Fast Food Workers Can Be Fired For No Reason

 

The New York City Council is considering “just cause” legislation to enshrine fairness and dignity for fast food workers. It could become a model for other cities and industries.

Nadra Nittle, Food and Farm Labor          April 24, 2019

Taco Bell employees at the Barksdale Base Exchange in Louisiana. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joanna M. Kresge.)

 

Francis Gomez vividly remembers the day she was fired from her cashier job at a Taco Bell in Queens, New York. Just before last Christmas, she showed up for her shift when a manager told her, “Don’t clock in; you’re terminated.” The firing stunned Gomez, 27, who had worked on and off for the fast food chain since 2014.

Francis Gomez. (Photo courtesy of SEIU 32BJ)

Francis Gomez. (Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU)

“I was completely surprised. I was accused of disrespecting a customer, but there was no customer complaint,” she said. “When I asked for a letter, I was basically told, ‘You’re already terminated, so it doesn’t matter.’”

Taco Bell hasn’t responded to Civil Eats’ request for comment about its firing practices, but stories like Gomez’s are one of the reasons New York City Council members Brad Lander and Adrienne Adams have introduced “just cause” legislation to give fast food workers more job protection. The bill prohibits fast food companies from firing workers or significantly reducing their hours without a stated reason and would give employees the chance to correct their behavior before termination. With this legislation, New York City could lead the nation in offering job security for fast food workers.

Tsedeye Gebreselassie, president of Fast Food Justice, an organization that fights for workplace improvements for fast food employees, said that staff have been fired for infractions as trivial as not smiling enough. But more often than not, she said, they’re deprived of real reasons for their terminations, making New York City’s just cause bill a potential game changer for workers.

“The legislation the New York City Council is considering the first of its kind in the country for the fast food industry, but it could become a model for other cities and industries that want to enshrine fairness and dignity for workers and ensure they are only fired when there’s a reason that warrants it,” she told Civil Eats.

Princess Wright (center), a worker at a Brooklyn McDonald’s, speaks on Feb. 13, 2019, next to New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who sponsored one of the two “Just Cause” bills.Princess Wright (center), a worker at a Brooklyn McDonald’s, speaks on Feb. 13, 2019, next to New York City Council Member Adrienne Adams, who sponsored one of the two “Just Cause” bills. (Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU)

As the national Fight for $15 campaign highlights the need for living wages for fast food staff, New York City’s just cause legislation stresses the importance of keeping some of the labor market’s most vulnerable workers employed. While more job protection certainly benefits workers, supporters of just cause legislation say it could also help the fast food industry save money by stabilizing its workforce.

Fast Food Industry’s ‘Disposable Culture’

By some estimates, the fast food industry has a 150 percent turnover rate. Each year, most chains lose their entire staffs, plus half of the replacements hired. The frequency with which fast food companies fire and hire workers usually comes at the expense of employees such as Gomez, who have little recourse when they’re terminated, labor advocates say. While nearly all Americans who don’t have union jobs are considered “at-will employees”—meaning they may be fired at any time for any reason—companies typically use progressive discipline for employees rather than terminate them without warning. Fast food workers tend to have the opposite experience.

“For far too long, fast food workers have been the victims of unfair reduction of hours or arbitrary termination,” New York City Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said in a statement to Civil Eats. “By enacting just cause legislation, the city could require that fast food chains demonstrate a legitimate reason for terminating a worker or reducing their hours.”

A recent report entitled, “Fired On a Whim: The Precarious Existence of NYC Fast-Food Workers,” found that 58 percent of 237 fast food employees have had their hours severely cut, and 65 percent have been fired without a reason. The National Employment Law Project (NELP), the Center for Popular Democracy32BJ SEIU, and Fast Food Justice collaborated on the analysis.

