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Food labor, economic inequality, and the imperfect politics of process in the alternative food movement

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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.
... While some research has posited social benefits of organic agriculture due to increased labour demands that can provide rural employment (Reganold & Wachter, 2016), this presumed positive outcome rests on the unproven assumption that organic agricultural jobs are "good" jobs. Yet, scholarship and activism focussing on injustice in the food system have highlighted the problematic nature of labour relations on organic farms and the associated struggles for rights, justice and decency for workers (Sbicca, 2015;Weiler et al., 2016b). ...
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Despite the organic movement’s early connections to labour advocacy and commitment to the principle of “Fairness”, the evolution of the organic sector has generated questions about the strength of its links to food justice in certified organic farming. Scholar-activists have, in particular, highlighted the problematic nature of labour relations on many organic farms. This article reports on a growing relationship between an organic farming association (the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia) and a migrant workers justice collective (Fuerza Migrante) with aspirations of alliance building. Drawing from qualitative interviews and participant observation, we examine the extent to which efforts by the organic community towards fairness in labour relations may signal an opening whereby the organic movement may take up the more radical struggle for rights, status and justice for racialized migrant workers. We draw on theoretical work on post-capitalist relations and emancipatory social transformations to provide scaffolding to our assessment, and illuminate the importance of complementary efforts. While the primary demands raised by migrant workers and their allies (e.g. structural changes to temporary foreign worker programs) are not yet mirrored by the organic community’s advocacy, this paper documents preliminary efforts towards centering of migrant worker struggles for justice that may open up spaces for social emancipation for workers in organic farming systems. We also provide recommendations for how the organic community could act in solidarity with migrants and advance migrant justice priorities. En sus inicios, el movimiento orgánico estaba fuertemente vinculado con la defensa de los derechos de los trabajadores y comprometido con el principio de “justicia”. Con el paso del tiempo, la evolución del sector orgánico ha generado cuestionamientos sobre la fuerza de estos vínculos y su relación con la justicia alimentaria en la agricultura orgánica certificada. Académicos-activistas, en particular, han destacado la intrínseca problemática de muchas granjas orgánicas. El presente artículo reporta la creciente relación y aspiración de construir alianzas entre una asociación de agricultura orgánica (Organic BC) y un colectivo de justicia para trabajadores migrantes (Fuerza Migrante). Examinamos hasta qué punto los esfuerzos por parte de la comunidad orgánica hacia la justicia en relaciones laborales puede representar una oportunidad para el movimiento orgánico de asumir una postura más radical por los derechos, estatus y la justicia de los trabajadores migrantes racializados. El análisis se basa en el trabajo teórico sobre relaciones post-capitalistas y las transformaciones sociales emancipatorias que iluminan la importancia de los esfuerzos complementarios. Si bien las principales demandas planteadas por los trabajadores migrantes y sus aliados (por ejemplo, cambios estructurales en los programas de trabajadores extranjeros temporales) aún no se reflejan en la lucha de la comunidad orgánica, vemos esfuerzos preliminares enfocados en la lucha de los trabajadores migrantes por la justicia, los cuales pueden abrir espacios para la emancipación social en sistemas de agricultura orgánica. Concluimos con recomendaciones sobre cómo la comunidad orgánica en Canadá podría actuar en solidaridad con los migrantes y promover prioridades de justicia para migrantes.
... A similar trend can be observed in research by food movement scholars in Canada and beyond. Multiple academic searches for literature speaking to both prisons and the food movement generate scarce results-and the vast majority are from a single author in the US, Sbicca (2012Sbicca ( , 2015Sbicca ( , 2019. 15 In Sbicca's research (2016: 1359) examining instances of food justice grounded in the realities of incarcerated geographies in the US, he suggests that connecting food justice with restorative justice provides a "unique set of strategies to stanch the flow of people into prison." ...
