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Through my career I have been inspired to ask why we, as a nation, have frequently demonstrated little regard for the people who pick, pack, prepare and serve the food we eat. I know the struggle of food workers personally through my work as a meat cutter and store clerk in my father's carnicería (Mexican meat market) and through the lives and experience of my paternal grandparents who toiled in the fields of California and prepared and served meals to college students. In my scholarship, I have worked to reveal the origins of inequality in our food labor system. My study of agriculture from "the bottom up" in A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970 (University of North Carolina Press, 2001; Winner of the 2003 Oral History Association Book Award) and from the organizer's perspective in From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (University of California Press, 2012; Winner of the Taft Award for the Best Book in Labor History, 2013) are my signature contributions to this subject. In both books, I combine oral history with archival research to produce new understanding of food worker exploitation. These earlier studies have led me to new questions about how capital investment and multinational corporations structure the world that farm workers find themselves in. In Eli and the Octopus: The CEO Who Tried to Reform One of the World's Most Notorious Corporations (Harvard University Press, 2023), I examine the life and death of the last CEO of United Brands that included the notorious United Fruit Company. Eli Black's life offers a unique opportunity to see the food industry from the "top down," revealing how decisions made in the corporate corner office influenced the lives across the Western hemisphere. Such lessons, although different from those gleaned from studying union records, offer a fresh perspective on the struggles between labor and capital that are no less valuable to the future of working people across the Americas.
Latin American, Latino & Caribbean Studies