Paul Sonn, NELP’s state policy program director, said the New York bill would require fast food chains to implement basic fair practices before cutting employees’ hours or terminating them. The restaurants would have to clearly outline job expectations and give workers warnings, chances to improve their behavior, and notice of possible termination. In extreme cases, such as workplace violence, companies would not have to use these practices before firing an employee.

The “disposable culture” of the fast food world has made such guidelines necessary, Sonn said.

“This is an industry that has sort of latched onto a high turnover/low-wage business model,” Sonn argued. “They generally pay as little as they’re legally permitted to pay, and they don’t invest in workers. In some cases, having a high turnover model is a way to avoid workers from starting to organize and assert their rights. There’s also a very high turnover rate among the managers. There’s a lot of instability, and some of the basic good HR practices seem to be shockingly uncommon in a lot of the fast food industry.”

Gig Economy Poses Threats to All Workers, Especially Single Mothers

Stephanie Seguino, a University of Vermont economics professor, said that the legislation will lead fast food chains to reflect on their business practices, particularly the arbitrary dismissal of employees. She places the fast food workforce in the context of the Great Recession, which led to a process called labor market flexibilization, more colloquially known as the gig economy. The 2008 recession and the decline of labor unions means that workers in various fields have fewer protections than they once did, and companies in a number of industries are increasingly firing and hiring people at will, or using third-party contractors to hire workers, to avoid giving employees benefits.

“It shifts the burden of economic insecurity to the worker, and that’s the problem,” Seguino said. “We’re seeing workers involuntarily placed in part-time work or working for temp agencies on a contingency basis. This is a growing trend, and it’s particularly damaging to people with families.”

Seguino says that single mothers are especially at risk in industries such as fast food, where missing a shift or being late for one can result in job termination. These women bear most of the responsibility for childcare and, therefore, have few options other than to miss work if their children fall ill or a daycare crisis occurs. Having to pick up and drop off children at school also increases the odds that mothers will be late and possibly fired, Seguino said.

fast food workers serving a customerTerminating workers has dire consequences for fast-food workers. According to the “Fired on a Whim” report, 62 percent of respondents who lost a fast food job or had their hours cut experienced food insecurity, housing instability, and the inability to pay for childcare. Some were evicted or forced to move or quit school.

Gomez, who still has not found full-time work, said that she has struggled financially since losing her Taco Bell job in December. Joblessness during the holiday season is particularly challenging, not only because it makes paying for Christmas gifts tough, she said, but also because it’s too late to apply for the seasonal work already underway. Gomez has depended on her wife to support over the past five months and has used some of the financial aid from her college education to cover expenses.

“Right now, I’m a full-time college student,” she said. “I do odd jobs here and there. It’s hard to pay rent and bills even now.”

More Job Security Could Help the Fast Food Industry

While it’s clear that job security benefits workers, it also offers advantages to the fast food industry. According to the National Restaurant Industry, turnover costs restaurants an average of $150,000 per year. That number is likely higher for fast food restaurants, which have more than double the turnover of the overall restaurant average of 61 percent annually.

“Turnover absolutely costs tons of money,” said Rachel Deutsch, supervising attorney for worker justice at the Center for Popular Democracy. “The recruiting process, the hiring process, training new people, it’s far more productive to keep workers who have been on the job because they’re more invested.”

Seguino agreed, pointing out how in the early days of the auto industry, carmakers such as Ford underpaid their workers, resulting in a high annual turnover rate. Ford eventually realized how much it cost to replace its workers and raised its pay to reduce turnover.

“Firms don’t realize that some of their practices may be undermining their bottom line,” she said. “Job security is a win-win for businesses and workers.”

As labor advocates support New York City’s just cause bill, Gomez said that she encounters far too many people who don’t consider the job “real work.” But Gomez has a very different take on her former position.

“We’re the backbone of this city,” she said. “When everyone goes to lunch, they don’t understand that the workers have sometimes been there since 5 or 6 in the morning or that the late-night workers are there until 2 a.m. cleaning up. There are workers who raise their children off these paychecks. It’s not fair, it’s not humane to fire someone without a proper reason, to know you can get fired at any moment. We’re doing a lot more than you think.”

