How do restaurant workers live on some of the lowest wages in America?
And how do poor working conditions—discriminatory labor practices,
exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens—affect the meals that arrive at
our restaurant tables? Saru Jayaraman, who launched the national
restaurant workers' organization Restaurant Opportunities Centers
United, sets out to answer these questions by following the lives of
restaurant workers in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia,
Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit, and New Orleans.
Join Modern Times as we welcome Saru Jayaraman for a reading and
discussion of her book, the impetus behind it, and the complications
of creating sustainable economy.
"Sustainability is about contributing to a society that everybody
benefits from, not just going organic because you don't want to die
from cancer or have a difficult pregnancy. What is a sustainable
restaurant? It's one in which as the restaurant grows, the people grow
with it."—from Behind the Kitchen Door
Blending personal narrative and investigative journalism, Jayaraman
shows us that the quality of the food that arrives at our restaurant
tables depends not only on the sourcing of the ingredients. Our meals
benefit from the attention and skill of the people who chop, grill,
sauté, and serve. Behind the Kitchen Door is a groundbreaking
exploration of the political, economic, and moral implications of
dining out. Jayaraman focuses on the stories of individuals, like
Daniel, who grew up on a farm in Ecuador and sought to improve the
conditions for employees at Del Posto; the treatment of workers behind
the scenes belied the high-toned Slow Food ethic on display in the
front of the house.
Increasingly, Americans are choosing to dine at restaurants that offer
organic, fair-trade, and free-range ingredients for reasons of both
health and ethics. Yet few of these diners are aware of the working
conditions at the restaurants themselves. But whether you eat haute
cuisine or fast food, the well-being of restaurant workers is a
pressing concern, affecting our health and safety, local economies,
and the life of our communities. Highlighting the roles of the 10
million people, many immigrants, many people of color, who bring their
passion, tenacity, and vision to the American dining experience,
Jayaraman sets out a bold agenda to raise the living standards of the
nation's second-largest private sector workforce—and ensure that
dining out is a positive experience on both sides of the kitchen door.