomato Trail. Over 12 graduate students joined this creative process over several years in the 1990s and in the research updating the second edition of Tangled Routes. Popular educators from the Mexican Institute for Community Development (IMDEC) created a cartoon story of Tomasita, Canadian students produced a video and helped me create a photo exhibit “Attacking the Corporate Tomato”, and a Spanish edition was published by the Metropolitan Autonomous University (UAM) in Mexico.