The New York City Council will likely vote on the bill during the summer, and advocates hope that if it passes, it will have a domino effect nationwide.

“In New York City, we must stand up and address these injustices in an effort to protect workers in this industry,” Councilwoman Adams said. “Just cause legislation is a necessary step to bring accountability to fast food giants and security to their employees.”

Canada is Warming at Twice the Rate of the Globe

the real news network

Canada is Warming at Twice the Rate of the Globe, Says New Report

April 20, 2019
Greenpeace Canada analyst hopes study serves as a wake-up call for Trudeau government, but says “You can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” on climate change
Story Transcript

 

SPEAKER: It’s the 21st century. We know climate change is real. We know that one of the challenges we have is that pollution has been free, but we need to put a price on it.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada. Earlier this week, officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, presented the results of a study on warming in Canada. Their study concluded that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that northern Canada is warming even more quickly, nearly three times the global rate. The officials also reported that three of the past five years have been the warmest on record in this country. Their study is the first of its kind. Entitled Canada’s Changing Climate Report, the study has been in the works for years and is the first of a series aimed at informing policy decisions and increasing public awareness and understanding of Canada’s changing climate. Now here to discuss this new study with us is Keith Stewart. Keith is a Senior Energy Strategist with Greenpeace Canada and part-time instructor at the University of Toronto. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from York University and has worked as a climate policy researcher and advocate for 19 years. He joins us today from Toronto. Thanks for coming back on The Real News, Keith.

KEITH STEWART: Thanks for having me.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So Keith, even with all of the warming that has occurred in this country since the beginning of the fossil fuels era, we Canadians continue to live in what is one of the world’s relatively colder climates. Why should Canadians be concerned about this report? How is the warming of the atmosphere and of the oceans affecting their lives in practical terms and what practical effects should Canadians anticipate as Canada continues to warm?

KEITH STEWART: It’s kind of a standard joke that oh, in Canada it would be nice if it was a little warmer. The problem is the rate of change. We haven’t historically– well, in the geological record climate has changed a lot over time– but we’re trying to pack change that usually take 50,000 to 100,000 years into 50 years. Because we’re burning fossil fuels and sort of increasing the greenhouse effect trapping heat, which it then causes a whole bunch of other changes. You might think oh, a little bit warmer that would be nice, but you’re also changing rainfall patterns. You’re going to have drought in some places. You are going to have more wildfires, the kinds we’ve seen in B.C. and Alberta the last couple of years where people literally couldn’t breathe. Walking outside in Vancouver was like breathing eight packs, smoking eight pack of cigarettes. In urban areas, one of the warnings in the report is we’re going to see even more flooding. In particular, the kind of flash flooding which in one incident here in Toronto back in 2013, we saw $960 million worth of damage in a couple of hours. We saw street cars under water. People had to be rescued from the GO train by boat. These kinds of severe impacts– the heat waves, the droughts, the wildfires, the flooding– these cause enormous damage to our economy, they cause enormous damage to our health, and we’re only seeing the thin edge of the wedge here.

When you look at this report, a big part of the message in the report is: what the future looks like depends a lot on what actions we take today. In their low emissions scenario, if Canada warmed about one point seven degrees, it would warm by another two degrees, that’s bad because it would have a whole bunch of negative impacts. The negative impacts by far outweigh the positives. In the high emissions scenario, the one we’re actually on the path to right now, they’re talking about warming by six degrees in Canada, on average even more than the far north, by the end of the century. That would make agriculture basically impossible in large chunks of the prairies. They say oh, you can just move further north. Well a lot of places in this country you move further north, they don’t have soil to be able to support agriculture. Here in Ontario, we have this thing called the Canadian Shield. It’s all granite. You can’t grow crops there. And similarly, forests which are suited for one climate system, can’t move themselves north 50, 100, 200 kilometers in the space of 20 years.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This study was released on April 1st, Keith, which also happened to be the date on which a federal carbon tax of $20 a ton took effect in provinces that lack provincial pricing plans, including the provinces of New Brunswick, Ontario Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The carbon tax, as I’m sure you know, is the centerpiece of the Trudeau government’s strategy for fighting climate change. In your view, is this carbon tax adequate both from the perspective of the amount of the tax and the breadth of its application? And if not, what kind of a carbon tax do you think we need in this country given the urgency of the situation?

