The Food Justice Movement and the Community Food Security Coalition

In February 2013, a new paperback edition for my book, Food Justice, (co-authored with Anupama Joshi from the National Farm to School Network) will be released. In the new preface to the book, we pose this question; a question that’s relevant to the debate about the dissolution – or the recreation/reinvention – of the Community Food Security Coalition.

Here’s what we have written:

Read more ›

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Posted in Food Justice

Why the School Cafeteria Staff Can be so Important

Check out Bob Gottlieb’s blog post about how Riverside California School District Food Service Director Rodney Taylor sees the crucial role that cafeteria staff can play for implementing farm to school programs. It’s posted on the “Who’s Cooking School Lunch” blog at

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Posted in Farm to School

Farm Apprenticeship Commencement Talk at UC Santa Cruz

I gave the commencement talk for the 38 graduates of the farm apprenticeship program at UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems on June 20. Here’s the synopsis of the talk:



June 20, 2012

We began to do research for our book Food Justice in 2007. UEPI then had all its various food projects housed within an entity we called the “Center for Food & Justice”. We saw the various projects designed to help empower people to bring about specific changes and ultimately a broader and more radical transformation of the food system.  This included a focus on those most vulnerable and exploited along the food chain, and programs and activities and community organizing connected to our other social justice-based programs, such as immigration, transportation, or housing.

Few groups used the term food justice at the time in 2007. It was not widely used by the press or as part of common discourse. We’d constantly be asked “what is it”? So the first task for us was to see how others used the term and to compare it to the definition we had developed in relation to our own work.

t’s extraordinary to see how much has changed in 5 years, or even in just the two years since the book was published. There’s been an explosion of use of the term. As we describe in the Preface to the paperback edition of Food Justice that will be released in February 2013, examples include: A food justice school garden program. A health and wellness food justice group at a high school and another at a community college. A food justice conference focused on seed saving. A food justice festival with local farmers. A Food Justice Urban Hike-A-Thon. A food justice bike ride. An Occupy Wall Street food justice committee. A Labor Center researcher who argues “why food justice matters.” A Princeton University student organization that has created a Food Justice Foundation. And today, we have 38 UC Santa Cruz farm apprenticeship graduates who want to know, not just what is food justice, but how can they continue to be involved as participants. Should they hung out a sign that says, “Will Work for Food Justice?”

Why the explosion of interest and an embrace of the term?  Our definition of food justice developed for the book may provide some clues, given the possible entry points for food justice engagement. We define food justice as:  (i) seeking to challenge and restructure the dominant food system, (ii) providing a core focus on equity and disparities and the struggles by those who are most vulnerable, and (iii)  establishing linkages and common goals with other forms of social justice activism and advocacy -  whether immigrant rights, worker justice, transportation and access, or land use. In the past five years, each of these entry points for food justice has in turn become increasingly visible, providing language and opportunities for more groups and people to become involved.

Let me go through each of those entry points and give examples of how the food movement generally, and food justice as an orientation of the food movement has expanded. But also let me identify some of the challenges that have become visible with that expansion. And then let me get back to the comment I made about people like yourselves entering or about to re-enter the food justice world; namely how can one engage in this movement (or emerging movement), given those challenges.

Here are examples of that expansion:

1. A changing discourse about the food system and what’s wrong with it.

2. Hundreds, if not thousands of projects and programs and events designed to offer some kind of alternative

3. Increasingly, a youth movement

Regarding disparities:

4. Organizing around food access and food desert issues

5. Organizing around school food, particularly in K-12 public schools, with their substantial population of low income students who qualify for free and reduced lunch

6. Organizing workers along the food chain, such as the extraordinary 20 year campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Linking with Social Justice Movements

7. Food and Labor connections (e.g., UNITE HERE’s Good Food initiative)

8. Linkages around Housing; Transportation; Immigration

The Challenges

A. Organizational and Issue silos

B. NGOs, not a social movement

C. Need to create a new political culture and community

D. Weak Labor Movement; Lack of a Social Democratic Tradition; Individualism as an ideology and Hostility to Public Roles and Social Governance

E. The power of the food industry and global players; foodwashing; Walmart divide

So What’s a Food Apprentice to do?

  • Think like an organizer
  • Help create that new political culture, sense of community
  • Think and act like a change agent
  • The need for Food Justice – and Social Justice – is everywhere; make it happen
  •  Empower others; empower yourselves
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Posted in Food Justice

New Study: Job Killers

A comprehensive study  from UEPI’s Peter Dreier out now!

“…there’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again…and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.” — Frank Luntz, Republican pollster

The report analyzes the frequency of the “job killer” term in four mainstream news media since 1984, how the phrase was used, by whom, and—most importantly—whether the allegations of something being a “job killer” were verified by reporters in their stories.

The study’s key findings include the following:

  • Media stories with the phrase “job killer” spiked dramatically after Barack Obama was elected president, particularly after he took office.  The number of stories with the phrase “job killer” increased by 1,156% between the first three years of the George W. Bush administration (16 “job killer” stories) and the first three years of the Obama administration (201 “job killer” stories).
  • The majority of the sources of stories using the phrase “job killer” were business spokepersons and Republican Party officials.  Republican officials (41.7%) and business sources (18.6%) were responsible for 60.3% of the “job killer” allegations.  In 17% of the stories, news organizations used the phrase in articles and editorials without attributing the phrase to a source.
  • The Wall Street Journal was the most likely of the four news organizations to deploy “job killer” as conventional wisdom, with no attribution.  The Wall Street Journal generated sourceless “job killer” allegations in 45 stories (about 30% of its 151 total stories), the New York Times did so in 8 stories (14.5% of its 55 stories), the Washington Post 5 times (about 8% of its 60 stories), and the AP in 5 stories (about 4% of its 115 stories).
  • Most of the stories with the phrase “job killer” focused on federal (65%) or state government (12%) policies to regulate business, including environmental, tax, labor, and consumer protection measures.  During the 28-year period, the top-ranked issues portrayed as “job killers” are 1) the environment, including climate change, 2) tax policy, 3) health care reform, and 4) wage laws (typically laws to raise the minimum wage).
  • In 91.6% of the stories alleging that a government policy was or would be a “job killer,” the media failed to cite any evidence for this claim or to quote an authoritative source with any evidence for this claim. With little or no fact checking of “job killer” allegations, Americans have no way to know if there is any evidence for these claims.
  • There is no correlation between the frequency of the phrase “job killer” and unemployment rate. Instead, ”job killer” allegations correspond much more closely with political cycles.
  • The “job killer” allegations can have a significant ripple effect across the news media. For example, the Associated Press news feeds serve 1,700 newspapers and 5,000 television and radio news organizations in the U.S., and more internationally.  A single allegation of “job killer” from a significant news source can snowball into thousands of results in a Google search. One 2010 AP story in which Republicans “slammed” a bill as a “job killer,” yielded at least 12,800 web publications.
  • The news media, by failing to seek to verify allegations made about government policies and proposals, typically act more like a transmission belt for business, Republican, and conservative sources than an objective seeker of truth when it comes to the term “job killer.”

The Study

We analyzed all stories in which the phrase “job killer” appeared from 1984 to 2011 in four major news organizations—the Associated Press, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.   There were 381 total stories written that contained the phrase “job killer” and its variations.  The Associated Press news service had 115 stories, the New York Times 55 stories, the Wall Street Journal 151 stories, and the Washington Post 60 stories.

For more information:

Peter Dreier, Ph.D.

Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Department
Occidental College
Phone: (323) 259-2913 FAX: (323) 259-2734


Christopher R. Martin, Ph.D.

Professor and Interim Head
Department of Communication Studies
University of Northern Iowa
Phone: (319) 273-6118 FAX: (319) 273-7356



Posted in Labor

Farm to Preschool honored by the White House

Last month, UEPI’s Farm to Preschool program was among several great programs around the country honored by Michelle Obama’s Healthy Kids Campaign.  A story highlighting that recognition is currently featured on the First Lady’s Let’s Move! blog.  UEPI says kudos to the staff members who work so hard on this project and to the other people and organizations across the country working for healthier food for tots!

Check out the success stories in the Let’s Move! Child Care Recognition Luncheon Program Booklet (PDF; We’re on page 19).

Posted in Farm to Preschool

A Carey McWilliams award talk

I received the Carey McWilliams award at the annual meeting of the California Studies Association in late April.  Here’s the speech:  Carey McWilliams Award Presentation. As I said in the talk, it was particularly compelling to receive this award in Carey McWilliams’ name. Carey McWilliams, of course, is such an iconic figure as a writer activist and as the person you first go to to begin to understand California and the Southern California region. For me, it was also his role in helping get my first book (on the Los Angeles Times and the Chandler family) published. And it gave me the opportunity to discuss how some of our work at UEPI — on school food; global trade and freight traffic; and our participation in CicLAvia — connects to McWilliams’ own views about grass roots democracy.

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LAUSD’s new menu and new campaign for student health

Thanks to initiatives within LAUSD Food Services with support from UEPI’s Healthy School Food Coalition, California Food Policy Advocates, and the LA County Department of Public Health, the food served to students at LAUSD this school year will be dramatically different and vastly improved.  Read the LA Times article about the new menu items students will be eating this year, and for Spanish speakers, read the La Opinión article about the districts new campaign for health and commitment to do its part to reduce childhood obesity.

This week LAUSD launched its “I’m in” campaign to get students to participate in school meals and get excited about learning.  This is also the launch of CafeLA’s new menu, which features healthy meals inspired by cuisines from all over the globe, with an emphasis on whole grains and lots of fresh vegetables.  The new menu also reflects the new USDA proposed rule for the national school lunch program.  Take a look at the pictures, and see the changes for yourself!

