Food labor, economic inequality, and the imperfect politics of process in the alternative food movement
There is a growing commitment by different parts of the alternative food movement (AFM) to improve labor conditions for conventional food chain workers, and to develop economically fair alternatives, albeit under a range of conditions that structure mobilization. This has direct implications for the process of intra-movement building and therefore the degree to which the movement ameliorates economic inequality at the point of food labor. This article asks what accounts for the variation in AFM labor commitments across different contexts. It then appraises a range of activist perspectives, practices, and organizational approaches. The answer emerges through a comparative analysis of three California social movement organizations enmeshed in the particularities of local contentious food politics. The cases include a labor union representing grocery store and meatpacking/food processing workers, a food justice organization working to create green jobs and independent funding models, and an organic urban farming and educational organization. Commitment to fair labor standards varies due to differences in organizational capacity, the degree of dedication to ending economic inequality in local activist culture, and the openness of local political and economic institutions to working class struggles. The article concludes with a discussion of how these findings inform our understanding of the process of cooperation and division in the AFM, particularly regarding the complexities and contradictions of using food labor to combat economic inequality. Movement building in the midst of varying institutional, organizational, and cultural contexts reinforces the value of a reflexive approach to this imperfect politics of process.
KeywordsAlternative food movement Economic inequality Food justice Food workers Green jobs Labor
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
Alternative food movement
A local organic farmland trust
Community supported agriculture
- SD Roots
San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project
Transform Your Yard program
United Food and Commercial Workers
United States Department of Agriculture
Wild Willow Farm
Thanks first and foremost to the many people who spoke openly about the ups and downs of creating a fairer agrifood system. An earlier and less developed version of this paper was presented at the 2013 Yale Food Symposium, at which I received a number of helpful comments. I also want to express gratitude to the anonymous reviewers and the editor, Harvey James, for providing constructive feedback.
- Alkon, A.H. 2012. Black, white, and green: Farmers markets, race, and the green economy. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
- Alkon, A.H., and J. Agyeman. 2011. Conclusion: Cultivating the fertile field of food justice. In Cultivating food justice, race, class, and sustainability, ed. A.H. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 331–347. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Bair, J., and S. Bernstein. 2006. Labor and the Wal-Mart effect. In Wal-Mart world: The world’s biggest corporation in the global economy, ed. S. Brunn, 99–113. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Besky, S. 2014. The Darjeeling distinction: Labor and justice on Fair-Trade tea plantations in India. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Bittman, M. 2014. Rethinking the word “foodie.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/opinion/mark-bittman-rethinking-the-word-foodie.html. Accessed 21 August 2014.
- Bonacich, E., and J.B. Wilson. 2006. Global production and distribution: Wal-Mart’s global logistics empire (with special reference to the China/Southern California connection). In Wal-Mart world: The world’s biggest corporation in the global economy, ed. S. Brunn, 227–242. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Bowe, J. 2007. Nobodies: American slave labor and the dark side of the American economy. New York, NY: Random House.Google Scholar
- Brown, S., and C. Getz. 2011. Farmworker insecurity and the production of hunger in California. In Cultivating food justice, race, class, and sustainability, ed. A.H. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 121–146. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Carolan, M.S. 2013. The wild side of agro-food studies: On co-experimentation, politics, change, and hope. Sociologia Ruralis 53(4): 413–431.Google Scholar
- Daniel, C. 1981. Bitter harvest: A history of California farmworkers, 1870–1941. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Davis, M., K. Mayhew, and J. Miller. 2003. Under the perfect sun: The San Diego tourists never see. New York, NY: The New Press.Google Scholar
- DuPuis, E.M., J.L. Harrison, and D. Goodman. 2011. Just food? In Cultivating food justice, race, class, and sustainability, ed. A.H. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 283–307. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Fink, D. 1998. Cutting into the meatpacking line: Workers and change in the rural Midwest. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
- Food Chain Workers Alliance. 2012. The hands that feed us: Challenges and opportunities for workers along the food chain. CA: Los Angeles.Google Scholar
- Giagnoni, S. 2011. Fields of resistance: The struggle of Florida’s farmworkers for justice. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.Google Scholar
- Goodman, D., M. Goodman, and M. DuPuis. 2012. Alternative food networks: Knowledge, place and politics. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Gottlieb, R., and A. Joshi. 2010. Food justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Gray, M. 2014. Labor and the locavore: The making of a comprehensive food ethic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Guthman, J. 2004. Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Hinrichs, C.C. 2010. Sustainable food systems: Challenges of social justice and a call to sociologists. Sociological Viewpoints 26(2): 7–18.Google Scholar
- Holt-Gimémez, E. (ed.). 2011. Food movements unite! Oakland. CA: Food First Books.Google Scholar
- Jayaraman, S. 2013. Behind the kitchen door. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
- Key, M. 2014a. Oakland slow to okay more public urban gardens. East Bay Express. http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/oakland-slow-to-okay-more-public-urban-gardens/Content?oid=3939495. Accessed 6 September 2014.
