Food That Is Good

Injustice in the restaurant industry is relatively easy to fix. We are not dealing here with some intractable problem built into the nature of human interaction or of capitalism or of the modern world. I’m not proposing steps that would put restaurants out of business. Justice for restaurant workers is actually good for business -- albeit perhaps not in the very short term.

Restaurant owners just need a little more incentive to take the short-term hit in favor of longer-term gain. And that incentive can come from us, the customers. The customers have the power.

I’m about to suggest that you do something that I myself, I have to confess, as of this writing, have never done. When you eat out, maybe not every time, but every once in a while, as your meal concludes, talk to people. This is terrifying for me because I am an introvert. I can stand up in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday because I had a lot of time by myself to think through what I want to say, and I’ve grown comfortable with that context. Striking up conversations with strangers about topics that might be prickly is never going to be a line in any song about a few of my favorite things. But I’m going to try. And if those of you who a little more extroverted than me will do it, and then tell me how it went for you, that’ll help me do it. And together we’ll be able to tell others.

First, there’s talking to the workers.
“Ask your servers, bussers, and food runners about their wages and tips and find out how their managers treat them when they’re sick.”
Maybe take a copy of Saru Jayaraman's book along with you and start by saying, “I’ve been reading this book and learning how hard it is for some restaurant workers. May I ask you about your work?”

Second, there’s asking if you could see the manager. If possible, go to the manager’s office so that you can look around the kitchen on your way back. If you notice that all the wait staff are paler and all the dishwashers are darker, you might just mention that you noticed that.
“Ask about training and promotion opportunities for lower-level workers.”
Do you think you could do that? At Community Unitarian Church, on Sun Feb 23, we'll be having a class to discuss Behind the Kitchen Door. By that time, I’m going to be able to say that that I have.

We Unitarian Universalists pride ourselves in living our religion. "Deeds not creeds," is our motto. And we do have a long and proud history of Universalists and Unitarians living their faith in the world as union organizers. Unitarian Frances Perkins was the first female Secretary of Labor, often credited with the creation of social security. Indeed, way back 200 years ago, Unitarian founder William Ellery Channing actively supported the Workingman’s Association, a precursor to Labor Unions. Our forebears modeled faith-filled activism, worked for economic justice, labored for labor.

Now it’s our turn.
  1. Read the book: Saru Jayaraman, Behind the Kitchen Door. Then,
  2. follow-up by reading the Restaurant Opportunity Center's (ROC) National Diner's Guide to Ethical Eating (CLICK HERE).
  3. Come to the class on Sun Feb 23 -- at 11:30 at Community Unitarian Church -- to talk about it.
You can find out which restaurants have fair labor practices and go to those. I’ll tell you that in the New York area restaurants getting high marks include Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square CafĂ© and all of Tom Colicchio’s places like Witch Craft and Riverpark.

The chains getting low marks for the way they treat their workers include Friendly’s, Chili’s, Applebee’s, IHOP, Chipotle, Cold Stone Creamery, Dominos, Olive Garden, Outback, Red Lobster and Yard House.

Diner’s guide, guide my feet. Guide my feet along the paths of justice – and along the path of food that is good – good in the ethical sense as well as in the gustatory sense.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "Behind the Kitchen Door"
Previous: Part 3: "Restaurant Injustice"
Beginning: Part 1: "Ethical Eating...Out"

1 comment:

  1. Here are some more resources:

    Ethical Eating List Serve: http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/EthicalEating-Network

    Faith Development Curriculum for adults, young adults, and mature youth: http://dovecurriculum.blogspot.com/