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Last month the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its final definition of green jobs. In March, BLS invited interested parties to submit comments about their initial definition and on their process of collecting data in this emerging economy, which has the potential to impact restaurants that serve organic food.
BLS specifically solicited comments about:
Whether the preparation and sale of organic food by restaurants and food service industries should be included as green services. The proposed BLS definition includes services classified in Accommodation and Food Services industries such as restaurants, caterers, and cafeterias.
In full disclosure, for my job at a non-profit I wrote comments on behalf of my organization, but not in regards to this section on organic food inclusion.
Although I clearly have opinions.
When I read the BLS request for comments I was excited about its recognition of the food industry: its practices, its array of workers, its contribution to health and humanity. As a Michael Pollan scholar I am familiar with the intricacies of the chameleon organic label and its peculiar ties to not-so-eco-friendly transportation and packing. (I’m looking at you bag of organic spinach shipped from California to D.C. and you, Stephen Budiansky.)
After reviewing comments, BLS decided that while practices, services and products related to organic agriculture would be considered a green job, preparing or selling organic food would not. One comment suggested that including this type of job would encourage organic farming. BLS wrote this in response:
BLS responds that it does not have an advocacy position on organic farming…Preparing or selling organic food has no apparent benefit to the environment compared to preparing or selling other food.
Data needs to be kept neutral and agenda-free at BLS. And BLS is right, organic food can be wrapped in Styrofoam just like its fertilized cousin. But isn’t the government neglecting restaurants and stores that purposely sell organic food from its count? Shouldn’t they be recognized as participants in the green economy?
Richard Caperton, energy policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, sees the current BLS definition of green jobs as limited. “There needs to be recognition that these jobs are playing an important role in the green economy. If no one was preparing these organic foods than no one would be growing them. It would be a more accurate and complete representation of the green economy if these jobs were included.”
Caperton admits that Restaurant Nora is probably not making its decision to be an organic restaurant because of its potential inclusion in the BLS data collection. But by neglecting to “track organic foods through the economy,” Caperton acknowledges that BLS fails to show the true picture of jobs in sustainability.
When the economy is slow and sustainability is looked at as an answer, the food industry should be rewarded and recognized as a player in providing jobs and responsibly grown food.