- Key, M. 2014b. Confusion reigns over Oakland urban gardens. East Bay Express. http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/confusion-reigns-over-oakland-urban-gardens/Content?oid=3981068. Accessed 6 September 2014.
- Lichtenstein, N. 2006. Wal-Mart: The face of the twenty-first century capitalism. New York, NY: New Press.Google Scholar
- Liu, Y.Y., and D. Apollon. 2011. The color of food. New York: Applied Research Center.Google Scholar
- Lyson, T.A. 2004. Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and community. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press.Google Scholar
- Maye, D., L. Holloway, and M. Kneafsey (eds.). 2007. Alternative food geographies: Representation and practice. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.Google Scholar
- McClintock, N., and M. Simpson. 2014. A survey of urban agriculture organizations and businesses in the US & Canada: Preliminary results. Portland, OR: Portland State University, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.Google Scholar
- Milkman, R. 2006. LA story: Immigrant workers and the future of the US labor movement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
- Miller, G. 2004. Everyday low wages: The hidden price we all pay for Wal-Mart. A Report by the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative George Miller (D-CA).Google Scholar
- Minkoff-Zern, L.A., N. Peluso, J. Sowerwine, and C. Getz. 2011. Race and regulation: Asian immigrants in California agriculture. In Cultivating food justice, race, class, and sustainability, ed. A.H. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 65–85. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Mitchell, D. 1996. The lie of the land: Migrant workers and the California landscape. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- National Employment Law Project. 2012. The low-wage recovery and growing inequality. New York, NY. http://nelp.3cdn.net/8ee4a46a37c86939c0_qjm6bkhe0.pdf. Accessed 4 October 2013.
- National Guestworker Alliance. 2012. Summary of preliminary audit of US Wal-Mart suppliers that employ guestworkers. New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
- Ngai, M. 2004. Impossible subjects: Illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Pachirat, T. 2011. Every twelve seconds: Industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Rainey, J., and J. Merl. 2014. Garcetti calls for $13.25 minimum wage by 2017. Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/cityhall/la-me-garcetti-wage-20140902-story.html#page=1. Accessed 3 September 2014.
- Restaurant Opportunity Center United. 2011. Behind the kitchen door: A multi-site study of the restaurant industry. New York, NY.Google Scholar
- Restaurant Opportunity Center United. 2013. Realizing the dream: How the minimum wage impacts racial equity in the restaurant industry and in America. New York, NY: The Center for Social Inclusion.Google Scholar
- Salaysay, C. 2014. Oakland slow on urban-ag incentive front. Oakland Magazine. http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/Oakland-Magazine/May-2014/Oakland-Slow-on-Urban-Ag-Incentive-Front/. Accessed 6 September 2014.
- Schlosser, E. 2004. Fast food nation: The dark side of the all-American meal. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
- Schnaiberg, A. 1980. The environment: From surplus to scarcity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Sinclair, U. 1906. The jungle. New York, NY: Doubleday, Page and Company.Google Scholar
- Trageser, C. 2014. A battle for voters’ signatures to overturn San Diego’s minimum wage hike. http://www.kpbs.org/news/2014/aug/27/its-battle-voters-signatures-overturn-minimum-wage/. Accessed 5 September 2014.
- Taylor, V., and N. Whittier. 1995. Analytical approaches to social movement culture: The culture of the women’s movement. In Social movements and culture, ed. H. Johnston, and B. Klandermans, 163–187. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Wells, M. 1996. Strawberry fields: Politics, class, and work in California agriculture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar