Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stephen Lurie Schools All Us Whole Foods Foodies

I like to think that quality food matters a great deal to me. I'm a foodie in many ways, preferring to eat once at a place like "Fruition" than four or five times at a place like Applebees. If I could shop exclusively at Whole Foods and the Cherry Creek Morning Market, I would. And I am baffled by people that have the money to eat well, and still think dollar menus are a great deal. I will openly admit to being a food snob, and my wife is a certified natural foods chef, as well as a former pastry chef who makes a European buttercream that can pass muster at places like Bittersweet Bakery where she trained. Yet, despite my supposed commitment to "whole foods," I realize that there is much I fail to acknowledge about the food labor movement. If we are truly committed to higher quality in our food supply, then that commitment must extend to the workers who supply the food. As Stephen Lurie points out in an excellent piece of research for Vox, if we care about where our food comes from, we "Should Care About Who Grew and Picked It."

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:

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