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A Look at Labor

laborfestSLUG REPORT > Food activism prompts upcoming UC Santa Cruz conference

Food: it's a topic so interwoven into our everyday lives that it never seems to stray too far from our thoughts, and our concerns. Whether it's finding out what's right to eat or growing it in our own front and backyards, food, and specifically where it comes from and how it gets to us, is a trending topic.

Food issues will be the theme of a Feb. 3-4 UC Santa Cruz conference called “Labor Across the Food System.” The conference is sponsored by the Center for Labor Studies, is in collaboration with the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), the Food First Institute for Food and Development Policy in Oakland, and was organized by the UCSC Institute for Humanities Research. Organizers expect the attendance of academics, activists, and journalists from throughout the nation to discuss labor and social justice and their role within the modern global food system.

“It's been a couple years in the making,” says conference chair Mary Beth Pudup, a UCSC community studies professor, who conceived of having the conference. “It sort of arose from discussion among faculty and students, too ... about all the food activism and interest in food-related research that has emerged over the last decade. With so much interest in food and where it comes from, no one really asks 'Well how does it get there?' How did your food get from the farm to your fork, or from farm to your table?”

The conference begins Friday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Humanities Lecture Hall with a keynote speech by Frank Bardacke, a resident of Watsonville who cut lettuce and celery in the fields for six years in the early 1970s, and taught English as a second language for 25 years. Bardacke has also written two books, “Good Liberals and Great Blue Herons: Land, Labor and Politics in the Pajaro Valley” and the more recently published “Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers” (Verso Books, 2011).

“So often local institutions overlook the talent in their own backyard, and so inviting Frank just seemed like a natural fit,” says Pudup. “His book has just come out and has been gathering praise, and also having someone locally from the community who is also a scholar was a great opportunity to involve the community and not just have a [strictly] UCSC event.”

The conference continues on Saturday, Feb. 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., also at the Humanities Lecture Hall, with opening remarks by conference chair Pudup, UCSC associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Labor Studies Steve McKay, and UCSC professor of community studies Judy Guffman, who's recent book,  “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism” (University of California, 2011), is tackling many of the assumptions made about the so-called “obesity epidemic” and calls for more attention to injustices within food production.

Four panel discussions will follow, each addressing a major sector of the food systems: farm labor, food processing, shipping and retail, and food service and restaurants.   

“I think it's a perfect fit for UCSC given our historic and good work that the campus does,” said Pudup. “And having Frank Bardacke as a keynote speak is a important recognition of the talent within the local community. I hope there are more events like this in the future … maybe this will be the start of it.”

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