In the United States, more than 20 million people are workers in the food chain, over 11 million of which are full-time. Also, the food industry continues to grow even during
economic recession, offering more job opportunities. The nation, as a whole, lost 1.9 percent of jobs between December 2007 and December 2008, yet the restaurant industry only contracted by 0.5 percent in the same time frame. Often, workers in the food chain suffer low wages and exploitative conditions.
At least six out of every 10 farmworkers is an undocumented immigrant. Workers in the food chain suffer low wages and exploitative conditions. Farm labor, for example, has a higher rate of toxic chemical injuries than workers in any other sector of the U.S. economy, with an estimated 300,000 farmworkers suffering from pesticide poisoning annually. Service workers in the restaurant industry, which serves food to consumers at the end of the chain, face unfair labor practices ranging from employers withholding wages to not getting paid for overtime.
Many sectors of the food chain are excluded from the protections of federal labor laws. This includes farmworkers, tipped minimum wage workers such as those in restaurants, and the formerly incarcerated. These workers fall under the rubric of excluded workers, who lack the right to organize without retaliation, because they are excluded from labor law protection or the laws are not enforced.
Food workers also suffer from lack of access to healthy food. Numerous studies document high rates of food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger among farmworkers. In California, a 2007 study found that 45 percent of surveyed agricultural workers were food insecure, and nearly half were on food stamps. A similar survey in North Carolina documented that over 63 percent of migrant and seasonal farmworkers were food insecure, with almost 35 percent experiencing hunger.
The Good Food Movement
Contemporary food production, like much of our economy, is dominated by large corporations, and these corporations produce edibles through an industrial process.The food chain is incorporated in the world capitalist system, where crops are grown in the global or domestic south, often in fields of monoculture crops, using bioengineered seeds and subjected to harsh pesticides; then the products are packaged and shipped to the end consumer.6 What we see on the supermarket shelves or serve to eat is a food product, alienated from the natural and social world.
The good food movement—also known as eco-food, slow food, real food, local food or the sustainable food movement—is a reaction to the world food system. It’s driven largely by the middle class, nostalgic for a preindustrial mode of food production, who demand organic food grown locally by independent farmers. The roots of this tradition stem from Thomas Jefferson, who believed that a nation of small farmers would be morally virtuous, economically independent and the citizenry of an equitable republic.However, Jefferson’s vision ignored or glossed over the slave labor that powered agrarian economies, the history of colonization and the displacement of people of color from their land. The overwhelming desire is for a sustainable food system—for the earth, consumers, and family farmers.
The food chain provides employment for millions of workers in other sectors, some unseen to the eye of the consumer, such as processing and distribution. A movement based on a holistic understanding of food justice needs to encompass the chain of food production that connects seeds to mouths. The foodchain includes the workers that help to plant the seeds, harvest the crops, package the food, deliver the product and serve the meal to consumers. The future of good food must not ignore these workers.
The five food industries:
• Agriculture, fishing and hunting
• Food Manufacturing
• Wholesale Trade of Groceries and Farm Products
• Retail Trade of Food and Beverages
• Food Services
More than 900 occupational categories populate these five industries