Society

Workplace Stress: Western Social Ill Spreads To Developing World

Developing countries, including such emerging powers as China, have joined the West in trying to find ways of dealing with a dangerous – and expensive -- social ill.

Factory workers in Guangdong, China (Lyle Vincent)
Factory workers in Guangdong, China (Lyle Vincent)
Rémi Barroux

PARIS – Stress in the workplace, an established problem in the post-industrial West, is now emerging as a social ill in the developing world, too. Countries from Asia and the southern hemisphere are now carefully – and officially – looking at the psycho-social problems and economic consequences linked to work-induced stress.

Still, for a problem that is all too real, the statistics on the subject are surprisingly scarce. Quantifying stress is of course quite difficult, but the figures available today come only from rich countries. In Europe, nearly 30% of the total number of workers describe themselves as being "exposed to stress," according to a study conducted in 2009 by Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Union. In the United States, the cost of stress in the workplace – absenteeism, reduced productivity, sick leave, etc. – was an estimated $300 billion in 2010.

Concerned about the lack of reliable information on this issue in developing countries, the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) declared April 28 the world day for safety and health at work. The agency also launched a study at the beginning of 2011, expected to be concluded within a year.

Discreetly, China has also recently turned to the ILO for information on how to best manage psycho-social risks. African countries have started showing some interest on the question. In Latin America, a network led by Columbia, Mexico and Argentina has been looking into the issue of moral harassment of workers, including mobbing.

For Valentina Forastieri, the ILO specialist in occupational health and safety in charge of the study, "the industrial restructuring that followed the economic crisis has triggered a certain number of lay-offs. But those who did manage to keep their jobs have had to cope with an increased level of stress because of longer working hours and the higher expectations of their employers."

In its 2010 report on "emerging risks', the ILO spoke about dangers linked to new working conditions, and about the miserable existence of migrant workers and those toiling in the informal economy.

"Globalization is a source of stress because it involves increased competition," says Luc Brunet, professor in the department of psychology at the University of Montreal. "But the level of stress is not the same everywhere, it depends on the work environment, or the way in which employees think they are treated, and their employers' experience in dealing with these kind of complaints."

Stress often leads to drug or alcohol use in the workplace, a phenomenon observed in a number of countries, France being among those most affected, according to experts.

But methods used to deal with this psycho-social risk cannot be identical for all nations. "We can speak about a sort of international awareness, but there is unfortunately no miracle recipe for this," says Stéphane Pimbert, general director of the French National Institute for Research and Security. "This is not the same thing as installing a metal cover on a machine to prevent workers from cutting off their fingers."

Stress aside, physical illnesses such as repetitive strain injuries (which represent the majority of work-related ailments) or skin diseases are considered to be of psychological origin.

"In the past, health in the workplace was linked to the type of activity performed; today stress and fatigue stem from what employees no longer have the time to do, because of the increased number and different nature of their tasks," says Yves Clot, from the psychology department of the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. "Work today requires more commitment on the part of workers, but the very organization of work makes this impossible, which leaves employees facing a very painful paradox."


photo- Lyle Vincent

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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