Social Justice and the New Food Activism | Julie Guthman || Radcliffe Institute

Social Justice and the New Food Activism | Julie Guthman || Radcliffe Institute


[MUSIC PLAYING] – Greetings, everyone. My name is Dan
Carpenter and I am director of social
sciences academic ventures at the Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Study. We are thrilled that today’s
lecture is part of HUBweek, which– if you’re not
familiar with it– is an ambitious
civic collaboration between The Boston Globe,
MIT, Mass General Hospital, and Harvard that showcases
innovation and creativity. The commitment to
ideas and discovery that HUBweek celebrates
is at the core of Radcliffe’s dual mission– first, to support innovative
research and creative work that cuts
across disciplines; and, second, to share
that work with the public through a packed calendar
of events, such as this one. I also want to extend
an acknowledgement to the many reunion classes
who are here this week. We are celebrating
several fall reunions. And so a special
welcome to the members of the classes of 1972,
1977, and 1987 who are with us here today. I’d like to highlight a few
of the upcoming events that might be of particular
interest to you. You can find complete details
on our calendar cards, which are available at the back of
the room and at the registration table downstairs, or
you can find them online at Radcliffe.Harvard.edu. First, each year Radcliffe
holds a major science symposium. In the fall this year’s
symposium, entitled Contagion– Exploring Modern Epidemics,
will investigate new ways to understand, track, and
respond to epidemic diseases, as well as social epidemics. That symposium will
take place here in the Knafel Center
on Friday, October 27. Next Monday, October 16, a
closely related lecture series on epidemics will kick off
with a talk called Epidemiology Counts, on causes, consequences,
and healthy populations– by Boston University School
of Public Health Dean Sandro Galea. Dean Galea will
discuss the complexity of how we measure the
health of the population and how we determine
which of the factors influencing health
matters the most. And finally, we
are looking forward to welcoming historian Michael
Kazin, a distinguished scholar of American politics
and social movements and editor of the
magazine Dissent. He will give a lecture entitled
“Does the Left Have a Future” here in the Knafel Center
on Thursday, November 2. I hope you will be
able to join us. Finally, let me invite
you all to a reception to continue the conversation
following this talk immediately after the Q&A session
this afternoon. The reception will take
place right next door on the first floor
of Agassiz House. After the talk
from Julie Guthman there will be a question
and answer session, at which there will be
a standing mic placed in the center the center aisle. Please identify
yourself, form a line, identify yourself before
you ask a question. And now let me introduce
today’s speaker. Julie Guthman is a
professor of social sciences at the University of California,
Santa Cruz, and the Frances B. Cashin Fellow here at Radcliffe
her research has focused on how neoliberal inflected
capitalism shapes possibilities for food system transformation. As a Radcliffe Fellow,
Guthman is writing a book that traces how the soil
pathogen Verticillium dahliae gave rise to the technologies
and institutions that brought the California
strawberry industry success, yet at the same time locked
in a system of production that renders less intensive
methods nearly unviable. Today Guthman will discuss
the origins and development of the alternative
food movement and how it came to focus on
market-based alternatives as well as how the movement
has evolved in response to critiques– for instance
that it has done little to undermine industrially
produced food and has struggled to
resonate with poor people and communities of color. Guthman holds a PhD in
geography from the University of California Berkeley. She has won four different books
awards, including the Frederick H. Buttel Outstanding
Scholarly Achievement Award from the Rural
Sociological Society for her book Agrarian Dreams– The Paradox of Organic
Farming in California, as well as the ASFS Book
Award for Weighing In– Obesity, Food Justice, and
the Limits of Capitalism. She is also a recipient
of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values
Society’s Excellence in Scholarship Award
and her research has received funding from the
National Science Foundation, as well as being herself
a resident fellow of the Rockefeller
Foundation Bellagio Center and the University of California
Humanities Research Institute. I’ll also add she is the
2017 Guggenheim Fellow. Finally, let me underscore, as
a way of thanking our friends and supporters at
Radcliffe, that Julie is this year the
Frances B. Cashin Fellow and her
fellowship is generously supported by Richard M. Cashin
and Elizabeth S. Cashin– class of ’75, both. And finally, a personal note– I had a wonderful and enjoyable
dinner conversation with Julie last night. And I learned a lot about her
work, her family, her food habits– which are far more
tasteful than mine. We discussed many
issues in the news which have been
rather depressing and which I won’t
alight upon here, but I found her
insights at every stage to be profoundly thoughtful
and creatively expressed. I am honored and excited to
have a new colleague in Julie and I ask you to extend
her a warm welcome. [APPLAUSE] – Well, hi there. And thank you, Dan, for that
really kind introduction. I appreciate it. And I really thank all
of you for coming today. It is truly an honor
and a privilege to be here at the
Radcliffe Institute. And I am deeply grateful to the
work of Dean Cohen, Associate Dean Vichniac, and their
truly superlative staff in keeping things ticking. And I’m especially
honored to be invited to speak here during Boston
HUBweek and Harvard Reunion Week. That’s all to the good. Now, the bad news is I
came down with a cold and so you will have to excuse
my particularly gravelly voice today and literal
throat clearing. And now for the figurative
throat clearing of my talk. So I want to begin with
the 2014 New York Times column penned by noted
food writer Mark Bittman. In this column,
Bittman described having a negative visceral
reaction to the word “foodie.” Foodies, he argued, are too
often new style epicures who enjoy watching
competitive cooking shows, doing anything to get a table
at the trendy restaurant, scouring the web for
single estate farro– I’ve not done that one– or devoting oneself to
finding the best food truck. If and when these foodies go
beyond the pursuit of pleasure, he noted they tend to put their
energies into consumer support for sustainable food systems– such as the purchase of
organic and local foods, participating in
community-supported agriculture projects, or buying
