When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the Web.
• NPR delivers a blunt report on Monsanto’s dominant position in the seed industry, complete with farmers complaining about monopoly pricing. With this sort of straight talk in mainstream media, one wonders if the Justice Department might really pursue an antitrust case against the monopolistic giant.
• This Wall Street Journal infographic paints a devastating picture of the U.S. job market (the headline on the accompanying article says it all: “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs Won’t Return.”) Look down at the bottom right corner along the margins, and you see one of the few growth areas in the U.S. growth landscape: “community food services.”
That’s sad news–with unemployment stubbornly high, a growing number of people are hurting and in need of assistance at food banks. But look whom the Journal is highlighting as an example of a worker in that field: Sharon Thornberry of the Oregon Food Bank. Thornberry is an innovator in seeing that community food relief isn’t just about delivering emergency food, but also about creating alternative food systems that work for low-income residents. And alternative food systems can themselves generate meaningful jobs–thus bringing not just short-term hunger relief, but also real economic growth that can lift people out of hunger.
• Speaking of jobs, check out this article on Yahoo Personal Finance, of all places (bear with me; food angle coming):
Job satisfaction in America hit a record low in 2009, according to a survey released this week by the Conference Board–with only 45 percent of workers reporting contentment with their jobs.
Clearly, the economic downturn is partly to blame. Workers have lost their jobs and taken less fulfilling, lower-paid positions. They’ve had to pick up the slack when colleagues were laid off, managing bigger workloads with no pay increase. They’ve had hours cut and benefits such as 401(k) matches dropped.
The unhappiness-at-work trend didn’t start with the Great Recession:
But job satisfaction among all age and income groups has been on a consistent downward trend since 1987, when the Conference Board began tracking the numbers.
“What we’ve seen over last 22 years is that irrespective of whether the economy is boom or bust, the overall level of satisfaction expressed by U.S. workers has been steadily declining across every single aspect of the job,” says Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center and author of the report.
So happiness at work peaked more than 20 years ago (if this survey is accurate). I would call that a pretty damning indictment of the post-’70s neoliberal era in U.S. economic policy (still lurching along, embodied in the Geithner/Summers White House economic team). We’ve lived through an age of outsourcing, a massive shift from manufacturing to services, and the rise of Wal Mart-led consumerism. And evidently, we’ve thought it sucked all along, at least from a work persperctive.
I’m wondering if emerging economies, based on the Jane Jacobs model of small, networked producers that I discussed here, could provide an antidote to pervasive workplace gloom (and lack of work). Food is an everyday necessity that can be grown and processed damn near anywhere. Even in low-income areas, people spend $1000 per capita on food. Couldn’t food provide the fodder for such economies? The model seems to be working in Hardwick, Vermont.
(For another look at the failure of recent economic policy, see BusinessWeek economist Michael Mandel’s devastating presentation (summarized here by Matt Yglesias.)
• Over on my new favorite site Zester Daily, Clifford Wright, one of our most rigorous (and unheralded) authorities on Mediterranean cuisine, has an interesting piece on what he calls “innovative Med-American” cooking that “ironically can’t exist in the Mediterranean.” He approves of the trend, declaring that …
One of great attributes of American cooking is that Americans are less constrained by tradition than other cultures. There is an upside and a downside to that. The downside is often soulless international eclectic food ignorant of foundations inspired by extravagance, faux-dietetics, fads, gigantism, disrespect and foolishness. The upside is embryonic dishes laying a foundation for a new cuisine. Local American products and ingenuity tied to Mediterranean culinary sensibilities holds great promise.
I think this is a spot-on reading of the potential and pitfalls of our cooking, and it applies also to beer, wine, and even coffee. (For example, to my mind, roasters/cafes like Intelligentsia of Chicago/L.A. and Blue Bottle of San Francisco are doing things with coffee never dreamed of in old-school coffee capitals like Rome, Vienna, and Ethiopia.)