Saturday, June 29, 2013

Good Food Jobs

Apparently the economy is getting better. Most progressive economists call this a "jobless" recovery, and I am not sure I understand that term, because if the economy is dependent on consumer spending, doesn't it make sense if consumers have money to spend, they will spend it? I guess if you are a big bank who does not have to cover your losses, and now you are making money again because you still are allowed to do the things you did to crash the economy the last time, that would be called a "jobless recovery."

What has been the trend is there are many jobs available, but are low wage, low security no benefit jobs, which often pollute the environment or are very difficult on the workers. Worldwide, the largest employer of humans is in the "food industry." This term encompasses everything from farming to marketing and production as well as the food service industry. If you listen to my program you know I love the statistics end of food production, because it truly boggles the imagination. In the states, most recent data available show that over 20 million people are employed in the food industry, and Americans spend 1 trillion dollars annually on food. This large amount is 10% of the gross domestic product.

I don't know about you, but comparing these two charts, and considering the tax bracket these guys are in, there is something wrong.

The American Food System has a great definition produced by the Economic Research Service or the USDA

"The U.S. food system is a complex network of farmers and the industries that link to them. Those links include makers of farm equipment and chemicals as well as firms that provide services to agribusinesses, such as providers of transportation and financial services. The system also includes the food marketing industries that link farms to consumers, and which include food and fiber processors, wholesalers, retailers, and food service establishments."

What this definition does not tell you is that the farmers, farm workers, factory workers and food services are poorly paid, usually non union or loosing their union bargaining capability, and are not receiving health benefits. With the impending implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, many large food employers are threatening to cut employee hours and pay instead of trying to create a healthy caring work environment. A report that was released last year by the Food Chain Alliance, found that 86% of food service workers surveyed earned low or poverty wages, with many earning the bare federal minimum of about $15,080 a year. Only 17 percent of these workers receive health insurance through their employers, and 58 percent were without any health care coverage. Wages in this industry are so low that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the food service industry use food stamps at twice the rate of Americans employed elsewhere. And these are the people that Republicans in Congress want to cut food assistance to, or make them "prove" they are working. Guess who lobbies the Republicans in congress? Hint, it is not the tomato pickers or graveyard shift burger flippers. A disclaimer here, I am a proud founding member of the Green Party in California, so please do not consider me partisan in the usual way.

What is also stunning about these statistics is that within all of them, 4 million of the food industry workers are fast food employees. I could go on for pages and pages about the consequences of fast food in general, but these workers are the lowest paid of all food service workers, except maybe farm workers who work by the "unit" meaning they get paid per pound of produce picked.

Recent Strike in New York City by Fast Food Workers asking for a Living Wage

Florida Tomato Pickers receive 40 - 50 cents per bucket of tomatoes

The good news is there is a growing movement of food jobs with a purpose. The website shows there is another way when it comes to working in the food industry. 

If you listen to the podcast you can hear what inspired founders Taylor Cocalis and Dorothy Neagle to start the site. When I stumbled upon, I truly wanted to apply for every job. The criteria for posting a job is that it has to in a business that is sustainable, a good corporate community, or promoting sustainable food and agricultural education.

Where else could you find a posting for a ranch hand to help with biodynamically raised water buffalo, or an educational coordinator for a food skills kitchen in an economically under served area in Brooklyn? 

The future, I have often said, is going to be one where the best of sustainable and appropriate technology will be combined with food and agriculture. Good Food Jobs is a great place for emerging careers in the field of Gastronomy can be found.  The site calls a "good food job"  a job that is "a pursuit involving the efforts to nourish one's own life, and the lives of others." I have looked, you can't find a chain restaurant or fast food franchise job anywhere on the site. HMMMMMM. Check it out, the website is fun, user friendly, they have chats and a great newsletter!


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