Dignity of Work

In the 1990s, we were concerned with fair food production and trade conditions, especially with the lot of migrant farmworkers. That concern seems to have fallen to the margins of public discussion—but not so with Baltimore Food and Faith’s Enoughness series, which met for the third time on Tuesday at The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS), where we focused on the dignity of work.

A month or so ago I visited Angela Smith, Project Director of Baltimore Food and Faith, an initiative of The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Our discussion touched a whole range of questions related to food, environment, and faith-based organizations in Baltimore and around the globe. Read More >

Looking at Food System Issues through a ‘Food Justice Lens’

I first came upon the term “food justice” from an organization in Oakland called People’s Grocery led by Brahm Ahmadi and others who were fighting against an unjust food system in the “food desert” of West Oakland. At the time, it was an area that left residents with liquor stores and corner stores instead of grocery stores, a high prevalence of obesity and diet-related disease, and food dollars from hard-earned incomes that left the community through “leakage.” In fact, it was this food justice term “leakage” that really tweaked my economic and social justice sensibilities. A 2004 study showed that for every dollar spent at a locally-owned business, 68 cents stayed within the local community, while only 43 cents of every dollar spent at a chain store stayed within the community. Ahmadi lives these numbers, working hard to bring a grocery store into West Oakland, which will create jobs and build the local economy, all while providing healthier food to the residents.

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Gottlieb and Joshi’s book title, Food Justice, is the rallying cry of organizations like People’s Grocery and many others, and this book offers a fresh perspective on some of the food system issues that advocates in the various wings of the food movement have been writing about for a long time. The new angle that Food Justice takes is to examine those food system issues through a “food justice” lens. The authors explain what that means: A food justice orientation critiques and assesses the changing nature of food production and processing. It focuses on the need to reverse the disappearance of small farmers and farm-workers, along with the need to craft a different way to relate to the land and grow food. At the center of the food justice ethos is the demand for justice in the fields and work-places that produce and process foods, and for recognition of the dignity of work and basic human rights for those who have been denied such rights.” Read More >

Fair Food in Our 21st Century Economy

Last Wednesday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) held the last of a series of joint workshops on “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement Issues in Our 21st Century Economy.” This particular workshop was held at the USDA in Washington D.C. and focused on the issue of price margins – the discrepancies between prices received by farmers and ranchers for the food they produce and the prices paid by consumers for that food. Panelists and public commentary explored potentially anticompetitive conduct in the agriculture sector and discussed the possible need for the application of antitrust laws to address this conduct.

Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Vilsack

This workshop series was the first ever to bring the DOJ and USDA together around competition and regulatory issues in agriculture industries. The attention being given to this subject was reflected in the participation of senior staff at the USDA and DOJ, including Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture, USDA) and Eric Holder (US Attorney General). In addition to senior-level representation, the panels were well balanced to reflect the viewpoints of producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Read More >