Their 'Hunger Games' Are Our 'Food Chains'

Originally published on The Huffington Post on November 21, 2014. 

I’m looking forward to November 21st this year for two reasons: Food Chains and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. And you should as well. Especially if you live in “The Capitol.”

I’m a full on dedicated fangirl of The Hunger Games series. Books, movies, archery lessons. I did it all. If you felt something after reading the series then, like me, you also got much more from the series than just another sex-tension-filled dystopian teen love triangle story. You likely (hopefully) saw the allegories shining a narrative light on the true cost of war, extreme income inequality, modern-day slave labor and militarized police. While set in post-apocalyptic America, it’s a reflection of society today.

Yes, you’ve probably heard this story before. When the first Hunger Games films came out, The Harry Potter Alliance and their partners — including the AFL-CIO — launched their brilliant campaign, “Odds Are Never In Our Favor,” to highlight income inequality in the U.S.

But the Hunger Games reflection of our culture goes even deeper. Stay with me while I validate your guilty pleasure reading.

While there is minimal text dedicated to the description of District 11, the second poorest district after Katniss’s District 12, we know that this is the district that produces the country’s food. District 11 is where you will find agriculture, orchards, fields of what and cotton — and almost everything they grow goes straight to the Capitol — despite their own starvation.

In the orchards the food pickers, many of them children, have long hours: from sunrise to sunset. During the harvest they often work until well after dark, using torchlight and night vision goggles. The citizens of District 11 live in small shacks. The people of this district are described as having “dark hair and dark skin.” Due to this, and the location description of being in the South, fans and academics believe the inhabitants of District 11 to be of African American and Latin American.

Why do I go into so much detail over District 11, a district that most of you probably don’t remember from the movies?

Because our District 11 was Florida.

Food Chains — the other film opening November 21st — follows the Coalition of Immokalee workers as they campaign for the Fair Food Program. The conditions farmworkers faced could have been pulled from the text of Hunger Games. Farmworkers were deprived of based human rights like water and shade, women were at risk of sexual assault, and paychecks came in far below the poverty level.

In the film it is the governing body of the Districts, The Capitol, that enforces these working conditions. But in the modern day U.S. (aka, reality) the responsibility actually falls on our supermarket grocery stores and fast food chains, and the economic conditions they enforce through their existence. I won’t go into detail here about that – you should see Food Chains to fully understand it. But what you do need to know is that the CIW — our real world heroes — have developed the Fair Food Program to improve working conditions for farmworkers in Florida and increase their wages.

How else is Florida District 11? We find our hero characters — our Rue, Thresh, Seeder and Chaff — in the faces of Greg, Gerardo and Lucas, the founders and leaders of the CIW.

Remember that scene in Catching Fire when a member of District 11 defiantly held up three fingers towards the film’s protagonists? What the film characters did symbolically is what the CIW has done literally.

And it’s working. Florida has become a leader for other agriculture industries on how to create and support fair food. There is still work to do, as Publix, Kroger and Wendy’s all still refuse to join the Fair Food Program. And this weekend is your opportunity to volunteer to get involved.

Go see Mockingjay opening weekend. But also go see Food Chains. Don’t be like The Capitol and turn a blind eye towards the hands that pick your food. See the film and understand where your food really comes from. Then pull a Katniss and take action.

See Food Chains in theaters or on iTunes now.