This is a tough one. A penny a pound may result in higher wages, but what stops the farmer from raising the rent on the migrant housing or the prices in the company store?
Would it not be better to avoid these tomatoes altogether? Surely any farmers’ market has locally grown tomatoes. Or, grow them yourself. I do, and I’m no master gardener. If you don’t have a garden, many varieties thrive as potted plants on patios, balconies or in sunny windows. When they ripen you can freeze them, dry them, and can them. Make juice, or sauce or stewed tomatoes.
And, even in 21st century America, if tomatoes are out of season and you haven’t any left in your freezer or pantry, you CAN survive without buying these from Florida. But then the migrants may have no work and no wages. I’d really like to hear the Times resident ethicist weigh in on this. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to grow my own, buy locally, fill the freezer, and do without.
For the industry, what is the answer? The first thing the industry must do is hear the emotion of consumers on this issue. While there is a "seamy underbelly" to the tomato industry - as with any other - there is also a story to tell beyond what Bittman relates. How are growers helping the economy, the U.S. food supply and the welfare of their workers? Tell that story.