at farmers’ markets. This, he suggested,
was not quite enough. He went on to say that making
good food fair and affordable cannot be achieved without
going beyond food to address questions of justice
and equality and rights, of enhancing rather than
restricting democracy; of making a more rational,
legitimate economy. Now, as it happens,
Bittman’s column borrowed a critique that
I and other scholars, in conversation with
activists, have been making for a very long time. We have argued that
many foodies’ and food activists’ focus on consumption
has overemphasize relatively apolitical market based
strategies such as patronizing and creating alternative
food businesses. We have pointed out that
these strategies have been embraced and promoted
by those who are generally well-off and white. We have suggested that attempts
by foodies and food activists to shift the public’s eating
habits toward the notions of good food have too
often been encased in a politics of conversion. The attempts to change
individual eating habits without understanding the
multiple circumstances, pressures, and desires
that inform food choices. It’s a classic missionary
position, if you will. And we’ve claimed
that food activism, in focusing on
consuming good food, has taken the focus off the
conditions of food production, particularly neglecting
the needs of those who work in the food system. Indeed, as building
positive alternatives has become the nearly sole
activity of the food movement, food producers and
processors have been effectively
let off the hook for their harmful practices. Little, that is, been done to
undermine the conventional food system. Now, in making
these critiques we have both angered and
inspired food activists. Some have suggested that these
critiques are disempowering. Some have said they’ve
known them all along and didn’t feel they
could voice them. And some have been motivated
to rethink what they do. So today I want to
do three things aside from shameless promotion
for my new co-edited book. I want to talk about the origins
and development of the food movement as a way to
explain how it became about market-based
alternatives, often at the expense of
social justice. Secondly, I want to show how it
evolved in response to critique such as ours. And on that note,
I want to suggest that these critiques have been
generative and not necessarily disempowering. And they have led to more
inclusion, or attempts at inclusion, of social
justice concerns. And then I want
to briefly discuss three cases that reflect this
new food activism, one of which focuses on a battle that
motivated my current research and led to my project
here at Radcliffe. Alas, I won’t be discussing
my Radcliffe project today, but I would be delighted to
answer questions about it at the end. And I will then
conclude by talking about the challenges
and opportunities of the current moment. And it is a challenging
current moment. First, I want to
be clear on what food movement I’m referring to. After all, various
forms of food activism have been around for
a very long time. So I want to discuss
what many refer to as the “alternative
food movement.” And I begin with the
organic farming movement because it was so
clearly a progenitor of this market-based approach
to food system transformation. Now, in this slide, the person
on the left is unknown to me, but the person on the
right is Alan Chadwick. Chadwick came to my university– University of
California Santa Cruz– in 1967 and began the famed UCSC
organic Farm and Garden, which now has created– many, many
farmers around the world once worked or trained
at the UCSC Farm. And his approach was based
on the French Intensive biodynamic gardening. Now, there’s legend
that he and the students used to farm naked. I’m fairly willing
to believe it. And I do know that there’s a
few UCSC alums in the audience today, and I’d bet that
they would probably believe it as well. But I actually want to start
my story a few years later, and that’s in 1973. And I use 1973 as a
watershed because that’s when a group of
farmers, primarily from California and Oregon– and here I’m talking
about the US, of course– here’s when they began
codifying organic agriculture. In so doing, they
developed a novel way to regulate agriculture, without
the support of the government. In the minds of many
organic farmers at the time the US Department of
Agriculture and all the other regulatory
agencies that might be involved in
agriculture had utterly failed to support
an agriculture that would conserve soils and reduce
the use of toxic chemicals. So the original organic
farmers opted instead to share the techniques
they had learned and call what they did
“organically grown.” Now, there’s longer
origins of organic farming that I’m not going
to go into today. But at this point, their goal
was to give organic farming meaning in the marketplace. So as the organic name
began to have cache, organic farmers
needed to find a way to guarantee to consumers that
their purchases were indeed organically grown. And every once in a while there
would be some sort of public scare over the incorrect
or excessive use of a pesticide and consumers
would clamor for organics. And so many producers
would respond by becoming organic overnight–
in other words, by faking it, claiming that they were organic. And, understandably,
the real organic farmers didn’t like that. So they wanted to come up with
a system in which they would decide what would
be called organic and make sure that these newly
arrived organic farmers follow the rules. And so these farmers
wanted to come up with a set of what inputs and
practices would be allowable in an organic system. Now, at first these were
just organic inspectors. At first the rules they
developed were very simple. Legend goes that
they were written on a half a page of paper. But the guiding
principles they used were generally about that
whether the materials that would be allowed
on an organic farm were natural and
not synthetic Now, that turned out to be a
highly contentious distinction but that’s a discussion
for another day– or I am happy to
answer questions about the organic
rules during the Q&A. But these guys also figured
out it wasn’t enough just to set standards. It wasn’t enough to decide which
materials would be allowable in organic production systems. They had to find a way
to guarantee that growers would follow the rules. So they came up with a
system of peer review– is existing organic farmers
would inspect new farms to see if these new farmers
were farming in keeping with these organic principles. If they decided that they were,
these peer review inspectors would certify the
farms as organic. Again, another legend–
or not so much a legend, this is came down with many
interviews I conducted years ago– at first certification
was based on a system of, you know it when you see it. Today, organic certification
