I started working with the Critical Food Studies Lab in January 2019 and since then I have been involved in several different projects including gap year student Belen Roger’s Food Choice Project. This year, I have been focused on my Senior Thesis in Geography which combines historical and geographical qualitative research to uncover how spaces have evolved within the food industry to persistently devalue labor. It questions how individuals within this industry navigate living on a wage that is not equal with the cost of living in Bloomington, Indiana. With the food service sector employing 10% of Bloomington, Indiana’s working population and the mean hourly wage being $10.78, it is critical to analyze how this population depends upon social benefit programs and how they work through the Cliff Effect Phenomenon.
I conduct interviews of Bloomington residents working in the food service sector to determine how they navigate cliff effects within this specific work environment. Additionally, I analyze the growth of this sector through space and time in Bloomington with the help of historic maps and city directories from the 1950s to the 2000s to observe how it matches with the rise of the cliff effect of poverty as social benefits were instituted. I utilize one local tool, Indiana’s Self-Sufficiency Standard, and MIT’s living wage calculator in order to question how implementing a living wage that considers geographical variation of poverty thresholds would tackle ‘cliffs’ of poverty for those in the food industry in Bloomington, Indiana. I tie this question into urban development patterns in Bloomington regarding the locations of fast food in order to glean information about the value of food and labor in a mid-size, midwestern town.
The lab has played an integral part to my motivation in this endeavor and has helped me think critically through problems I have come across in my research. I was able to send out my literature review and receive helpful feedback on gaps I may have not included, and they gave constructive feedback on ways to help improve the overall flow of the paper. It is encouraging and exciting to gather each week to share progress on our projects or hiccups we have come across and, in the end, it sharpens all the lab members involved. I know the skills I have learned through my time in the Critical Food Studies Lab will be crucial to the line of work I enter into and it will also open doors for important work in the future.