Sustainability of the Food Labor System

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The food production system should always adhere to social, economic, and environmental sustainability principles, ensuring that nutritious food is produced in a safe and natural environment for workers. A conducive work environment and the scope of the job increase how workers feel when they are employed, where the work environment encompasses all that is part of the employees' involvement with the work itself. Relationships with coworkers and managers, corporate culture, and opportunities for personal advancement are only a few examples (Even & Macpherson, 2014). A positive, safe, and comfortable work environment is critical for increasing productivity and morale among employees. However, in the United States of America, the agricultural systems, and food service systems do always emphasize on unsustainable food systems in which the workers are placed in a socially, economically, and environmentally unsustainable workforce which hinder them from acquiring a quality life.


Mouay, 36 years old, was born in a refugee camp and hence she has not been able to have a healthy lifestyle, even in her current workplace in the Taste of Thai where she has to balance between the restaurant job and family responsibilities. On the other hand, Jackson is a seasonal farmer in a work exchange program known as World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farmers (WWOOF), a platform which is used by volunteers to exchange their labor on the farm. He was lucky to be given a shelter within the farm, and hence he does not have to spend on food and shelter.

Both Jackson and Mouay have work experiences which represent unsustainable work environment during the production of healthy foods. Even though Mouay is faced with a lot of frustrations in her workplace, she does not let it affect her family negatively, but allow them to develop good family values. Jackson is of the opinion that farmworkers on smaller and organic farms are exposed to less environmentally unsustainable working conditions than the large conventional farms, a factor which exposes them to injuries and illness.


The restaurant workers are exposed to a lot of frustrations in the workplace as a result of the condition of the restaurant environment. Even if the workers are directly dealing with the customers or if they are in the kitchen, every section comes with a dose of frustration of its own. According to Tsai and Salazar (2007), the situation is worse for the immigrant workers than the domestic workers. Way before Mouay went into customer service at the Taste of Thai; she used to work in the kitchen section where her hands were always occupied without rest. As a chef, it is still essential to have a peace of mind while working, a condition which was absent in the Taste of Thai kitchen since there was too much work which to some extent made Mouay feel frustrated. Even though Mouay might be having the necessary experience which is required in the management of the restaurant, she cannot always qualify since she has the poor educational background.

When Mouay moved to customer service section, the working condition did not get any better since she was always expected to put customers first, even in a situation where they customer is wrong, she is expected to apologize. Just as stated by Tsai and Salazar (2007), there are four different forms of occupational hazards which the restaurant workers are exposed to; physical, psychological, chemical and environ-mechanical hazards, Mouay was largely exposed to psychological stress while dealing with the customers and perhaps environ-mechanical hazards while working in the kitchen. It is also important to note that Mouay was working for long hours, of around 9 hours a day nonstop, even though she received a pay rise of $9 per hour which is not equivalent to the service she is delivering.

The farm work requires a lot of labor supply, and if it is a bigger farm, more workforce with the help of machinery and chemicals will be required (Striffler, 2002). Jackson has a lot of interest in the organic farming but while working on a lager farm, the working conditions become unconducive since the workers will be exposed to the effects of farm chemicals such as pesticides or they can even suffer from different types of injuries while handling the farm machinery. Even though the government does always provide the corporate farmers with some subsidies for the farm requirements such as fertilizers and seeds, Jackson believes that it one of the major causes of the problems which the farmers do always face in their farms more so during in a harsh economy as a result of inadequate resources.

The continuous use of farm chemicals to better the agricultural production has very harsh effects on the environment since they can lead to unsustainable environmental conditions such as climate change and global warming, which will affect the agricultural seasonality which influences the agricultural production. It is therefore important to note that farmers who practice organic farming just like Jackson are more passionate about their work as compared to corporate farmers since they feel to be in control of their products and therefore they can see the impact of their work as an individual in their respective community. It is much clear that Jackson enjoys working on the farm even though he is not entitled to any wages as a reward for his labor. This is a clear indication that he has completely resorted to staying in the farm set up forever since he is economically unstable.

Analyzing the oral histories of Mouay and Jackson, it is a clear indication that Mouay feels to be very much frustrated in her workplace at the restaurant, but she could not find a job elsewhere because of her poor educational background. Even though Jackson enjoys working in the exchange program since he does not need to cover any expenses while at the same time he gets an opportunity to do what he is passionate of and gain the relevant experience, he is still faced with a lot of stress which originate from farm work, both internal and external pressures to do well and contribute to the farm.

According to Kim (2009), despite the fact that the restaurant workers are paid low wages, they still have different ways which they can use to bring joy in their lives and attain a sense of belonging just as seen in the case of Mouay who likes socializing with friends and even finds time to go for vacations. According to the developments of the two oral histories, it is important to note that both Mouay and Jackson have the poor educational background, with Mouay always wishing that she could have had a better educational qualification while Jackson, on the other hand, is not very much worried about his current educational qualification.

