necessity and the desirability of progress, they were long suspicious of attempts to privi-
lege traditional norms and practices as “natural” or “God ordained,” viewing such efforts
as conservative attempts to present socially unjust practices and traditional inequalities
as unchangeable and therefore outside the purview of human questioning or improve-
ment. This long cherished progressive outlook has in recent years been challenged by
the very different social vision of the alternative food movement and allied ideological
groups. Inevitably, this has given rise to a certain amount of tension in progressive think-
ing between emancipatory goals and the alternative food movement's desire to protect
traditional norms and practices from the onslaught of progress and “Promethean sci-
ence.” A real world example from California serves to illustrate this tension.
In California, farm workers' unions and their allies have long sought to restrict “stoop
labor,” where farm workers work bent at the waist for hours at a time. Stoop labor is
widely recognized one of the most painful forms of manual labor, which, according to
the California Supreme Court, causes “abnormal degeneration of the spine, resulting
in irreparable back injury and permanent disability” (Getz, Brown, and Shreck 2008).
According to one study, 60 percent of all acute injuries suffered by farm workers were
musculoskeletal injuries, with most affecting the lower back. In comparison, exposure
to agrochemicals caused approximately 1 percent of serious injuries (Getz, Brown, and
Shreck 2008). While some forms of stoop labor have been banned, the practice contin-
ues to this day in California, primarily in the form of hand weeding carried out by farm
workers. A campaign by farm workers' advocates in California to reduce stoop labor
culminated in the introduction in the California legislature of Senate Bill (SB) 534 in
2003, which sought to restrict hand weeding. Backed by farm workers and their unions,
SB 534 ran into intense opposition from the organic farming sector. Organic groups
denounced SB 534 as a bill “that Monsanto would have been proud to sponsor,” which
was designed to “get rid of hand weeding,” and sent a message that you have to “spray
everything . . . genetically modify everything . . . or move it out of California” (Getz,
Brown, and Shreck 2008). Largely due to the opposition of organic farming groups, SB
534 failed to get the approval of the California legislature.
The political tussle over SB 534 demonstrates how the alternative food movement's
goals of promoting traditional farming techniques, staying within “natural” limits and
reducing our dependence on “Promethean science” can diverge sharply from the eman-
cipatory goals of progressive political ideology.
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