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Centering the perspectives and lived experiences of incarcerated persons, this article considers the ways food is used as a tool and site of contestation and possibility within federal prisons in Canada. Focusing specifically on the implementation of and resistance to the Food Services Modernization Initiative, I explore food as “contested terrain” within carceral systems, making visible a range of tactics of resistance employed by incarcerated persons, from testimonials and official complaints to direct collective action. In analyzing these actions and narratives, I reflect on the importance of both food justice and prisoner justice to transforming carceral food systems and call for greater acknowledgment of carceral food systems within food movement discourses and campaigns.
... Case study research has also started to identify the structural challenges that food systems organizations face when making transformational opportunities for farmworkers (Erwin, 2019;2022;Minkoff-Zern, 2012;2014a;Sbicca, 2015a). In particular, Minkoff-Zern (2014b) and Sbicca (2015b) both conducted ethnographic case studies with food systems organizations, which showed how some can focus on apolitical topics such as charity and environmental conservation rather than addressing economic injustices that underpin farmworker status. ...
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Scholars argue that growers occupy a special place in the US imagination, which grants them and their priorities power in policy spaces and disrupts efforts at addressing injustices that farmworkers experience. While farmworkers have successfully organized and made structural changes on their own behalf, there is a critical need to find new spaces where farmworkers can address claims for justice. Organizations that serve and advocate for farmworkers implement participatory projects to increase opportunities for farmworkers to discuss and address injustices. However, little research interrogates how growers could influence organizational capacity to support meaningful participation, processes that foster agency and provide avenues for tying grievances to action, for farmworkers. This paper begins to address this gap. Results draw on five months of ethnographic fieldwork (semi-structured interviews, participant observations, and document review) with the Valle Vista Farmworker Ministry, an organization that serves farmworkers in the rural southeastern US. Valle Vista was implementing a participatory project with the farmworkers. In addition to creating leadership opportunities for farmworkers, stakeholders aspired to create a direct relationship with growers and enhance organizational capacity to advocate on behalf of farmworkers. Results show that fears and risks of upsetting growers hindered Valle Vista’s efforts towards fully creating meaningful participation with farmworkers. Given these findings, this study posits that in addition to having power in policy spaces and the US imagination, growers also hold this influence in participatory spaces created by organizations. The study concludes with recommendations for scholars and organizations that would like to implement participatory projects with migrant farmworker populations.
... Food movements have had significant success in raising consciousness, critiquing, and politicizing inequities in food systems (Gottlieb & Joshi, 2010;Holt-Giménez et al., 2018;Levkoe, 2014;Sbicca, 2015;Winne, 2010). However, limited interrogation of settler colonialism remains a crucial gap in food movement scholarship and activism. ...
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The evolving practice and scholarship surrounding food movements aim to address social, political, economic and ecological crises in food systems. However, limited interrogation of settler colonialism remains a crucial gap. Settler colonialism is the ongoing process that works to systematically erase and replace Indigenous Peoples with settler populations and identities. While many progressive and well-intentioned food movements engage directly with issues of land, water, identity, and power, critics argue they have also reified capitalism, white supremacy, agro-centrism and private property that are central to the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Peoples. Scholars and advocates have called for greater accountability to the contradictions inherent in working towards social and ecological justice on stolen land. We write this paper as three settler activist-scholars to interrogate ways that social movements are responding to this call. A community-engaged methodology was used to conduct semi-structured interviews with individuals working in settler-led food movement organizations in northwestern Ontario, Canada and in southern Australia. We present our findings through three intersecting categories: 1) Expressions of settler inaction; 2) Mere inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and ideas; and, 3) Productive engagements that confront settler colonialism. To explore this third category in greater detail, we suggest a continuum that moves from situating our(settler)selves within the framework of settler colonialism to (re)negotiating relationships with Indigenous Peoples to actualizing productive positions of solidarity with Indigenous struggles. CFS/RCÉA Bohunicky, Levkoe and Rose Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 135-165 August 2021 138 We argue that this work is essential for food movements that aim to transform relationships with the land, each other, and ultimately forge more sustainable and equitable food futures.
