Episode 5: Abolishing Exploitation & Prison Slavery in College Food

A growing movement in Gainesville is taking on the University of Florida to demand the abolition of worker exploitation and prison slavery from its food purchases. 

There’s a battle heating up at the University of Florida over how the university feeds its students, faculty, and staff—and whether the food they serve contributes to the exploitation of workers in its dining halls, on area farms, and even in prisons. A growing community-based movement led by farmworkers, dining service workers, students, and prisoners is working to hold the University of Florida accountable for buying better food—and specifically, for ditching the giant food service management company Aramark. The “Food Justice League” wants to make sure any future university food contracts require companies to abolish exploitation and prison slavery from their practices, as well as source more local and sustainable food (read their demands here). 

In this first episode of Season Two of Foodtopias, we meet the Gainesville-based movement that formed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through strategic alliances, they’ve made huge strides towards advancing racial and environmental justice in the North Florida food system.  

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About the Guests

Leah Cohen is the General Coordinator for the Agricultural Justice Project, which seeks empowerment, justice, and fairness for all who labor from farm to retail. AJP provides farms and food businesses with technical tools to improve work and trade practices including a stakeholder-driven certification program for social justice standards called the Food Justice Certification (FJC) label.

Nezahualcoyotl (“Neza”) Xiuhtecutli is the General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida, a community-based, non-profit membership organization with over 10,000 Haitian, Hispanic, and African American farmworker members. FWAF’s mission is to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities, to respond to and gain control over the social, political, economic, workplace, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives.

Kevin Scott is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoner rights. He has been a pivotal voice in several successful grassroots campaigns leading to policy changes in Gainesville, Alachua County, and in the University of Florida’s use of prison slave labor. A former prisoner, Scott is a Community Spring fellow and an organizer with Florida Prisoner Solidarity, a carceral abolitionist collective with membership expanding across the state, both inside and outside prisons.

Robin Lewy is Director of Programming of the Rural Women’s Health Project (RWHP), a health justice organization in North Florida. RWHP designs and implements community-based, health-education projects, trainings, and materials to assist communities in strengthening their understanding of critical health, occupational, and family issues.

Episode Notes

Food Justice at the University of Florida Campaign: Week of Action, May 25 – 29. Join the week of action by posting a solidarity message on social media (see social media toolkit with sample posts and graphics).

Follow the Food Justice at the University of Florida Coalition on Instagram at @foodjusticeUF.

Learn about the Food Justice League, a coalition of community members dedicated to sustainability, food justice, and workers’ rights in Alachua County, Florida. Read the letter to the University of Florida and sign their petition.

Learn about the Good Food Purchasing Program, a nationwide movement to encourage large institutions to direct their buying power toward supporting five core values: local economies, environmental sustainability, valued workforce, animal welfare, and nutrition.

Learn about the Real Meals Campaign, calling on the “Big Three” food service management companies (Aramark, Compass Group, and Sodexo) to fundamentally reorient their business models towards real meals that support producers, communities, consumers, and the planet.

Related readings:

“UF Ends Use of Prison Labor After Mounting Student Pressure” by Sarah Nelson, The Gainesville Sun, October 9, 2020.

“UF Students and Gainesville Activists Denied Opportunity to Change the University’s Food System” by Julia Cooper and Jake Reyes, The Alligator, May 21, 2021.

“How Corporations Buy—and Sell—Food Made with Prison Labor” by H. Claire Brown, The Counter, May 18, 2021

“Be-Trayed: How kickbacks in the Cafeteria Industry Harm Our Communities – And What to Do About It,” Real Food Generation, May 2020.

Building Power with Food Workers – Organizing Toolkit, Real Food Media