The disjunction between good food, workers’ rights, and consumer decision-making in the U.S. “food chain” perpetuates a bad legacy. The food chain continues the long record of class division, xenophobia, and destruction of land that characterize industrial agriculture.
“Good foods” are local, seasonal, organic foods, produced in reaction against the government-supported commercialization and industrialization that fills grocery store shelves. Mono-cropping, pesticide and herbicide usage, and genetic engineering are some of the biopesticide and biotechnology innovations mainstream agriculture has adopted in recent years. By contrast, independent farmers who honor biodiversity and agricultural variety, as well as the dignity and rights of workers, represent the cultivators of “good food.”
The industrialization of processed foods has lowered the cost of edibles, and access to food increased by institutionalization of processed foods. Good food, however, remains less accessible to the working classes.
Today, the U.S. food chain, supported by over 20 million workers, is stratified by race, immigration status, class and gender. The food chain denies food workers access to good food, and good food consumers are distanced from the food workers and agricultural land that nurture good food. The contemporary food system is strongly fueled by corporations that produce foods through industrial farming and processes, such as Monsanto. The current U.S. Food System affirms racial and class divides by relying on industrial processes headed by corporations that violate labor rights, and safe keep good food’s inaccessibility with high price tags.
The industrialization of processed foods has lowered the cost of edibles and made industrially processed foods more accessible. Good food, however, remains out of reach to many less affluent people. The working poor and people of color are those most affected by food (in)security, diet-related diseases, and “food deserts.” Food deserts are primarily low-income rural or urban communities with limited food access. Members of these communities affected by food deserts often rely on local markets, which supply primarily low-nutrient, long-shelf-life edibles filled with additives. Unfortunately, the communities that grow and produce food are not immune to food deserts.
The working classes are simultaneously overrepresented in low-wage food system jobs. Food workers often seem invisible although they are responsible for keeping people’s bodies nourished and well-fueled — or at least those who can afford the high cost of good foods. Many food workers face barriers to accessing good food themselves.
The Applied Research Center (ARC) released the report The Color of Food in July 2012, drawing the connection between good food and good labor. Yvonne Yen Liv, author of the ARC report claims “…healthy food is a human right.” The good food movement advocates fresh, healthy, nutritious, organic, local, seasonal, culturally-appropriate food that all people can access, grown through small-scale farms with regard to the land and animals, and produced to sustain people and the planet.
Good labor prioritizes rights for dignity and respect for workers with family-sustaining wages and benefits, safe working conditions and clear career path for food workers. The report suggests bridging good food and good jobs in order to bring together those who produce food with those who consume it, as a means to eliminate the silo between food workers and food consumers that fuels racial and economic inequities and injustices. The ARC report suggests that good foods and good jobs should collaborate to advance economic and racial equality in the food system.
The racial wage gap further striates food workers hourly wage; people of color earn fewer wages per hour than white people at every level of the food system. According to the ARC report, the average hourly wage for people of color working in food production is $8.79, while white people in production earn $12.04 per hour.
The ARC’s report also states white men food workers earn the most wages; for every dollar white men earn Asian men earn 83 cents, Black men earn 71 cents, and Latino men earn 66 cents, and Asian women earn 68 cents, white women earn 63 cents Black women earn 53 cents and Latino women earn 50 cents. Women’s unpaid, invisible labor, preparing and purchasing of food in the home, must also be considered.
The discrepancy between wages earned in food service and the living wage suggests good food is unaffordable for many, and the barriers to food good increase with intersecting racial and gender identities other than white and male.
The divide between food workers and good food, and food workers and good food consumers, illustrates gaps in the current U.S. food system that privilege consumption, industrialization and corporate profit. As the food system continues industrialization, it becomes more similar to the prison- and military-industrial complexes.
If revolution is to start on our plates, resistance must begin around our tables as we discuss the implications of our access and barriers to food, and who grows, produces and supports food processes. Diego Perez Lopez, a coffee farmer and member of Cirsa co-op in Chiapas, Mexico says “consumers and farmers must continue to walk together, we are all in the same struggle for a life of peace.”
“Why More Americans Can’t Access Healthy Foods” by Julianne Hing via colorlines.com
“Improving Access to Healthy Food” via justfoods.org
”Good Laws, Good Food: Putting Local Food Laws to Work for Our Community” via The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic
Allen, P. and Sachs, C. 2007. “Women and Food Chains: The Gendered Politics of Food.” International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture. 15:1.