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Friday, January 17, 2014

In Memoriam: Robin Romano

Food Empowerment Project lost a powerful ally in our fight—his wisdom and talents helped to shape our work and give a face to our campaigns. You have seen his work on our website.

I have a hard time accepting that Robin Romano is gone.

There is a lot to say about Robin’s work and who he was, but I feel it is important for our supporters to know who he is and what he meant to us.

When I first connected with Robin, I knew that he was one of the filmmakers for The Dark Side of Chocolate, but I didn’t know much more. After looking over our website, he happened to mention to me that his images—truly telling photographs—were on our site. 

He also mentioned that he was the filmmaker for the documentary film The Harvest/La Cosecha, which is about farm worker’s children, who have to work in the fields alongside their parents and siblings here in the US.

It was incredible and wonderful to find someone whose work and passion matched ours so well.

It was as if F.E.P. had a filmmaker and photographer who could capture the beauty and pain of child labor and made the case for why F.E.P.’s work is so important.

During this time, F.E.P. was also in the process of creating our chocolate list as well as dealing with Clif Bar. Robin was instrumental in helping us focus our chocolate list criteria. Given all that he had seen in West Africa, he was well aware of how prevalent the problem was there and that certifications did not matter. 

In fact, during one of these times, he had just gotten back from his work on Shady Chocolate, the sequel to The Dark Side of Chocolate, and his contribution to our effort was the image he took in West Africa of the two girls on a Rainforest Alliance field, which we use on our Clif Bar petition.

Robin would spend hours with me on the phone, telling me his ideas about possible solutions, problems with various groups, legislation, his hopes, and always being so willing to connect me with others.  

A number of times I would call him very upset because I felt like the jerk  in the room – speaking to people who grew organic food and letting them know that organic didn’t mean the workers were treated any better, or butting heads with organizations that were too close to various certifications. He told me that he was always “the asshole in the room” and now it was my turn. He let me know he would be there for me during these times – someone needed to speak the truth.

The last time I spoke with Robin was about my TEDx talk. He was interested in how I was going to tie in all of the issues (veganism, farm workers, and chocolate), and he gave me his consent to use his images. 

He was driving in upstate New York with farm worker advocates—who he promptly introduced me to and had them send me his most recent photos. He sounded like Robin, his mind going 100 miles an hour.  

I feel the epitome of who Robin is can be seen in Shady Chocolate. There is a scene where a young boy has cut his leg with a machete. You can hear Robin’s voice as the narrator explains that the photographer bandages the child up and has decided to take him to the doctor. That’s Robin. Robin wasn’t just a filmmaker who was there to capture images and tell a story. He wanted to change that story. He wanted to make things better; he wanted justice.

Most of the images that we use from Robin relate directly to our work. What I have included on this blog are some beautiful images that Robin sent to me of where he lived.  I wanted to show how Robin could not only capture some of the pain in this world, but the beauty.

He captured beauty and injustice with the same grace and dignity.

Robin, you are truly missed, and our world will never be the same without you. And the children have lost a great defender.

We are so thankful for all that you taught us, and we will continue to work to make you proud.