The Fight for 15, Poverty and Our Broken Food and Economic Systems: Foodie Underground


ColumnThe Fight for 15 is a reminder that the question of food is also a question of economics.

Cheap burgers and fries produced in mass quantities can only mean one thing: cheap wages. While American society continues to suffer the health consequences of our fast food nation, its workers continue to struggle with the fact that they can barely make ends meet. The average American fast food worker earns around $8.90 an hour. That’s $356 per week, and around $1400 per month.

Wages are so low, that according to one study, half of America’s fast food workers depend on some form of public assistance.

This dismal state of affairs has spurred the “Fight for 15” movement. In the last two years the campaign for fast-food workers to earn $15 an hour has grown, and continues to gain momentum as more and more people stand up for their right to a livable wage. In fact, the New York Times last year called living wages for fast food workers a “rarity” – if you were in that boat, you would fight too.

Fight for 15 is now growing beyond food, adding new sectors to its list of supporters. “The fact of the matter is, it’s not just fast food where you’re being treated a certain way,” 23-year-old RaAnah Killebrew told the Washington Post. “It’s retail, it’s security, it’s hospitals, it’s everywhere, where you’re not making the money you need to make to maintain.”

As the Post highlights, with workers from BP to Shell to Dollar Tree, “nearly every truly low-wage job in America is represented.”

It’s a good reminder that our broken food system isn’t just about access to food, it’s about poverty, and the inability for many families to make ends meet. In a developed country, shouldn’t everyone have the right to be able to make ends meet? In this country we’re good at turning a blind eye to poverty, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Fight for 15’s cause is all the more poignant when we consider recent figures from the country’s food pantries. According to Maura Daly, a spokesperson for Feeding America, because of last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food banks are “feeding more people than ever before.” According to Daly, 60 percent of more than 60,000 food pantries have seen an increase in demand this year, and 36 percent say they don’t have enough food to serve the people that come to them for help.

When it comes to food, we often talk about the problem of access, but it’s important to remember that in a world of low wages and poverty, we also need to be talking about the systemic forces at play that make it so that people can’t afford to eat well. It’s a matter of not only ensuring people have access to good food, but that they can afford it as well.

As the International Business Times reports, “While metropolitan areas such as New York are densely populated with large numbers of people without food, the struggle is sometimes harder far from cities, where good food is more expensive and harder to access. She says more than half of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are rural.”

Low wages for fast food chain workers allows us to keep serving food whose costs are externalized, it also allows the system to continue to keep workers in poverty, unable to buy the sustenance that they need.

It’s not only our food system that’s broken, it’s the entire system that’s making a bigger and bigger gap between the rich and the poor. There are many programs popping up around the country that are trying to deal with this exact problem; Zenger farm in Portland is a great example. But we need more of this.

Everyone has the right to eat real food. Let’s keep fighting for it.

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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at

Image: Anette Bernhardt

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.