The economic situations in food service systems such as the restaurant as seen in the case of Mouay are impeccably unstable. It is important to note that it is the dream of every worker to earn an amount of wage reward which is equivalent to the service he or she is offering and that can help them to become economically stable even after retirement. According to Allegretto and Nadler (2015), there are insignificant impacts of the tipped wages on the full-service restaurant employment and that the minimum tipped wages considerable varies from one state to the other, with some seven states in the United States of America not allowing the tipped wages. This form of variability is one of the causes of frustrations on the life of Mouay since there were some customers who had an unfriendly attitude toward the restaurant workers and also the foreigners who do not understand how tipping system works in the United States of America since not all of the states accept the policy.

As a result of this poor relationship with such customers, it is very much clear that it will also affect their service delivery to those customers. It is important to note that the tipping policy in the United States of America may vary between 15% and 20%, or at sometimes, it can be on a flat amount which is near the appropriate percentage depending with the situation at hand. One can be surprised to know that the waiters at the restaurants are always paid much less than the federal minimum wage, which is often $2.10 per hour (Even & Macpherson, 2014). In a situation whereby these waiters do not earn extra wages from the tipping system, it means that they will be subjected to low-income rates, a factor which would negatively affect their overall economic status.

Even though the economic conditions at the restaurant might not be as encouraging as expected, Mouay has always found ways of making her life easier in this industry. This can be justified by the fact that she is in a good working relationship with the current manager, and hence makes her earn a pay rise of up to $9 per hour. This is a worrying situation because if she was not in good relationship with her manager, she could not have earned that pay rise. This is an evident that it is not how perfectly to deliver your services to the customer at the restaurant that determines your pay, but your overall relationship with those in management.

Just like working in the restaurant, working in the farm set up is not better too. The farmworkers are faced with a lot of social unsustainability. According to the research conducted by Shreck, Getz and Feenstra (2006), over 2.5 million farm workers are always hired every season. Therefore many of them have to travel over 75 miles to work. Based on the experience of Jackson, it was evidently clear that he was working for very many hours without, not only overtime pay but no pay at all. Based on the case of Mouay, it can be justified that even though the restaurant workers have lower than the average wage rates expected in the corporate world, they are not entitled to different forms of socially sustainable programs such as health insurance and productive off periods.

According to the study conducted by Tsai and Salazar (2007), it was established that continuous exposure to cooking fumes increases the risks of lung cancer, cervical cancer, and respiratory cancer. Therefore it would be prudent to ensure that the restaurant workers who are exposed to such conditions should be provided with necessary health insurance and free cancer screening regularly. The farmers’ issues in the United States of America have been mostly excluded from the federal and state labor laws, a factor which makes them be subjected to long working hours. The working conditions in such areas are even getting worse since they are not entitled to any social security system. For example, Jackson was not a beneficiary of any of the health insurance plans.

Since there are high levels of workers’ compensation costs and competition, farmworkers in the United States of America, such as Jackson, are not able to get any form of health insurance, a situation which is emphasized with the fact that majority of the farmworkers in the United States of America are unauthorized to work. Since he can trade vegetables for other commodities that are not produced in the farm, Jackson feels that he prefers being economically sustained rather than socially sustained since he, just like many farmworkers in the United States of America, believe that social certifications are inappropriate and impossible in the organic agriculture.


Analyzing the oral histories from Mouay who works at the restaurant and Jackson who is a seasonal farmer in a work exchange program, it is evidently clear that both of them are faced with economically and socially unsustainable work environments. Most of the restaurant workers same to the farmworkers are not entitled to any form of health insurance despite the fact that they are faced with risk factors for different disorders such as lung cancer and cervical cancer. Since most of the workers in these categories of workforce receive payments which are not equivalent to the type of service they offer, they are likely to become economically unsustainable. Even though Jackson is currently happy working as an organic farmer, he is still worried about the effects climate change and global warming which are caused by the continuous use of farm chemicals by the corporate farmers. The testimonies from Mouay and Jackson reveal that without constant social tolerance, the individuals in the food chain systems will still be taken advantage of by their seniors at the workplace.


Allegretto, S., & Nadler, C. (2015). Tipped Wage Effects on Earnings and Employment in Full-Service Restaurants. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 54(4), 622-647.

Even, W., & Macpherson, D. (2014). The Effect of the Tipped Minimum Wage on Employees in the U.S. Restaurant Industry. Southern Economic Journal, 80(3), 633-655.

Jayaraman, S. (2013). Behind the kitchen door (pp. 69-102). Ithaca: ILR Press.

Shreck, A., Getz, C., & Feenstra, G. (2006). Social sustainability, farm labor, and organic agriculture: Findings from an exploratory analysis. Agriculture and Human Values, 23(4), 439-449.

Striffler, S. (2002). Inside a Poultry Processing Plant: An Ethnographic Portrait. Labor History, 43(3), 305-313.

Tsai, J., & Salazar, M. (2007). Occupational Hazards and Risks Faced by Chinese Immigrant Restaurant Workers. Family & Community Health, 30, S71-S79.

August 09, 2021

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