is much, much more complex. There are Baroque review
processes for the materials alone– and there’s hundreds
and hundreds, thousands of materials that
are reviewed every year to see if they would meet the basic
distinction of natural, not synthetic, not toxic. And now, you know,
there’s huge volumes that now contain the list
of allowable materials or disallowed materials. Today there are hundreds of
certification agencies run by states, non-government
organizations, and private businesses as well. And these guys all
certify farmers. And in the United
States this is all overseen by the
federal government– although the federal
government itself is not in the business of actually
certifying farmers. Now, there’s a lot more
to say about organic rules and certification and
whether they work effectively to ensure the integrity
of organic practices. But the point I
want to make today is actually quite different. Because regardless of the
complications involved, this was a system
that, in it’s essence, was supposed to
reward good behavior. Producers that wanted to
enter the organic sector would agree to abide
by a set of rules and pay the cost
of certification. And in doing so they
expected to be rewarded, and they expected to be
rewarded with a price premium for their efforts. Now, this system made
sense at the time. I don’t think these
growers went out to come up with a system
that wouldn’t work. I think they just
kind of– its evolved. But it turns out the
approach had its drawbacks– and drawbacks that really didn’t
become evident until organics entered the mainstream. So one consequence
of this approach is that it allowed
significant co-optation. Organic farmers were
fetching very high prices for their produce for a while,
particularly in the 1980s. But as the organic
sector grew, some farmers began to lose out on
the price premiums due to intense competition
as many new entrants came about– including companies
like Walmart would bring new organic farmers in. They often would work
with conventional farmers, convince them to grow
organically for them– because they actually thought
that these conventional farmers knew how to grow better than
the original organic farmers and would be more reliable. So what happened is that farmers
that wanted to take advantage of the high prices or that
were asked to grow organically on behest of the WalMarts or
the Whole Foods or whatever– you know, the Mountain
People’s Warehouse, that was a distributor– those guys all asked
growers to grow organically. And so these
farmers came into it based on that kind
of market demand, but they weren’t
committed to incorporating the agroecological principles. And so what they
would do is kind of substitute allowable organic
inputs for disallowed ones. So they’d enter if there was
an input that you could easily substitute. And that means that
there was more entry in some crops than others. So the point here is
that they didn’t really fully embrace the integrated
systems that organic farming was founded on. Now, the original organic
farmers, understandably, didn’t like this– nor did others who
had hoped for more, who had hoped that organic
would mean everything that was different, they
wanted to be completely different than the
conventional food system. So growers in the
Northeast, for example, were unhappy to see organic
produce shipped from California in their markets. And I myself was surprised
shopping at the Whole Foods at Fresh Pond to
see organic kale from California in September. I mean, if you can’t grow
organic kale in Massachusetts in September, I don’t know. And it wasn’t very good
shipped, I have to tell you. So as organic stopped being
effective in supporting the small farmers that
birthed the movement, it gave rise to many
beyond organic ideas– including locally
grown, including fair trade, and many others. Now, these new
labels were in part to address the social issues
that the organic standard had pretty much neglected. They were also designed
to support higher prices for farmers, with
the expectation that these high prices would
enable growers to incorporate ecological principles– or perhaps pay workers
better or otherwise just stay in business. But the thing about
these standards is they serve as
barriers to entry. They are purposefully
difficult to meet to ensure the integrity
of each of these labels. And they’re difficult to prevent
that quick and easy entry that those organic
farmers once saw. But this became a major
point of contention for the organic
movement or industry. On the one hand, high
standards are good. They can ensure that a labeled
food is truly different. On the other hand,
high standards can work against
broader transformation by keeping producers out. And this is what the
conventional growers moving into organics would
always sell to me. They told us they wanted to
feed the world with organics. Why are they making
it hard for us? And the fact is they did
make it hard for them. Because despite
all the attention that’s given to organics,
all the talk about it, and that it putatively
grows 20% per year, only 1% of US farmland is currently
in organic production. Which is a stunningly
low figure. Furthermore, by
rewarding only producers who use good practices,
those with the bad practices remained unconscionably
under-regulated. Conventional
producers could still use highly toxic
materials and inputs, and this food would
necessarily be cheaper– which also means that
the system of regulation put the cost burden on the
good practices for consumers. Those consumers who
value the qualities here in these labels– and if they valued them, they’d
have to pay more for them. So organic and its
cognates, in other words, became more costly by design. So that necessarily created
a problem of affordability. And so that led to some new
social movement attempts. One of the first, after this
kind of organic and local, was community food security. The community food
security movement emphasized that both
growers and consumers would do better economically if
they cut out the middle person. So it put a great
deal of emphasis on direct marketing
arrangements. Farmers markets, community
supported agriculture, were supposedly both consumers
and producers would benefit– although certainly
not the workers who work in
distribution companies. In practice, though,
that particular win-win didn’t happen. So some markets were
organized to ensure high prices for farmers by
price fixing or limiting who would participate
in that market. Now, the market pictured
here is Ferry Plaza in San Francisco, renowned
for its beautiful but crazily expensive produce. Now, there are a lot of
farmers markets have sprung up that were not so restricted. And they do provide cheaper
produce for consumers, but the farmers at these
markets wouldn’t do as well. And I’ve talked to