KEITH STEWART: I think one of the problems we have in this country right now is action on climate change has been narrowed to carbon tax, no carbon tax. And really we need a whole, vast suite of efforts not just carbon taxes but also massive investments in things like public transit, so people can get to where they need to go without having to drive a car. We need to invest in better sewage/stormwater systems so that we’re not having these floodings. We need to invest in rapidly transitioning to renewable energy. A carbon tax is a key part of that. Raising the price of fossil fuels makes them less attractive relative to cleaner forms of energy. It also brings in some cash that can be done to build things like great public transit systems or, put up windmills and solar panels. So in the U.S. we are talking about this as a Green New Deal, kind of built on the New Deal that Roosevelt, that the Americans brought in to fight the Great Depression. That’s the kind of change we need. This carbon tax is a component of that and I think it’s kind of like the lowest possible measure, $20 dollars a ton kicking in this year. That’s 4.4 cents per liter of gasoline. When you look at the price of oil, the price of gasoline goes up and down. That’s not a huge change. That on its own is by no means enough. They’re also talking about increasing it $10 a year. Greenpeace would support that. We also think the money should be invested back in renewables, but that’s got to be just one piece of a much bigger package.

The big problem we have right now is no one is treating the climate crisis really like a crisis. We treat it more as kind of a messaging problem; we do a few things it will go away. Or, on one side of the political spectrum with the conservatives at the provincial level and federally who are fighting against even the small carbon tax that’s being proposed, they’re proposing we do nothing. That somehow if we ignore the problem, it will go away. One of my friends was asking me, “do you think this new report that just came is a wakeup call?” And was like well, there’s an old proverb that says “you can’t wake up a man who’s only pretending to be asleep” and that’s the problem with a lot of the politicians in this country and around the world. They’re pretending to be asleep on this issue, hoping they can get out of office and it will be someone else’s problem down the road.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now at the same time as the Trudeau government has raised alarms about the extent of warming in this country, federal and provincial governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of about $3 billion a year. Also, as we’ve reported extensively on The Real News, the Trudeau government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to buy its TransMountain tar sands pipeline. Keith, doesn’t this new study– I mean, what Justin Trudeau did on Monday was he held it up and said to the public and in particularly was addressing the conservatives and those who are opposed to the carbon tax, this shows that we have to impose a carbon tax. But doesn’t it also highlight the recklessness of the Trudeau government’s continued defense of the fossil fuels industry, its massive investments in the fossil fuels industry, this perpetuation of our dependence on fossil fuels?

KEITH STEWART: Absolutely. Subsidies in fossil fuels is basically like a negative carbon tax. You’re making them cheaper in order to get people to use more. Similarly, the federal government yesterday was denying that, in response, were denying that the purchasing the pipeline was a subsidy to fossil fuels. Well it is and I think the Trudeau government is trying to have it both ways. They say we’re going to do a carbon tax and we’re going to promote expansion of the oil industry. If you’re serious about climate change, that means getting off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible by mid-century, at the latest. Building a new tar sands pipeline that has to operate for 50 years to make the money back, makes no sense at this point if you’re seriously committed to achieving the Paris climate goals, to protecting the future of our economy, of our communities, of our ecosystems. So it’s not one step forward, one step back which is kind of what we’re seeing from the federal liberals. It’s got to be leaping forward and I think the big problem in Canada and also similarly in the U.S. and many other places is that entrenched power of the fossil fuel interests in Canada and particularly the oil lobby. In the US it’s also the coal lobby who are basically saying, don’t go too fast. Give us time to get our money out. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has launched an election campaign in Alberta saying, we want to double the rate of growth of oil production in Alberta and here’s all things you have to do to help us do that which is kill regulations, get rid of carbon pricing, build new pipelines. That’s basically asking people to vote for climate destruction.

