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Lexicon of Sustainability

Watchword: Food Workers

Watchword: Food Workers
To draw attention to the best and brightest ideas in sustainability, the Lexicon of Sustainability's Food List project defines the words that are integral to a healthy, transparent, and accountable food system. Each week, we explore a new word through artwork, films, recipes, and written works. See all Food List words here. 

Food Workers: We’re celebrating Food Workers Week during this edition of Watchword, giving thanks to the many hardworking folks who bring us our daily meal.

"As we celebrate International Food Worker Week this year, I’m thinking about how the choice for organic food affects not just the health of my family, but the health and well being of people across the food chain who I’ll never meet and never know, but whose lives I’m connected to nonetheless."

Anna Lappé, co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and head of the Real Food Media Project

Millions of food workers around the world struggle to make a living each day. In the U.S. alone, nearly 20 million people work in the food system, growing, processing, transporting, serving, cooking, and selling the food that we eat each day. The food system is the largest employer in the United States, yet the majority of frontline food workers earn poverty wages. In the U.S., a third of food workers suffer from food insecurity and hunger.

Title: Green Collar / Cuello Verde
Location: Alba Organic Farm at Triple M Ranch, Las Lomas, California
Featuring: Maria Bravo, the student, and Jose Nunez, the teacher

Maria Bravo (pictured above) was an office worker at Birdseye Foods for 20 years before the plant closed in 2003. Maria Bravo’s grandfather was a farmer and her father spent part of his life as a sharecropper. After 20 years working in one job, she couldn’t imagine herself embarking on a new career but then she heard about ALBA. They gave her a half acre plot. With help from her father-in-law and daughter (who helped seed), Maria Bravo put her faith in Mother Nature and became a farmer.

The Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA) provides land and guidance for aspiring farm workers interested in growing and selling their own organic crops. Farmers are trained in organic farm production, marketing, record-keeping, labor practices, pest management, and other skillsets required for running a small farm business.

Short film: "Food Worker Hero" 

In this video from Food Chain Workers Alliance, meet Constantine, a street food vendor and a leader of the Street Vendor Project.

Teaching and inspiring tomorrow's culinary workers

Chef Rob Corliss, a 3-time James Beard House guest chef with over 20 years of experience, writes: "We are seeing a greater emphasis being placed on our food and menus—its origins, its composition and its flavor. Chefs are driving innovation and challenging consumer palates, and in turn, consumers are demanding higher quality and bigger flavor at an affordable price. This convergence has seen local become mainstream, fine dining chefs go casual, food trucks become a sought after experience, the explosion of the fast-casual dining segment, and the overall shortening of the flavor trend adoption cycle.

Our value system is changing with what we currently expect and will expect from culinarians across all segments of foodservice; there is an undeniable shift toward fresher/local/seasonal/higher-quality/made from scratch foods. Our food chain dynamics are changing. How chefs and operators choose to adapt to these changes will reflect in their overall growth and success. Embracing a holistic approach, encompassing focused and inspired standards and systems for coaching, is the key to growth.

How do you plan to celebrate the food worker heroes in your own life this week? Tell us in the comments below.

For the past three years, the Lexicon of Sustainability has sought out the foremost practitioners of sustainability in food and farming to gain their insights and experiences on this important subject. What began as a photography project to spread their knowledge has grown to include short films, study guides, traveling shows, a book, and a website where people can add their own terms to this ever-evolving lexicon. See more at

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