Despite their positive connotations, none of those certifications — not even fair trade — tells a consumer anything about how a company or restaurant treats the humans involved in the US: its workers. In fact, there isn't currently a standalone certification out there that verifies good labor practices. Even as environmental, animal, and economic movements have started to compete for shelf space with conventional food, there is no widely available option for consumers who wish to shop and eat labor-friendly. The realities of the food industry — from producers to servers — make this a perplexing and pressing deficiency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nine out of the 10 lowest-paying occupations in America are in the food and restaurant industry. The highest earner of those, the occupation category that includes food- and beverage-serving workers, averages $9.63 an hour, or about $20,000 per year if, against all odds, it is full-time work. That means each of those occupations earns below the poverty line for a family of four, and well below a real living wage. These wages aren't paid out to a handful of young Americans — they're paid to more than 10 million fast-food and food-and-beverage industry workers and to many of the million-plus agriculture and food-processing workers.
There is a better way to think about food and support our food supply: