New School News

Who’s in the Kitchen?

People shop at a produce cart near Union Square on Monday afternoon. Photo by Kasia Broussalian/The New School.

Today’s food movement is like a Ringling Brothers circus: Under food culture’s big tent, a number of acts compete for attention. Reality TV shows turn chefs into celebrities, farm-to-table restaurants develop cultlike followings, and vendors hawk $11 BluePrint bottled juices purported to meet every New Yorker’s dietary needs.  And don’t forget those working to eliminate food deserts, promoting environmentally sound farming practices, and cultivating the latest crop of highbrow foodies.

But who’s working behind the scenes? In many cases, it’s immigrants, who have become key actors in American food culture. This week, The New School’s Center for Public Scholarship (CPS) and Food Studies program host a variety of food experts at the 29th Social Research conference, on the theme “Food and Immigrant Life: The Role of Food in Forced Migration, Migrant Labor, and Re-creating Home.”

“Immigrants are so thoroughly embedded in our food system that they tend to become invisible,” said Fabio Parasecoli, Food Studies coordinator at the New School for Public Engagement, who organized the conference with CPS director Arien Mack. “This conference places migration and food service work in the context of a broader social justice agenda and explores the role food plays in the expression of cultural heritage.”

“Food and Immigrant Life” will take place on Thursday and Friday, April 18 and 19, 2013, at Tishman Auditorium and the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center. Dolores Huerta, co-founder and first Vice President Emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, will deliver the keynote address.

The conference consists of five sessions in which the cultural, political, and social importance of migrants in food service will be discussed. By drawing these disparate threads into one program, Parasecoli hopes to explore the economic role of migrant workers not only as service providers but also as potential entrepreneurs. “Migrants are not merely victims in the food industry; they are influential actors,” he said. “Food is a gateway to starting a business such as a restaurant, and people are actively seeking these opportunities.”

Parasecoli developed the theme of the program after observing how the public connects with those he calls the protagonists of the food world—the chefs, farmers, and advocates—while giving little thought to the people harvesting, processing, and delivering the food. “Migrants are the nuts and bolts of the system, yet people rarely notice the busboys or kitchen workers. There needs to be greater awareness of this community and its centrality to the food industry.”

Admission is $45 for the entire program and $15 per session. The conference is free for full-time students and New School faculty, alumni, and staff. Register by emailing View the complete program and speakers’ bios at

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