many farmers who would refuse to sell at
the markets that weren’t the high end markets
because they knew they couldn’t get good prices. There were additional issues. Scholars and activists recognize
that nutritious food, defined in less rarefied terms
then local and organic, was lacking in many
urban environments– particularly African-American
neighborhoods. So this was creating a
problem of geographic as well as economic access. So lack of access
became a watchword of the alternative
food movement. And so here you
see some interface with the food desert analysis
that much Michelle Obama helped popularize. An additional critique emerged
that upscale alternative food was not resonating in
communities of color. In other words, that
it borrowed too heavily on whitened cultural
histories and practices. Like, the thing that my
students loved to say is like, I want to put
my hands in the soil– when we know that
for, some people, putting their hands
in the soil is not a memory that’s a good one. So the food justice movement was
born out of these observations. Borrowing from environmental
justice activism, food justice activists made
two different critiques. One is that they noted
that people of color were disproportionately
exposed to junk food based on the lack of economic
and geographic access; and, two, they noted that
the food movement primarily appealed to the
white and privileged. To address the access problem,
food justice organizations set up shop in
neighborhoods of color. For instance, they ask liquor
stores to feature fresh fruits and vegetables. They developed produce
delivery services from nearby organic farms. And they set up farmers
markets in some food deserts. To address the
cultural issue, they tried to bring foods
that were associated with African-American food
ways, such as collard greens and melons. And I am particularly
focusing on African-American neighborhoods here because they
have gotten the lion’s share of focus from food activism. The activists also tried to
encourage people of color to participate and
take leadership in these organizations. Now, the results
of these efforts were honestly quite mixed. And many residents in the
so-called “food deserts” voice that they really just
wanted a supermarket in their neighborhood. Following that trend,
the food movement turned to urban farms
and community gardens. The idea here was to further
close the gap between producer and consumer. And the urban
agriculture movement also aspire to create
community and provide a safety net when public
entitlements are lacking. And research suggests
that the farms that have taken hold, the urban
farms that have taken hold, best are in communities
with residents not eligible for public
food assistance– such as among recent immigrants,
particularly undocumented recent immigrants. And most recently
food justice activists began to borrow from peasant
movements in the developing world and have called
for “food sovereignty–” community control
of the food system. And then, even more
recently, borrowed on things like the
Occupy Movement to do the Occupy
the Farm movement. Now, I’ll just briefly
elaborate here. This is a event that took
place in Berkeley, California– where I do happen to live. And this is University property. It’s the Gill
Tract, and it’s been used as an agricultural
experimentation for years. And activists took it over
so as an Occupy the Farm and wanted to prevent the
university from selling it to a land developer who was
going to develop a Sprout supermarket there– like a
Whole Foods type supermarket– and a senior recreation center. Just as an aside, this
was the kind of thing that really frustrated
me because it seemed to me that what would
have been a really more important strategy
was for them to demand that the University
of California change the kind of research
it’s doing at the Gill Tract to support more
sustainable methods– but they wanted to occupy. Now, let me pause to say
that there’s a lot that is exciting about all this. Clearly, food activism has
galvanized young people in a big way. There are more food
initiatives in more cities than we could have possibly
imagined 25 years ago. Funders are paying
attention and nonprofits are growing like weeds. And judging by my
students, young people are increasingly aware of and
concerned about the injustices of industrial food production. And let’s face it, there’s
a lot more good food and I, for one,
really like good food. Yet there are still some serious
limits to these approaches. One is that they
continue to emphasize the consumption of food even
though some of the worst injustices stem from
the production of food. Now, note that over
20 million people work in the food sector
in the United States, providing about one
sixth of employment. But people who work in food are
some of the most food insecure because of the poor wages
in food processing, food service, and farm work. And it’s not only the pay– food workers face really
dangerous working conditions– particularly in meat packing– and sexual harassment. Farm workers face the
worst pesticide exposures, because many chemicals
are formulated with consumer health in mind. And, of course, many
food and farm workers have very little means to
contest these conditions because they’re undocumented. So basically you
have an approach to changing the food system
that ignores the workforce in the food system, Another limit to
this approach is that it promotes alternatives
rather than contest what’s wrong. So in effect we’re getting
a bifurcated food system– we get great food for the
well-endowed, well located, and well-funded, and
dregs for the rest, including those who
work in the food system. Now, when I’ve given
talks like this, people say, but you have
to have alternatives. And you do have to
have alternatives. You have to have
alternatives and opposition. If you oppose industrial
agricultural’s practices, you need to develop
and disseminate safer and less toxic
ways of producing food. And indeed growers are
much more willing to move to more sustainable
methods when there are viable agronomic
tools to help them. But with some very
small exceptions, the contemporary food movement
has focused almost solely on building alternatives. At the same time that community
gardens and direct marketing and farming and cooking
education programs have proliferated, work on
policy and corporate behavior has pretty much dwindled. But that, just
recently, is changing. And in my remaining
time I’m going to focus on three examples
that respond directly to these critiques. And all these examples are
drawn from the new book, and so I’m drawing on
other people’s research besides my own. So I’m going to begin
here with an alternative, but an alternative that is
organized by people of color and sees action as collective
rather than individual. And here I’m drawing
from research by [? Alison ?]
[INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE] So this is about Chicago’s
Healthy Food Hub, and it was established
in 2009 with the aim of pooling the
resources of its members and surrounding communities
to bring home healthier, tastier, fresher food for less. This is mainly achieved
through collective purchasing of wholesale organic
produce– so it’s back to the old
collective purchasing model of the 1970s that
so thrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts when
I visited here then. And they also buy
directly from rural farms in the historic black
farming community of Pembroke Township, Illinois. This is a membership
organization. People pay an annual fee
of $25 to become a member, and then they receive
discounts on food products and can preorder their food. Now, what’s significant here
is that the Healthy Food Hub was not initially conceived
as a food justice initiative. It began spontaneously
among a group of patient in the care of
the Hub’s founder, an African-American
holistic practitioner based in south Chicago. She noted that many of
her patients’ conditions stemmed from poor
nutrition, so she expanded what was then her
household practice of buying food in bulk to include her
patients and their families, in order to secure the best
quality food for the best available prices. Critically, the strategy
of a collective buying club has deep historical roots in
longstanding African-American practices of collective
survival and resistance. For instance, the Populist
Colored Farmers’ Alliance organized purchasing
cooperatives to, quote, “Resist the power
of white creditors,” unquote, during Reconstruction. The founders of the Healthy
Food Hub, as well as many of its older
members, came to Chicago with their respective
families from Mississippi during the 1950s and ’60s. And many remember
collective food purchasing as a routine family practice. So this shared
cultural memory may be one reason why the Hub has
been so successful at enrolling and engaging its members
while other alternative food organizations, working
in similar communities, have really struggled. Now I’m going to turn to one
of several campaigns connected to the Food Chain
Workers Alliance, which is a coalition of
worker-based organizations who are organizing
to improve wages and working conditions for
workers along the entire food chain. And this case study comes from
Joanne Low and [INAUDIBLE] Now, this campaign took
place at Taylor Farms, which is based in
California’s Central Valley. And Taylor Farms is one of
the world’s largest processors of salads and fresh
cut produce, selling to retailers such as WalMart,
Trader Joe’s, and Krogers. They also sell to Chipotle. But because of the
anonymity provided by private labels and
institutional buyers, Taylor Farms is
also a company that exists beyond the influence
and even knowledge of most individual consumers. Now, about 900 people–
mostly Latino– were working at two different
plants in California’s Central Valley. 2/3 of these workers
were employed through temporary
staffing agencies, even though some
of them had been working at Taylor Farms for
many years– over a decade. Most were paid the minimum wage. And, on average, the
workers in these plants were earning $3 less per hour
then their similar workers doing the same job in
the Salinas operations of Taylor Farms, which tends
to be higher wages in Salinas. And beyond the
notoriously poor wages. The company accrued $80,000
an occupational safety and health violations
from 2008 to 2013. So in 2013, after months of
behind-the-scenes organizing, workers at the Taylor Farms
plants in Tracy, California– that’s in the Central Valley– announced they were
organizing to join a union. Taylor Farms responded with a
variety of anti-union tactics. On the stick side these included
intimidation, harassment, and mistreatment. For instance, they threatened
to call [SPANISH]—- immigration– and referred to
workers as Latinos [SPANISH]—- piece of shit Latinos– and they fired their
union supporters. On the carrot side, Taylor Farms
made some nominal improvements to working conditions, such
as providing sick days. Most notably and
gratuitously the company gave roses to the
women on Mother’s Day and gave backpacks, jackets,
and scarves of the men on Father’s Day. Despite the company’s
anti-union tactics, the worker leaders and
the Teamsters organizers were able to collect
enough signatures on union authorization cards to
file for an election through the National
Labor Relations Board. However, the process became
bogged down and didn’t go far. So the campaign turned
toward another strategy, utilizing a model embodied
in the Good Food Purchasing Policy adopted by the
city of Los Angeles. The Good Food Purchasing Policy
sets purchasing guidelines across five key values– local food economies,
environmental sustainability, humane animal treatment,
healthy nutrition standards, and fair treatment
and compensation of food chain workers. The idea here was to
leverage purchasing power of institutional buyers rather
than through individual fork voting– you’ve all heard of
voting with your fork? The Teamsters went to the
Oakland Unified School Board to inform them on what was
going on at Taylor Farms. And at that meeting the
Oakland Unified School Board announced that the school
district would no longer be buying from Taylor Farms. And this was a loss
of a huge contract. Eventually they won a
settlement and fired workers received back pay. This last example is
based on my own research, and concerns thwarting the
highly toxic chemical methyl iodide. Methyl iodine was
developed and released to be an alternative
to methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is an
ozone depleting substance that has been the primary
armament of the California’s strawberry industry’s
war with soil disease. In the early 2000s, facing the
mandated phase-out of methyl bromide, the strawberry industry
began looking for a replacement chemical. So University of
California researchers developed the
compound methyl iodide that was very structurally
similar to methyl bromide but lacked the ability to
reach the upper atmosphere. And so then they sold the
patent of methyl iodide to Arysta LifeSciences
Corporation. So Arysta first sought
federal approval for the use of methyl iodide
on strawberries in 2002 but faced some problems. Methyl iodide is apparently much
more toxic than methyl bromide. It is a known neurotoxin
and carcinogen. It’s associated with
thyroid dysfunction, respiratory illness,
lung tumors, and it’s a probable cause of
miscarriages and birth defects. It’s even used to induce
cancer in laboratory rats. Now, I want to
emphasize something about these chemical fumigations
that really have motivated my existing research– they are used before planting. They’re put in the
ground to get– they’re fumigated,
they’re gases. They’re put in the ground to get
rid of soil disease and weeds. They leave no residues on
plants, on strawberries. So the people who are most
exposed to their toxicity are those who live or work
near strawberry fields, who don’t have the option of
buying their way out– by buying that organic
strawberry, for instance. Now, early on in this
battle, over 50 scientists– several of them Nobel
laureates in chemistry– wrote a letter encouraging the
US Environmental Protection Agency to deny registration. After some stalling,