CafeLA Quinoa and Veggie Salad from 5 Star Gourmet
CafeLA Greek Salad from 5 Star Gourmet
New menu items on display: whole-wheat naan, vegetable curry, sweet potato fries
CafeLA vegetable curry



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solar challenge for Oxy & northeast LA

I wrote about Occidental’s planned 1 mW solar array and an exciting discount for neighbors that can hopefully spread more solar in northeast Los Angeles.


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Posted in Built Environment, Sustainable Oxy, Urban Environment

Farm to Preschool Program Brings Fresh Foods to Urban Preschool Plates


Contact: Zoë Phillips, Farm to Preschool Program Manager UEPI, Occidental College
323-341-5098 (office), 323-258-2917 (fax)

Preschoolers Tend Their Garden and Demonstrate Their Salad-Making Skills

LOS ANGELES (May 12, 2011) – Forget junk food–preschool age children at Magnolia Place are preparing and eating cucumber salad, tending to an onsite garden and learning about food systems from their teacher. It’s all part of the Farm to Preschool program, a two-year pilot, funded by grants from The Kresge Foundation and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, and organized through a partnership between Occidental College’s Urban & Environmental Policy Institute and the Magnolia Place Family Center’s Children’s Bureau and PACE Early Childhood Education Head Start preschool programs. Ryan Reddy, Children’s Bureau Head Teacher says, “Our involvement in Farm to Preschool has given our students multiple exposures, in various contexts, to fresh produce. They have learned that trying new foods can be fun, and their overall opinion of fresh produce has improved dramatically. These foundational changes in their perspectives will have lasting effects on each child’s ability to make healthy food choices.”

What: More than 60 child care agencies and preschools from Long Beach to Santa Clarita are sending representatives to learn more about how this program can be adopted for their various urban locations.

When: Thursday, May 12th from 8:30am-12:30pm

Where: Magnolia Place Family Center (Johnson Auditorium and preschool playground) 1910 Magnolia Ave, Los Angeles 90007 (Near intersection of Washington and Hoover, south of downtown Los Angeles)

Through the Farm to Preschool program, kids between the ages of three and five years old learn about nutrition and local food systems as well as how to grow their own vegetables. The program also aims to increase access to fresh fruit and produce at Los Angeles and San Diego preschools by encouraging preschool operators to purchase from local farms. “The program has been immensely successful with preschoolers, families and teachers. We want to address the childhood obesity epidemic by helping kids and their families have better access to, and develop a preference for, fresh fruits and vegetables.” Says Program Manager Zoe Phillips, “This is one great way we can begin to accomplish that.”

The program has made an impact beyond the children to their parents and families through facilitated discussions on healthy eating and cooking demonstrations that emphasize homemade fresh food. Says Mary Helen Vasquez, Child Development Director, Children’s Bureau, “The Farm to Preschool program has brought an awareness about fruits and vegetables for the children that has resulted in children being involved in what is selected when they go to the market with their parents.”

Today’s Demonstration Day is attracting child care agencies and preschools from Long Beach to Santa Clarita including: Connections for Children, LAUP (LA Universal Preschool), LA Valley College, LAUSD (LA Unified School District), Lynwood USD, Hacienda-La Puente USD, Santa Monica-Malibu USD, Long Beach Day Nursery, LACOE (LA County Office of Education), ELACC (East LA Community Corporation) and Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, which operates in multiple counties.

Interviews and Follow Up Questions
Please contact us to arrange interviews with program participants and organizers, including:

  • Zoë Phillips, Farm to Preschool Program Manager, UEPI, Occidental College
  • Rosa Romero, Farm to Preschool Program Coordinator, UEPI, Occidental College
  • Mary Helen Vasquez, Child Development Director, Children’s Bureau
  • Marina Aguillen, Site Supervisor, PACE ECE Head Start
  • Roberta Tinajero, Healthy Eating Active Living Manager, Kaiser Permanente

About Magnolia Place Family Center
Magnolia Place Family Center, dedicated in October 2008, serves as a community hub for families to meet, share, grow, and socialize with their friends and neighbors. The Family Center is a 46,000 square foot facility on three acres. Multiple organizations provide comprehensive programs and services in four areas which experts agree are the keys to strengthening families: nurturing parenting, economic stability, good health and school readiness.

About Occidental College and UEPI
Occidental College is a small liberal arts college located in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Occidental is regularly ranked as one of the most diverse college campuses in the country, and encourages its students and faculty to engage Community-Based Learning opportunities. The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College is a community-oriented research and advocacy organization with a mission of creating a more just, livable and democratic region. UEPI serves as the umbrella for a variety of affiliated programs addressing work and industry, food and nutrition, housing, transportation, regional and community development, land use, and urban environmental issues.


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Posted in California Farm to School, Farm to Preschool, Press Release

gazing at the sun (we need more solar in LA)

I wrote a piece for Eagle Rock Patch on the need for more solar projects of all scales- even if some people don’t like how solar panels look.

solar panels in montecito heights

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Posted in Built Environment, Sustainable Oxy, Urban Environment
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