Blog: Food justice

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Jacob’s Farm is 300 acres plus 1 million square feet of greenhouse space filled with wonderfully pungent smells, intensely flavorful tastes, and beautiful, brightly colored flowers. This is one of the largest farms I’ve visited on my travels — and one of the most socially responsible. Jacob’s Farm offers great benefits to its employees: paying more than minimum wage and offering health care, dental care, and a 401(k) plan; and providing paid time off and end-of-year bonuses.

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The University of Pennsylvania celebrated this year’s National Food Day by kicking off its third annual Food Week: You Are What You Eat, sponsored by Bon Appétit at Penn Dining and supported by Fox Leadership. One of the major goals of Food Week each year is education — raising awareness about food issues in the hopes that awareness will ultimately lead to action.

Conscientious consumers rely on third-party-certified labeling programs such as organic, which reassures us that those products were grown without toxic pesticides or using genetically engineered seeds, and Certified Humane, which tells us that the animals we’re eating were raised ethically. But neither of those labels tells us anything about how the people behind the products were treated. That’s why the Fair Trade Certified™ label is so important. October is Fair Trade month, and we at Bon Appétit Management Company are proud to have partnered with Fair Trade USA to help raise awareness.

For most industries, state law in North Carolina mandates that children must be at least 14 years old to work. But like the rest of the country, there is no age requirement for agricultural work and many start at 10 or 12, and get exposed to toxic pesticides during formative years. Toxic Free NC is a non-profit organization that works to “put people before pesticides” and advocates for alternatives that protect the health and environment of those in the surrounding community. In 2008, they started the Farm Worker Documentary Project, documenting the experiences of workers in fields and labor camps across North Carolina. Their most recent project is called Overworked & Under Spray: Young Farm Workers’ Pesticide Stories. Six young farm workers talk about their pesticide exposure in the fields and the resulting health effects. The film also includes advocacy […]

For the second dinner in our Eat With Bon Appétit series, we once again gathered at Mijita in San Francisco. This time, the guest of honor was Barry Estabrook, author of the new book Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. The winner of a 2011 James Beard Award for his blog, Politics of the Plate, Barry has dug deep into the sterile, sandy soil of Florida’s tomato industry to reveal why most of the tomatoes Americans eat have no flavor and to illuminate the equally unsavory labor practices under which these rock-hard fruits are grown.

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The conditions that farmworkers face in the everyday course of trying to do their jobs are grueling, often dangerous, and sometimes even abusive. It’s the age-old “if a tree falls in the forest” riddle: if these problems are invisible to most Americans, do they really exist? The answer is yes, of course they do. And I am proud to have worked on a 65-page report about farmworker employment issues that documents them.

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Industrial-scale agriculture often exacts a steep human cost. That was one of the lessons I learned last week from farmer Bob Knight and farmworker Marco Franco of the Inland Orange Conservancy, Bon Appétit at the University of Redland’s first Farm to Fork partner. They were the guest speakers at one of our Stories from the Fields events, held at the University Club.

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The Oxfam Hunger Banquet is the only banquet I’ve ever attended where I was served just rice and water. The banquet, held March 7 at Seattle University, makes the inequalities of our world vividly clear in order to raise awareness about the experience of hunger and get people thinking and talking about how to take action to fight poverty. I used it as a jumping off point to also talk about the injustices experienced by female farm workers.