Front and back of the house: Socio-spatial inequalities in food work

Carolyn Sachs, Patricia Allen, A. Rachel Terman, Jennifer Hayden, Christina Hatcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Work on farms and in restaurants is characterized by highly gendered and racialized divisions of labor, low wages, and persistent inequalities. Gender, race, and ethnicity often determine the spaces where people work in the food system. Although some research focuses on gendered divisions of labor in restaurants and on farms, few efforts look more broadly at intersectional inequalities in food work. Our study examines how inequality is perpetuated through restaurant and farm work in the United States and, specifically, how gender and race/ethnicity influence where people work, their tasks and responsibilities, and their work experiences. In describing restaurant work, people in the restaurant industry typically refer to the front and back of the house to distinguish between different working spaces, jobs, and workers. We use this spatial metaphor of front and back of the house to analyze intersectional inequalities of food work in restaurants and on farms. The data derive from conversations with 63 restaurant and farm owners, managers, and workers in California and Pennsylvania. Our findings suggest that gendered and racialized bodies often define who works in the front and back of the “house,” and that owners and workers often naturalize gender and racial divisions of labor in food work. Despite these patterns, we found evidence of attempts to reduce these inequalities on farms and in restaurants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Farm
  • Food work
  • Gendered labor
  • Inequality regime
  • Migrant labor
  • Restaurant
  • US food system
  • Workers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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