And I think this is going to be a big issue in the federal election here in the fall as we have the conservatives who are saying do nothing about climate change and give more subsidies to the oil industry. You have the liberals who are saying let’s do stuff on climate change but not touch oil production. So they are doing a coal phase out, they’re doing a bunch of other measures. But basically, oil is sacrosanct and what we really need is a push for this kind of a Green New Deal which actually, we can make our lives better. We can create great green jobs right across the country. We can deal with all sorts of problems in this country by the kind of investments that are necessary, putting people to work, solving the climate crisis.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada about an important and alarming new study showing that the rate of warming in Canada is far above the global average. Thank you very much for joining us today, Keith.

KEITH STEWART: Thanks so much for having me on.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network.

U.S. states most and least dependent on the gun industry

Yahoo – Finance

These are the U.S. states most and least dependent on the gun industry

Aarthi Swaminathan, Finance Writer       April 23, 2019

‘In America, we value our guns more than our children:’ Fmr. Secretary of Education on gun debate

Some U.S. states rely on America’s robust gun culture more than others.

Gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson (AOBC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) saw sales boom under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, but firearms sales in the U.S. fell by 6.1% — the second year of decline.

And if the “Trump Slump” persists for gunmakers, Idaho will be the state hardest hit, according to a new report from WalletHub.

The study — which ranked all 50 states based on how the firearms industry contributed to the economic development of the state from jobs to sales, how prevalent guns were, and how far the state supported gun rights — found that Idaho was the state that was the most dependent on the gun industry.

(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)(Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Alaska came in second place, followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas.

“Most states in the top ten have state law immunity to the gun industry, which means that the state provides immunity from bringing lawsuits against certain gun industry defendants,” WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez told Yahoo Finance. “They also have more lenient age restrictions to purchase and possess firearms. Senators from the top ten states voted to either loosen gun restrictions or against a measure adding restrictions.”

Gun-friendly Idaho

Idaho’s dependency stems from its reliance on the firearms industry: Idaho ranked only behind New Hampshire — home to industry giants like Sig Sauer and Sturm Ruger — in terms of the number of people per capita employed by the firearms industry.

In 2018, the firearms industry contributed to nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity to the state, with over 3,600 people employed in companies that “manufacture, distribute and sell firearms, ammunition, and hunting equipment,” a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) report found.

The state also ranked in the top 5 in terms of gun-friendliness and the prevalence of guns.

Idaho began ramping efforts to attract the firearms industry in 2008 by touting its low wages, gun-friendly culture, and business climate, according to the Idaho Business Review. The plan has since paid off in less than a decade, as employment by the firearms industry grew 40% between 2012 and 2017.

An estimated 800 pro-gun activists turned out for a rally inside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman/MCT via Getty Images)An estimated 800 pro-gun activists turned out for a rally inside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman/MCT via Getty Images)

Overall, the NSSF also estimated that the firearms industry contributes to over $52 billion in economic activity to all 50 states, as gun manufacturers employed nearly 150,000 people, generated over $52 billion in economic activity, and its employees paid over $6.82 billion in taxes.

No guns in New Jersey

Gun-shy New Jersey ranked last on the list.

Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware followed.

In March 2018, the National Rifle Association criticized New Jersey — which is known for its exceptionally tough gun laws — after it elected anti-gun advocate Governor Phil Murphy as launching a “historic assault on our Second Amendment rights.”

Speaking in November 2018, after the mass shooting in in Parkland, Florida, Murphy stated: “Mass murder is not the price that we have to pay for the Second Amendment.”