the EPA eventually allowed the use
of methane iodide. But methyl iodide faced
a much tougher fight in California, which
has more stringent environmental regulations. There, activists organizations–
including anti-pesticide, environmental, public health,
and farm worker groups– went beyond fork voting and
mounted a major campaign to prevent the chemical
from being registered. The campaign concluded over
53,000 written public comments collected, with almost all
but a handful objecting to the use of the chemical. It included media events,
it included public hearings, publicizing the chemical’s harm. It included picketing
besides farmer’s fields– although not a lot of that. In addition, activists
filed a lawsuit against California’s
pesticide regulatory agency for failing to abide
by environmental law and registering the chemical. Long story short– and
it is a long story– the chemical was pulled
from commercial use because Arysta no longer felt
it was economically viable. And this is in large
part because growers didn’t adopt the chemical
for fear of public backlash. This was an
unprecedented victory, one of the few toxic
chemicals to be taken off the market in the modern history
of US environmental regulation. And since then the
strawberry industry has become much more
serious about finding non-chemical alternatives
to fumigation than it had previously. Unfortunately, as I’m writing
about my current book, it’s just not finding
an alternative that’s going to do it–
but that’s another story. So what do these
campaigns tell us? They tell us it is possible
to work in collectives. It is possible to organize. It is possible to
be oppositional. It’s possible to win. It’s possible to have
people of color lead. And it’s possible to use
strategies other than voting with your fork. It’s possible to be political. So I want to end by
talking a little bit more about the politics of the
possible in the age of Trump. Now, many of the
arguments and critiques I’ve developed over the
years about food movements have come in conversation
with my students. So for the last
14 years I’ve been teaching in a program whose core
is a six month full-time field study with a social justice
and social change organization. This is a community
studies program. And I’ve been the
faculty member who works most closely with
students interested in food and agriculture. So I’ve been able
to closely track what kinds of social change
opportunities are available and what kind my projects are– excuse me, what kind of projects
my students are interested in. Many of my students,
to my chagrin, have ended up in
projects where the aim is to teach low income people
of color what to eat or how to grow food. That’s all that they
can think of doing. This is what
organizations are doing. When I’ve pressed them
on these inclinations and asked why they’re not more
interested in public action, I’ve heard many times over
that to focus on alternatives is easier and more fun. And even though they
are well trained in the political
economy the food system, they have also said that
affecting policy or changing corporate behavior
seems impossible. But that was before
Occupy Wall Street and and Black Lives Matter,
two movements that have changed the public conversation. It was the Occupy
Movement that brought inequality and the wealth gap
back into public discourse. Without Black Lives
Matter we wouldn’t have many people,
including white people, talking about how
color-blind activism works too reenscribe white privilege. These recognizable changes
in the public conversation are no doubt the very things
to which the alt-right movement is reacting. Now, I don’t think it’s a
coincidence that these two movements correspond closely
to the critiques of the food movement I’ve discussed
earlier in my talk. That the movement appealed
too much to markets and profit-making as a
way to solve problems, that it’s too white, and
therefore these conversations have provided new opportunities
for food movements to address some of the underlying
causes of food inequities– income and health inequality,
insufficient health and safety regulation, immigration
policy, regressive taxes– and to show how
these are connected. Hate to put this next slide
up, but there you have it. And this new– you could tell
me when to just shift to another slide so you don’t
have to look at it– this new food activism
couldn’t be more urgent in the age of Trump. Should I go back? You’ve had enough? I have. OK. We’re already witnessing
some of the attacks on environmental regulation,
including pesticide regulation. The US pesticide regulatory
system is far, far, far from perfect, but it
has played a modest role in preventing toxic exposures to
consumers, workers, and others. But Scott Pruitt’s EPA
suggests huge reversals. Since being appointed he is
set to dismantle the agency’s pesticide research apparatus. He’s already reversed
a ban on chlorpyrifos, a brain-harming agro-chemical
that was about to be enacted– the ban, not the chemical. Trump’s immigration policies
need no introduction, but building a wall
with the southern border and ramping up the
deportations that were well underway during
the Obama presidency has not only worsened a labor
shortage that concerns growers, it has caused the millions
of undocumented food and farm workers in the United States
to live in constant fear, unable to contest wage
theft, pesticide use violations, and sexual
harassment and assault that are mainstays of US
food and farm work. According to some sources,
Trump is threatening to cut more than $190
billion over 10 years from food assistance programs– programs that are already
insufficient and ensuring that the country’s
poor do not go hungry. He’s also threatening
to cut crop insurance and other programs
that protect farmers, although these are far
more controversial. And he is packing
his administration– to the extent that he’s actually
packing his administration– with those who seek no reins on
corporate behavior or mergers, clearing the way for even more
corporate control of the food system. It’s simply not clear to
me how individual choices to purchase organic local
food at the farmer’s market will stop this agenda. I just have to tell
this little story. I think I have time. The day after the election,
when I and many others were nursing our sometimes
real and definitely proverbial hangovers, I managed
to get out of the house and go to the UCSC Library– I don’t know why
I went up there. But there, in front
of the library, was someone petitioning– or he wasn’t petitioning. He had a clipboard and he was
signing up people for his farm, to buy subscriptions to
get food from his farm. It was a classic
community-supported agriculture. He was this typical Santa
Cruz blond, dreadlocks, sandal-wearing guy. And this was the day
after the Trump election. And, I mean, to me this so
much captured the frustration I have with the
alternative food movement. It felt just so
irrelevant at that moment. But the good news,
as we have seen, is that the public is
onto the Trump agenda. And we’ve seen a lot of
resistance and pushback in many different
arenas, including those that bear on our food system. And at this point
I don’t think we have a choice but to
continue on in this vein. So that’s what I have to say. I think you and I welcome
your questions and comments. [APPLAUSE] – Thank you. [INAUDIBLE] much
