Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 3–17 | Cite as

Front and back of the house: socio-spatial inequalities in food work

  • Carolyn Sachs
  • Patricia Allen
  • A. Rachel Terman
  • Jennifer HaydenEmail author
  • Christina Hatcher


Work on farms and in restaurants is characterized by highly gendered and racialized divisions of labor, low wages, and persistent inequalities. Gender, race, and ethnicity often determine the spaces where people work in the food system. Although some research focuses on gendered divisions of labor in restaurants and on farms, few efforts look more broadly at intersectional inequalities in food work. Our study examines how inequality is perpetuated through restaurant and farm work in the United States and, specifically, how gender and race/ethnicity influence where people work, their tasks and responsibilities, and their work experiences. In describing restaurant work, people in the restaurant industry typically refer to the front and back of the house to distinguish between different working spaces, jobs, and workers. We use this spatial metaphor of front and back of the house to analyze intersectional inequalities of food work in restaurants and on farms. The data derive from conversations with 63 restaurant and farm owners, managers, and workers in California and Pennsylvania. Our findings suggest that gendered and racialized bodies often define who works in the front and back of the “house,” and that owners and workers often naturalize gender and racial divisions of labor in food work. Despite these patterns, we found evidence of attempts to reduce these inequalities on farms and in restaurants.


US food system Workers Migrant labor Gendered labor Inequality regime Food work Restaurant Farm 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Sachs
    • 1
  • Patricia Allen
    • 2
  • A. Rachel Terman
    • 4
  • Jennifer Hayden
    • 4
    Email author
  • Christina Hatcher
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Women’s StudiesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Food Systems and SocietyMarylhurst UniversityMarylhurstUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  4. 4.Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural SociologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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