A new report by the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College set out to answer a complex question: Can the food sector support health and economic development?
Society has traditionally focused only on the former. With the rise of supermarkets and fast food – distancing food from its growers, purveyors and handlers – food wasn’t food until it reached your plate, and health wasn’t health until the food reached your mouth. This narrow-minded thinking culminated our present-day obsession with healthy food. The patchwork solutions that followed largely targeted the consumers, or the eaters.
In contrast, the authors of the new report, Jobs for a Healthier Diet and a Stronger Economy, offer interdisciplinary suggestions for how the food sector can solve not only diet-related disease, but also some of our economic woes since the Great Recession. The report goes on to describe the food sector as a platform where health and economic development can work in synergy – to develop a food system whose sum is greater than the sum of its parts.
The report boldly calls for 10,000 new Good Food Jobs by the year 2020.
However, food workers have been crying out for help long before the report. With the advent of social media, their call for help is greater than ever. The photos posted across this blog post may seem over-the-top, but as I look at these photos, I can’t help but recall my early experiences serving unhealthy food for minimum wage.
Food jobs such as these not only promote unhealthy food, but produce an equally unhealthy workforce, caught in a never-ending cycle of low pay.
I first came in contact with the term Good Food Job when I was inadvertently introduced to Taylor Cocalis, the co-founder of a gastro-job search tool bearing the same name. This was many years back, when I was just entering the public health nutrition field. Before discovering her website, I had to find my own food jobs, though not nearly as good: Subway Restaurant, being my first, and my father’s Kosher fast food restaurant immediately after.
My definition of a Good Food Job was any job that would pay, so that I could buy good food on my own time.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I joined the team at New Amsterdam Market, a NYC-based public market, that I witnessed the difference in advocating for good food. However, even businesses offering good food can fall short on the definition of Good Food Jobs.
The report defines Good Food Jobs as, “jobs that pay a living wage, offer safe working conditions, promote sustainable economic development and make healthier food more accessible to all New Yorkers.” It’s difficult to imagine even the most sustainable of businesses meeting these points without adequate public and private support.
Of course, there do exist food workers outside of fast food employees. My example is but one of many. The important thing to remember is that public health nutrition does not solely target the consumer, but also the farmers, advertisers, chefs and all other food workers that run our food systems.