While the number of outstanding registered firearms are roughly the same between both states — 52,527 in Idaho versus 59,000 in New Jersey — the deliberate emphasis on gun control has been effective in keeping the firearms industry’s influence largely out of the state’s economy.

In this photo provided by the New Jersey Governor's Office, Gov. Phil Murphy, center, signs several gun safety bills at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex Atrium in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, June 13 , 2018. The half-dozen new gun control laws tighten the state's already strict statutes. (Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor's Office via AP)In this photo provided by the New Jersey Governor’s Office, Gov. Phil Murphy, center, signs several gun safety bills at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex Atrium in Trenton, N.J., Wednesday, June 13 , 2018. The half-dozen new gun control laws tighten the state’s already strict statutes. (Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor’s Office via AP)

Nevertheless, the NSSF claimed that New Jersey did see a $560 million boost in economic activity because of the industry.

Overall, the bottom five overall had “some of the lowest numbers of firearms and ammunition dealers, importers and manufacturers per capita,” Gonzalez noted. “As a result, the total federal excise taxes paid by the firearms industry are also some of the lowest in the country.”

Another interesting takeaway from the study is that while Texas had the highest number of registered firearms at 637,612 in 2018, it was only ranked no. 22 on the list.

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance.

What If the Sahara Desert Was Covered With Solar Panels?

What.If

What If the Sahara Desert Was Covered With Solar Panels?

April 22, 2019

Could this be the solution to climate change?
#earthday

The planet has until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change

CNN is premiering a video.
How To Fix the Planet

April 22, 2019

According to United Nations experts, the planet has until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change. CNN climate change correspondent Bill Weir joins Full Circle to discuss his travels all around the world looking at the causes of, and solutions to, climate change.

How to fix the planet

According to United Nations experts, the planet has until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change. CNN climate change correspondent Bill Weir joins Full Circle to discuss his travels all around the world looking at the causes of, and solutions to, climate change.

Posted by CNN on Monday, April 22, 2019

Feedback loops will make climate change even worse

Yahoo News

David Knowles          April 22, 2019

John Oliver Revels In His Favorite Moment Of The Mueller Report

Sri Lanka’s violent past has created a polarized society ripe for radicalization

The Independent

Sri Lanka’s violent past has created a polarized society ripe for radicalization

Andreas Johansson, The Independent        April 22, 2019

Food Photos Could Change the Way You Think About Farmers

Civil Eats

Aliza Sokolow’s Food Photos Could Change the Way You Think About Farmers

The L.A.-based photographer has trained her lens on the growers in your local farmers’ market, showcasing the art and beauty of their hard work.

By Bridget Shirvell, Farming, Local Eats     April 19, 2019

Photo by Holly Liss; all other photos courtesy of Aliza Sokolow.

 

Scroll through the photos on your phone and chances are good that you’ll find at least one shot of food. And you’re not alone. Today, everything from how baristas decorate their lattes to the way restaurants plate their food is approached at least partly with an eye toward how it will look in a photo.

For Los Angeles-based photographer Aliza Sokolow, 33, food ’grams are about more than social status; they’re also a way to honor the people she admires most: farmers. A former food stylist who worked on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Recipe Rehab, Sokolow founded Poppyseed Agency, a social media and branding firm that works with food brands, restaurants, and chefs. Her photos show off produce: bright, carefully arranged citrus; sliced-open avocados; pints of blueberries from the farmers’ market—all showcased in a stunning line of prints and in her Instagram feed, where she also shares details about the people behind the food.

Aliza Sokolow photo by Holly LissPhoto by Holly Liss

“I really like to tell the stories of the farmers because they’re such heroes of mine,” Sokolow says. “They put in the manual labor and are able to tell when a tomato is ripe for the picking, something a machine is not capable of.” Her hope in capturing the work of her local farmers is to “give people a bit more knowledge and gratitude for what they’re eating and awareness as to how much went into what’s on the plate.”

