When scanning the dining options in your cafeteria, do you notice any descriptions that are meant to make the food more attractive, such as “cage-free,” “local,” or “sustainable?” I do. With these labels, it’s clear that food service management companies are trying to sell more food by appealing to their customers’ values. But I’ve also taken note of which values the food service management company does not use to market their products—for example, “supports small- and mid-size farms” or “living wage for workforce.” These observations made me curious about which values these companies choose to prioritize, and why. Read More >
When agricultural researcher and entrepreneur Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin visited the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), we were able to chat with him about what he’s up to these days. What began as an interview with this thought leader about the externalized costs of the food system and the true cost of food, topics at the heart of CLF’s research, became a conversation about regenerative agriculture, lawsuits, price tags and reform.
Working with the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance in Minnesota, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is the architect and engineer behind the regenerative poultry system, one of many farm operations at the the 100-acre farm in Northfield, through the Main Street Project. His approach to regenerative agriculture involves a biodiverse system of symbiotically connected livestock and perennials, building soil, cleaning water and delivering economic benefits with no chemical inputs. Read More >
Would you apply for a job that requires bending over for about nine hours a day to pick fruits or vegetables? Would you want a job that offered employee housing that didn’t have running water or electricity? What if your employer didn’t have to comply with minimum wage laws or child labor laws, didn’t have to pay overtime, didn’t have to provide insurance or workers’ comp, and you weren’t allowed to unionize? Not interested? Fair enough, neither are the vast majority of US citizens. According to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, 75 percent of all crop labor in the United States is done by immigrants from Central America and Mexico, and about half of all crop workers surveyed reported being in the country illegally. Read More >
On any given day, more than 500 customers walk bleary-eyed into an average Starbucks store. With more than 24,000 stores globally, that’s 12 million people drinking Starbucks each day. With that many people visiting their stores each day, their coffee purchases account for 2 percent of all global coffee bean purchases. Starbucks has a lot of clout when it comes to the coffee-buying industry.
Starbucks’s role as a key player in the market makes its practices all the more important. Since 2009, when the company’s poor financial performance inspired CEO Howard Shultz to revolutionize their business practices, the company has focused on improving their impacts on the community and the environment. Read More >
“You can’t assume that a high price means good working conditions, or that by paying a high price you’re paying for environmental sustainability,” advises Kim Elena Ionescu, Chief Sustainability Officer for the Specialty Coffee Association. I was speaking with her in an effort to explore some ethical dilemmas surrounding coffee and what we as consumers can do about them. Of the millions of cups of coffee sipped globally each day, only a small fraction of the final sale price reaches the farmers who grew the coffee, who often live in impoverished conditions. Read More >
I drove slowly along the country road in mountainous Boonsboro, Maryland, looking for a large greenhouse facility, which is typically the marker of a commercial aquaponics farm, where fish and plants are grown together in a re-circulating water system. Instead, all I found was a small sign for “South Mountain MicroFARM” posted next to a gravel driveway in front of a modest home. I turned into the driveway, headed down the hill, and was met by a smiling Levi Sellers, operator of South Mountain MicroFARM. Levi led me farther down the hill, past their family’s Christmas tree farm, to the impressive new barn and greenhouse structure that houses their recently established aquaponics operation. Read More >
In a quiet corner store off a busy intersection in Arusha, Tanzania, I chose a vibrant cloth package of coffee. On a side street in Rome, I picked up a small, compressed foil packet labeled “Fantasia” off a candy shop shelf. In a kafehaus in Denmark, an attendant in an old-fashioned apron and puffy sleeves ground aromatic beans into a lime green plastic sachet before sliding it over the counter with deft movements. All around the world, coffee is roasted, purchased and consumed constantly. In fact, 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed annually. That’s 1.1 billion cups daily! Read More >
The morning of April 1 greeted us with freezing rain, slush-covered sidewalks and a forecast of snow throughout the day. This was not a mean-spirited April Fools’ Day joke, just spring in New England. Claire Fitch and I were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to participate in the third annual “Just Food?” forum at Harvard Law School. This year’s event, a collaboration between the Harvard Law School Food Law Society and the Harvard Food Literacy Project and cosponsored by the Food Law and Policy Clinic, was focused on labor across the food system. The forum featured about 30 speakers, lunchtime documentary film screenings, and session topics ranging from agricultural worker rights and wages in the restaurant industry to regulatory and market driven models for reform. Read More >
Memorial Day weekend—a time to gather with friends and family, honor those who died while serving in the military, and celebrate the warmer summer months to come. And for many, it’s a time to clean off and fire up the old grill.
As the holiday weekend approaches, you may find yourself thinking about where to buy your hamburgers and other grilling essentials. Should you visit your neighborhood farmers market and buy from a local farmer? Or head over to the family-owned butcher shop down the street? Or maybe you will scour the grocery shelves for any sign of products from a local farm. Read More >
I was first introduced to labor rights in the food industry after watching the documentary Food Chain$. The film, which was screened in Baltimore, exposes the plight of Immokalee tomato pickers, organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), and their goal of raising wages by a penny a pound for tomatoes picked in Florida. They were successful in convincing most retailers and wholesalers to meet their demands, and CIW received national attention when the Obama Administration issued them a Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. These high-profile campaigns are raising awareness among consumers and challenging food companies to discuss labor rights. Read More >