... Tekintve, hogy e foglalkoztatást sokszor nem veszik gyelembe, a vizsgálatok gyakran becsülnek a valóstól eltérő foglalkoztatási hatást. Ugyanígy, a különböző helyi rendszerekben magas az önkéntesség aránya (Balázs 2012;Sbicca 2015;Szabó et al. 2019), ami további torzítást eredményez. Többen hangsúlyozzák ugyan a helyi élelmiszerrendszerek társadalmi kohéziós szerepét (Hedberg, Zimmerer 2020;Sage 2003), ennek pénzügyi mérhetősége azonban rendkívül bonyolult, ezért e témával jellemzően nem foglalkoznak a multiplikátorok számításakor. ...
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Általános feltevés, hogy a helyi élelmiszerek értékesítése pozitív hatással van a helyi gazdaság teljesítményére. Cikkünkben megvizsgáljuk, hogy az eddigi kutatások mennyiben támasztják alá ezt a vélekedést. A ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, Taylor and Francis Online, SpringerLink, AgECON, Emerald és Sage adatbázisban fellelhető, 2000 és 2019 között publikált, angol nyelvű folyóiratcikkek kerültek szisztematikus áttekintésre. Emellett kiegészítő keresést végeztünk a Google Tudós keresőmotor felhasználásával. A téma jellegénél fogva több szinonima figyelembe vételével végeztük az adatgyűjtést, ami adatbázisonként 42-féle kulcsszavas keresést eredményezett. A multiplikátor hatás négyféle tényezőjére: a kibocsátási, a hozzáadott érték, a jövedelmi, valamint a foglalkoztatási multiplikátorra vonatkozóan kerestünk információkat. Az első körben beválogatott 14 819 cikk közül mindössze 25 felelt meg a kutatási kritériumoknak. 24 közlemény szerint a helyi élelmiszerek iránti kereslet növekedése pozitív hatást gyakorolt a multiplikátor hatás valamely mutatójára, de 6 esetben más mutató esetében már nem tudtak ilyen kedvező hatást kimutatni. Egy tanulmány pedig egyik tényező esetében sem talált összefüggést. Eredményeink szerint a helyi élelmiszerek pozitív hatása leginkább a foglalkoztatásban és a jövedelmek növekedésében megfigyelhető, míg a kibocsátási és a hozzáadott érték multiplikátorok megjelenése sokkal inkább helyzetfüggő, nehezen vagy nem kimutatható. A jelenleg használt módszerek legtöbbjénél továbbá kisebb-nagyobb felülbecslés is feltételezhető. A helyi élelmiszerek helyi gazdaságra gyakorolt valós hatásának méréséhez további kutatásokra van szükség.
... Tekintve, hogy e foglalkoztatást sokszor nem veszik gyelembe, a vizsgálatok gyakran becsülnek a valóstól eltérő foglalkoztatási hatást. Ugyanígy, a különböző helyi rendszerekben magas az önkéntesség aránya (Balázs 2012;Sbicca 2015;Szabó et al. 2019), ami további torzítást eredményez. Többen hangsúlyozzák ugyan a helyi élelmiszerrendszerek társadalmi kohéziós szerepét (Hedberg, Zimmerer 2020;Sage 2003), ennek pénzügyi mérhetősége azonban rendkívül bonyolult, ezért e témával jellemzően nem foglalkoznak a multiplikátorok számításakor. ...