The popularity of food photographs in social media feeds started off as a bit of joke, but as the influence of Instagram has grown, it has become one of the best ways to recommend and learn about restaurants. “Instagram feeds are the first place Millennials look when scoping out the food,” says Michelle Zaporojets, who runs social media marketing for several Boston-based restaurants. “Foodie influencers have so much power in driving traffic just from a single photo or Instagram Story.”

A self-trained photographer, Sokolow studied architecture and industrial engineering at UC Berkeley and graduated in 2009, at the height of the recession. Uncertain of what she wanted to do at a time when creative jobs were scarce, she took a job in television set design.

“The first day on set there were all these food stylists putting things together and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is like teeny tiny architecture. This is what I’m going to do when I grow up.’”

Sokolow started apprenticing and assisting on sets, and she eventually landed a job working as an assistant to food stylists on Food Revolution. It was while in that role that she took a tour of the Santa Monica farmers’ market with Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse, and met Karen Beverlin, a “produce hunter” who introduced her to every farmer at the market.

rose apples photo by Aliza SokolowSokolow says all the coolest things she knows about have come from farmers, like hidden rose (or Pink Pearl) apples (which have pink flesh), orange watermelons, oca wood sorrel, which comes in 32 different varieties and colors.

Her a-ha moment came one day when she brought produce from Laura Ramirez of J.J.’s Lone Daughter Ranch. Ramirez is known for growing a variety of citrus, 12 different kinds of avocados, and other specialty fruit. Sokolow bought two of each type of avocado, went home, cut them all open and took a picture that she posted online. It quickly caught the attention of editors at Food & Wine, who asked if they could use it.

“I was like ‘Oh, maybe that is art,’” says Sokolow.

After getting burned out from working in television, she leveraged the relationships she made at the farmers’ market to launch her digital agency, and began running the social media accounts for restaurant groups and chefs, including Mindy Segal and Suzanne Goin.

In 2016, Sokolow began selling prints of the photographs featured in her Instagram feed and some of them have made their way to restaurants around the United States, including L.A.’s République and Moody Rooster. She has also donated prints for fundraisers, including one for Brigaid.

She uses the eye she developed through her architecture training to style the food in her photos. She’ll line up a row of colorful carrots, or place circular slices of candy-striped beets on top one another until they create a dizzying, colorful display, or cut open citrus to expose their inner geometry. Then she’ll share the photos with her 33,000 followers along with tidbits about the people who grew them in a way that is genuine, educational, and fun.

Beets photo by Aliza Sokolow“By using color, she’s able to make something as simple as a single avocado looking visually beautiful and extremely appealing,” says Beverly Friedmann, a NYC-based content manager for consumer websites.

Aaron Choi of San Marcos-based Girl and Dug Farms says that while he’s can’t say for sure if Sokolow’s photographs of their produce has resulted in more sales, it has definitely attracted more Instagram followers for the farm.

“Her work has reached pockets of people who ordinarily wouldn’t browse a farm’s IG posts on their own,” Choi adds.

Sometimes she shoots directly at a farmers’ market, but most of the time Sokolow brings food home to photograph. It can take as long as a week to gather and shoot, as she travels from market to market across the city, seeking out particular items.

“The colors are what really excite me,” Sokolow says. “When you’re growing up, you think carrots are orange and watermelon is pink, but when I find a pink mushroom or I see that there are five different-colored carrots, that is so mind-blowing and exciting.”

After a food shoot, Sokolow cooks up the ingredients or shares them with friends. Her Instagram also features a number of snaps of cakes and other baked goods often topped with dehydrated fruits. She does a lot of dehydrating and drying, for instance, to make citrus chips that she displays on charcuterie boards.

“I’m really a snacker, so it works out very nicely,” Sokolow says.

Sokolow hopes to connect with even more people through her work. “I like to show the beauty that is what’s grown from the earth,” she says. “The farmers do the work. I just cut things open.”