more complex than I thought it was going to be. In my experience, corporations
are willing to change. John Mackey once was
at MIT of Whole Foods, his students are giving him the
proper real hard time saying, why are you so expensive? The poor can’t afford it. And his response was,
if they eat my food, they won’t fall as sick. So in the long
run, they eat and I failed to convince them, though,
to not eat pork ribs and Coke and eat my food, so
I admit that failure, but I’m open to any
way you can suggest. And nobody really
had a suggestion. When Doug [INAUDIBLE]
of Whole Foods– of Trader Joe’s came, he has
started something here called, I think, Daily Table. So he said, OK, how do I go
to a disadvantage [INAUDIBLE] bring the costs down? So he takes oranges and
all that are seconds– we all like perfect oranges,
so if its got a blemish on it you can buy it cheaper. But the jury’s still out on it. Its a nonprofit. Its soaked up a lot of money. [INAUDIBLE] ultimately every
corporation I talked to says, I cannot convince the Americans
to ask for price first– the cheapest banana, the
cheapest chicken– so what do you want me to
do as a corporation? You have an answer to that? – Well, there’s a few
things I want to say. First of all, I do want
to say that corporations are paying attention to
sustainability issues as well– oh, sorry. Corporations are paying
attention to sustainability issues as well. I have a friend here– she’s visiting here
at Harvard this year– who’s working on corporate
sustainability initiatives. But they are dragged
kicking and screaming. I mean, they’re not doing
that out of the goodness of their hearts. I mean, John
Mackey, when I first doing my research
on organics 20, 25 years ago, he was
quoted as saying, since when is this movement
about social justice? But even though
corporations are maybe being paying
attention to prices, this is the problem with
food and agriculture is that people talk
about the three pillars of sustainability– or I
would say the three things that undermine it. But you have environmental
sustainability here, you have farmer incomes here,
you have labor issues here, and you have consumer access
and accessibility here. These things are
not well aligned. They are in tension
with each other. And in my opinion,
the only thing that can kind of make it all
work out is state involvement. Because if you have cheaper
prices for consumers, then you have poorer conditions
and poorer wages for workers. But none of those things, even
that whatever has happened, none of those things have
happened without fights– and that’s precisely
the point is consumers complain in more collectively. But you know, Trader
Joe’s is a tough one. I mean Taylor Farms is one
of their main suppliers. I think Trader Joe’s– their supply chain is not one
that we would want to emulate. There’s a reason
the food is really, really cheap at Trader Joe’s. And the milk they supply comes– it’s organic milk
but it’s coming from farms with huge feed lots. And that farm,
it’s Aurora Dairy– it’s more than one farm. Aurora Dairy is likely to lose
its organic certification– so I hear. Yeah? – Hi, my name’s [INAUDIBLE],,
organizer for Equal Exchange. I had kind of a related question
about specifically the Whole Foods-Amazon merger and kind
of that press release that was them really trying to deal with
food access and making those products more accessible
to a lower income, and what your thoughts
and reactions on, one, that merger and then secondly
that press release that talks about food access– specifically in that context. – Well, that merger
is distressing to me because, you know, I’m not
a small is better person. I actually think that
super small businesses work at some disadvantage. I think that there’s
some ways in which if we looked at more
mid-scale operations we could do more of this
collective buying practices. But any corporation that big,
of Amazon and Whole Foods, is a really frightening
thought to me. You know, the accessibility
thing with Whole Foods, it’s another one of these
double-edged swords. And this goes back to this
other question before– I once walked into the Whole
Foods in Berkeley, California and there was a handwritten sign
on the cash register that says, bring in your
damage canned goods and we’ll give it to the
Alameda County Food Bank. And I’m like, wait a minute. So we’re shopping here
at Whole Foods and, like, the poor people get our damage,
non-organic goods at the food– I mean, there’s something
fundamentally wrong with this. Some of the kind of
food recovery efforts really disturb me,
because it’s, again, reinforcing that the wealthy and
privilege and the well-located get the good stuff and everybody
else gets the handouts. And there’s something
fundamentally wrong with that. So that’s my reaction. – Hi. My name is [? Leron ?]
[INAUDIBLE].. And you’ll have to excuse
me, I don’t normally fan out about
people, but you were saying about your
writing has really informed a lot of
activists and Weighing In is probably the most
marked book on my bookshelf, has held dear to me. And I started
reading this new book and I do highly recommend it, so
I’ll shamelessly plug for you. – Aw, thank you. – And one thing that I see in
your writing to some extent, but I think I’m
still grappling with and I’m wondering if you
have some ideas about, is that I think there’s also an
element of self gratification with food activism. You know, we want to buy a
product and feel good about it because and that’s
something we’ll enjoy but then it’s
also something that’s saving the world, or we want
to donate to the food bank because that’s easy and
we can feel good about it. But it’s not that
lasting change. And I think with a lot
of social movements, instead of challenges,
you’re going to have to grapple with
questions of white power. You have to grapple
with your own privilege. And you have to get out
of that comfort zone to then go into that
political sphere, which I think a lot of people
have a hard time doing, or they find that that
easy answer checks off enough of that mental
checklist in their brain that they don’t have to move
into that political sphere. – Yeah, I think it’s a
really, really tough question. And I grapple with it
personally all the time. I know somebody’s going to
ask me if I eat organic food and buy it– and somebody will
ask me that, so I’ll just say, yes, I do. And I just think that, as
I was telling my students, sometimes you have to
live with contradiction. But I think that there’s
something about the food movement in particular that– well, we know what it is about
the food because food is what? Sustenance. And food is pleasure. So there’s something
about that food movement where that contradiction
comes to a head. I mean, while it may be fun to– oh, I have I still have Black
Lives Matter on the screen; you have strawberries. It may be fun to attend
a rally or a march– which may or may not be all that
effective, but it may be fun, but it’s not what’s
motivating you. But with food movements
that’s what’s motivating you, and I think that’s why so
much food movements have been about teaching people
how to eat because, oh, I have the pleasures of eating
like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse tells me to
with my organic kale with lots of garlic
and salt and olive oil. So let me teach
you about it, too. Let me share the
