The “good food” movement promotes healthy food, available to all, that is sustainably grown through small-scale, local, seasonal, organic production. Although a thread of that movement has focused on access for people of color and poor people, the dominant elements of food discourse are heavily about individual choice and personal responsibility rather than systemic barriers to eating well. We describe, for example, a conflict in Slow Food U.S.A over their recent “$5 challenge” (bring a dish to a potluck that costs less than $5 to make). Long-time foodie leaders objected mightily to an emphasis on affordability, calling it an affront to the small organic farmers whose food they want people to buy. The dominant messages in “good food” consist of exhorting people to buy organic, leave behind fast food and cook at home. Systemic issues of access (who grants all those fast food licenses for poor neighborhoods?) get too little attention, as do wonderful production and distribution innovations in poor communities. In defining “good food” the movement often leaves out crucial factors such as wages, immigration status, and safe conditions.
On the labor side, groups that protect the rights of workers have made significant progress in changing debates and policies, but have reached nothing close to the scale on which food industries as a whole operate. Victories by groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United show that people do care about workplace conditions; yet slum housing is not uncommon in farmworker communities and the minimum wage for tipped workers hasn’t risen in more than 20 years. Labor groups have to think about the consumer too, searching for mutual interests. Many labor advocates don’t address how and why food security and land sovereignty relate to their struggles for workers. Developing collaborative efforts between these movements is key to winning both good food and good jobs.
We found five opportunities for linking the two movements. They involve tying restaurant liquor licenses to labor reviews; supporting subsidies for small and medium-sized manufacturers of ethnic cuisines; creating food purchasing agreements with local and state governments; subsidizing retailers in poor communities and expanding the use of Community Benefits Agreements in public subsidies to advance food security as well as labor rights. To pursue any of these to scale, the fields have to increase their ability to coalesce, broaden their analysis and build alternative systems even while they challenge the existing ones.