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Full-text available
Általános feltevés, hogy a helyi élelmiszerek értékesítése pozitív hatással van a helyi gazdaság teljesítményére. Cikkünkben megvizsgáljuk, hogy az eddigi kutatások mennyiben támasztják alá ezt a vélekedést. A ScienceDirect, Wiley Online Library, Taylor and Francis Online, SpringerLink, AgECON, Emerald és Sage adatbázisban fellelhető, 2000 és 2019 között publikált, angol nyelvű folyóiratcikkek kerültek szisztematikus áttekintésre. Emellett kiegészítő keresést végeztünk a Google Tudós keresőmotor felhasználásával. A téma jellegénél fogva több szinonima figyelembe vételével végeztük az adatgyűjtést, ami adatbázisonként 42-féle kulcsszavas keresést eredményezett. A multiplikátor hatás négyféle tényezőjére: a kibocsátási, a hozzáadott érték, a jövedelmi, valamint a foglalkoztatási multiplikátorra vonatkozóan kerestünk információkat. Az első körben beválogatott 14 819 cikk közül mindössze 25 felelt meg a kutatási kritériumoknak. 24 közlemény szerint a helyi élelmiszerek iránti kereslet növekedése pozitív hatást gyakorolt a multiplikátor hatás valamely mutatójára, de 6 esetben más mutató esetében már nem tudtak ilyen kedvező hatást kimutatni. Egy tanulmány pedig egyik tényező esetében sem talált összefüggést. Eredményeink szerint a helyi élelmiszerek pozitív hatása leginkább a foglalkoztatásban és a jövedelmek növekedésében megfigyelhető, míg a kibocsátási és a hozzáadott érték multiplikátorok megjelenése sokkal inkább helyzetfüggő, nehezen vagy nem kimutatható. A jelenleg használt módszerek legtöbbjénél továbbá kisebb-nagyobb felülbecslés is feltételezhető. A helyi élelmiszerek helyi gazdaságra gyakorolt valós hatásának méréséhez további kutatásokra van szükség.
... Generally nested within the broader fields of critical food studies and agrarian studies, the food justice lens focuses attention on inequities at play in the sphere of production (Minkoff-Zern and Sloatt 2016; Sbicca 2019), such as labor conditions and access to land and other resources, as well as those manifest in the sphere of consumption, such as uneven access to healthy food (Heynen et al. 2012) or the elitism of local food (Guthman 2008). Recent work underscoring inequities in food service (Coplen 2018;Jayaraman 2013;Sbicca 2015) draws much needed attention to the spheres of food distribution, processing, and preparation. Food justice scholars have called for a clearer focus on intersectional social inequities and, more particularly, on dismantling colonialism, classism, racism, white privilege, and white dominance within the movement itself (Bradley and Herrera 2016;Slocum et al. 2016). ...
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In this discussion piece, eight scholars in geography, urban planning, and agri-food studies from the United States (US) and France engage in a bi-national comparison to deepen our collective understanding of food and land justice. We specifically contextualize land justice as a critical component of food justice in both the US and France in three key areas: access to land for cultivation, urban agriculture, and non-agricultural forms of food provisioning. The US and France are interesting cases to compare, considering the differences and similarities in their colonial and agricultural histories, persistent and systemic race and class-based inequities in land access, and the roles of public bodies and social movements. In this paper, we synthesize literature, share reflections, and offer directions for future scholarship, including a broader comparative research agenda. An important difference we found is in the degree of scholarly attention to race and how it mediates access to land. We also observe that few scholars articulate a clear definition of justice in their work, nor do they share a common justice framework. We hope that this paper contributes to a more robust food and land justice framework for the use of scholars, practitioners and activists.
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Critical food scholars have long noted that much of local food discourse in the US is underwritten by a deeply regressive agrarian imaginary that valorizes “small family farms” while erasing historical legacies of racism. In this paper, I examine one influential expression of the agrarian imaginary that I call the fantasy of “real food,” and illustrate how that discourse contributes to ongoing exclusions in farmers markets. Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis, I explain how the fantasy of real food positions white middle-class consumers to view themselves as protagonists in a romantic narrative of loss and recovery, in which their enlightened consumption practices precipitate the return of authentic social relations and connections to nature. I then trace the influence of this fantasy through a reading of selected popular media, and illustrate how the racist, classist, and patriarchal antipathies of the agrarian imaginary find legitimate expression in an alternate form as affectively charged moral and aesthetic commitments. Finally, I show how this fantasy logic makes both the exclusion of outsiders and the policing of farmers appear not only reasonable but morally righteous. I conclude by arguing that we cannot rely on the reflexivity of the privileged to deliver justice, no matter how well-meaning they may be, and suggest that we need new imaginaries and new narratives to guide our politics of consumption.
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