pleasure with you. And I think that it’s
because of the food itself that kind of
gets the movement into that very contradictory
place of pleasure and action. And I don’t know that
there’s any way around that. But I do think it’s unique. And I don’t know if that
gets to your question, but– – Good effort. – OK. – Hi. Thank you so much for speaking. I wanted to pick up
on a point that you’d made earlier about how
some of your students have this tendency to want to
go out and teach poor people how to cook, which might be
well intentioned but sort of misguided. And I wanted to get your
thoughts on something, because I do think that people
of all economic backgrounds do rely too much on
processed food, fast food, and it’s detrimental
to everyone’s health. I think it can also be
detrimental to our sense of culture and just general
empowerment in your life. And I think that
a lot that you can trace that back to
systemic issues– we phased out home ec
in schools, for example. And so I guess
I’m just wondering if you have thoughts
on how to address sort of the cooking side
of it from more of a systemic issue
instead of just these, let’s do little workshops and
teach poor people how to cook. – Yeah, no, that’s another
kind of a biting question here. I was at a– I’m sorry. All these stories keep
popping into my brain. But I was at this book
fair in Los Angeles and I was speaking
about my book. And there was an
author of a cookbook. She says, if all we need
to do is teach people how to make vinaigrette. The cooking thing is an
interesting one, right? And Michael Pollan
and others have written about that we
need to get kind of back to the kitchen. And I like cooking. Cooking’s a good thing. But I still think
there’s this fun– why do people not cook? Maybe they love the
Jack in the Box, but I mean when you
have people with two jobs or single parents,
they’re picking up their– I mean, let’s get real here
about the cooking thing. So I think it’s nice to cook. I’d like to– ultimately I
think people could eat more nutritiously and
possibly cheaper– not super cheap with
cooking, but you have to face the real
obstacles to cooking. But I think that’s
a different issue than like this kind of
proselytizing about cooking, and for me that when my
students are picking up on that is that it’s been more
that they can’t imagine what else is possible to
change the food system. Now they can more,
but that’s where they were about 10
years ago– well, what else are we going to do? I go, well, look, here’s
this great organization that does great anti-pesticide work. Well, I don’t want
to sit behind a desk. I don’t want to
be in a computer. So sometimes that
pleasure really can– excuse me. Something that
pleasure can really get in the way of
what’s important. I mean, if we think of other
kind of important moments of our time– important activism,
you wouldn’t– I’m just trying to think of
some analogous situation. If you were concerned about
Syrian refugees, for example, you wouldn’t– I can’t think of the analogous
situation where we’d say, well, I want to do this
because it’s more fun. So, again, there’s something
about the food movement that puts us in that, well,
I want to just have fun while I’m doing this. – Hi. My name’s Rachel and I’m
a student at the School of Public Health here. And I had a question on– you described the current
pessimistic political climate and also a lot about
what bothers you what people do around food activism. But, under the
assumption that everybody here is interested
in food activism and wants to take
action, what do you recommend as next steps
for when we leave this room? Like, is there
anything concrete you can think of to do in our daily
lives that would really help? – Well, you know there are– not many– but there
are good organizations that do good work, organizations
that do pesticide activism. Some Some of them have
letter writing campaigns. You can join one of those
and get on their ListServes. It’s always better to
write individual notes than just do the
clicktivism, but, you know. Like, for instance, right
now Pesticide Action Network is working hard to put that
chlorpyrifos ban back in place. So you have to get
on the ListServes. You have to write letters. But it worked on this
methyl iodide campaign. So that’s one place you can go. The Farm Bill should
be coming up soon, and I expect to see the
Trump Administration come up with a really nasty one. And there will be
many organizations that will be working on that. So whether you only
can write your letter– but an individualized letter–
or give $100, that’s something. Or if you’re a
student and you’re looking to employ
yourself later, you can intern and
get involved and work. But those things do exist. Or working on–
there’s so many– how you work on immigration
reform is a tough one, right? I mean, whether you’re
immigration reform or immigration, whether
you’re like leaving plastic jugs of water in the
desert in Arizona or, again, lobbying your congressperson
about a safer, better immigration bill,
those are different options. But there’s lots. But they’re not always
as tangibly about food, and I think that’s
one of the things, too, is that the policies that
I think impinge on the food system are not always
about that material thing called food– they’re about
the systems that are around it. – Hi– oh, sorry. I’m [? Nicole ?] [INAUDIBLE]. I’m a Harvard Extension
Sustainability Master’s student, and my question, or
two of our biggest global issues is soil security and soil
fertility, as well as the food waste that we throw away. So in developed countries we’re
sending about 40% to landfill. So my question is, is
there or should there be discussions
around a to cradle to grave initiative for
the agriculture sector, and does this present
any opportunities to resolve any of the
issues that you’ve discussed with us today? – Food waste is a tricky one. I think food waste is a
huge aesthetic problem– no one likes to see food waste. Most of the food waste– and this isn’t answering
your question directly, it’s just what I know about– most of the food
waste initiatives are really geared
toward consumers, like, here’s how to
reuse that or use that kale that’s been
sitting there in your door for three weeks. Most of the food waste occurs
in agricultural production– and lots of it. And it’s– yes, there are
organizations that do food recovery, whether it’s
organizing gleaning. But our food production system
is geared to create food waste. It’s profitable to
create food waste. So, again, it’s a matter
of figure out ways to address how food is
produced through policy and through somehow changing
up the incentives so corporate farming– it’s not only
corporate farming– individual farmers
just don’t leave so much food on the field. But, you know,
your question also brings us to bigger
questions about, what is the nature of hunger? And if it’s about
insufficient food production. I’m concerned about food
waste because you don’t want to see soil go to waste. You don’t want to see animal
lives put down for nothing. But I’m always worried
about food recovery as a way to address it. And that’s about as much as
I can say about at this point because it’s not something
I’ve looked at a lot. [MUSIC PLAYING] – Thank you, Julie. That was fantastic. Join me in congratulating her
for a stimulating lecture. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]