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Grist for the Mill: Americans still need ‘food justice’

Angela Glore’s food column is printed monthly.

Almost two years ago, my family took our ill-conceived detour to Pennsylvania instead of staying put by the ocean and redwoods. We drove out of town the day before four days of Food Day celebrations kicked off. I had spent months going to planning meetings and then missed them all.

It was hard to leave without seeing even one of the many events. To double my food-related sadness, it was also the very day Trader Joe’s opened in Medford, so I got to buy road snacks and wave bye-bye to that long-awaited store.

Luckily, we came back not just to a “nearby” Trader Joe’s, but to the wonderful Wild Rivers Market and continued Food Day celebrations as well. All’s well that ends well.

On Aug. 6, the Center for Science in the Public Interest — the founders and national organizers of Food Day — officially announced this year’s theme: food justice.

Food justice is a broad theme because, unfortunately, there is a lot of injustice in the food system. From widespread hunger and malnutrition to food workers’ rights, injustice pervades our modern industrial food system.

More than 45 years ago, Pres. Richard Nixon sent a letter to Congress in which he wrote, “That hunger and malnutrition should exist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.” He outlined several programs to provide new resources to those in need and ended by writing, “The moment is at hand to put an end to hunger in America itself. For all time.”

Despite Congressional action on Nixon’s plans, hunger was not ended in America for all time. Millions of people across the country still face hunger, or food insecurity, every single day. Worst of all, millions of children do not get the nutrition they need to thrive physically, emotionally or academically.

 

But there is perhaps greater injustice yet for workers throughout the food chain, from farms to restaurants and every step in between. Here in California, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are honored for their work unionizing farm workers and starting the process of improving wages, working conditions, and housing, but the fight is far from over.

My farm in New York was on a road with some of the worst farm worker housing in our county. Some of the housing units had no indoor running water and no hot water at all. Imagine working outdoors in 90-degree weather for eight or ten hours and not being able to take a shower at the end of the day. Yet, those workers couldn’t choose to live somewhere else because their housing was part of their wage.

Currently, restaurant workers are organizing for better wages and working conditions. Did you know, for example, that federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13/hour? That is not a typo: unless an individual state has mandated higher wages, restaurants only have to pay wait staff $2.13 per hour. (California requires restaurants to pay tipped workers full minimum wage before tips, as do a handful of other states.) 

The restaurant industry also has one of the highest rates of sexual harassment in the United States. Many restaurants do not provide paid sick or vacation leave, meaning that people handling your food have to work while they are sick or forgo their much-needed pay.

For this year’s Food Day, we are planning events with food justice in mind. We will hold events across the county to minimize transportation needs. Transportation to food is one of our local food justice issues — people in Fort Dick, Smith River, Gasquet, Hiouchi, Klamath and the upper Yurok Reservation have no access to supermarkets without transportation. For Food Day, we’ll be bringing events to the outlying communities rather than asking people to come to us.

Details are still being worked out, but I hope you will plan to join the Community Food Council for DNATL for Food Day/Food Justice events in October.

Reach Angela Glore at  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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