This post was written by Lena Afridi, a research analyst at UNITE HERE.
At this month’s Facing Race 2012 conference, Real Food Real Jobs had the opportunity to explore the often overlooked intersections between labor and racial justice in the sustainable food movement. Facing Race 2012 took place in a city replete with labor, food, and racial justice initiatives – Baltimore, Maryland. The city of Baltimore is home to a host of organizations committed to deconstructing the impact of race on employment, housing, and community development, and it acted as an ideal catalyst for the tough conversations that Facing Race facilitated. Organized by the Applied Research Center, a nationally renowned racial justice think tank, the conference brought together academics, organizers, artists, and writers from across the country to create dialogue around race and its implications for their movements and communities.
Real Foods Real Jobs had the privilege to join in on these conversations. We participated in a panel called “No Justice, No Peas” alongside some heavy hitters in the food justice movement, including Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), Diana Robinson of Food Chain Workers Alliance, Navina Moon of Live Real, and Suguet Lopez of Lideres Campesinas. Each speaker detailed the impact that race, immigration, and labor have on food production, all the way from the farm to the table. The panel highlighted the breadth of the food chain workers who have limited visibility when it comes to the mainstream food movement. More often than not, these workers are immigrants and people of color. They often experience high rates of diet-related illness and a lack of access to healthy food, despite the fact that they’re the folks cooking our meals in places like stadiums, corporate cafeterias, and, as we reported at Facing Race, airports.
Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI), regarded as a model for economic growth in the state of Maryland, is now experiencing the same shift toward locally sourced, organic food that airports and other food service venues have seen across the country. Airports nationwide are clamoring to meet the demands of a clientele that demands high quality “real” food. Chicago O’Hare Airport has gone as far as to start a hydroponic garden on its premises, from which some of its restaurants source their food. However, as is often the case, workers are once again being overlooked as this model takes off, creating visible gaps in who has the privilege to eat well. A recent study by UNITE HERE and Good Jobs First reported that, in 2011, 18.1% of concessions workers at BWI received emergency food assistance such as SNAP and WIC benefits. The average yearly income of surveyed workers was three thousand dollars below the 2011 federal poverty line at $18,530 for a family of three. The majority of these workers are people of color.
Real Food Real Jobs believes that the labor justice and food justice movements are inextricably linked and will only succeed if they work together. Facing Race was a reminder that racial justice is critical to this equation, from farm to fork, from ground to grocer.