Book Review: Behind the Kitchen Door

behindthekitchendoorRead for: I bought this for J but totally read it before giving it to him…

Rating: 4.5/5

I picked up a copy of this from Spartacus books while I was in the city last (I know I said I was on a book-buying-ban, but technically this was a gift for J so it doesn’t count, right?). It was on their new releases shelf and the shiny cover caught my eye like I’m a small child with A.D.D. or something. I thought it would be a great read for J because he is a chef and I have heard a lot of his griping about how workers are treated in the restaurant industry. This book is a real eye opener for anyone who eats in restaurants (which, I assume, is a great number of people) and I highly recommend it. Restaurant workers are getting screwed all over the place! This book focuses solely on workers in the United States, with particular emphasis on immigrant workers, and is written by Saru Jayaraman – co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centre. She tells the stories of workers who have come in contact with the ROC in search of workplace justice. Restaurant workers are paid a pittance in the USA – just $2.13 an hour comes from their employer, and they rely on tips to beef their wage up to the minimum. No tips = no wage. There are literally workers in the USA today that are working their butts off to bring people their food and at the end of their shift will walk away with nothing. This is insane and can’t be allowed to continue. This book covers a wide array of topics important to the restaurant industry including how race can affect workers in the kitchen (hint: people are racist!), the role women play in the industry (hint: people are sexist!), and discussions on how utterly pathetic the $2.13 wage for tipped workers is in the USA (hint: no one can live on $2.13/hr!!) This book had me feeling a lot of feels, most of them on the incredibly frustrated end of the spectrum. This book is important and though just a few years ago I was blissfully unaware that restaurant workers needed someone to stand up for them, I’m glad Jayaraman and the ROC have. The message this book is promoting is that the public needs to include worker’s rights into the whole “sustainable food” movement:

To most foodies “sustainable food” refers to food that is grown without the use of pesticides or other harmful chemical agents, and livestock that is raised humanely and without hormones. When we hear the words “sustainable food,” we also tend to think of food that is produced locally to reduce the amount of environmental damage caused by transporting food thousands of miles to cities across the country. Most foodies care about how we define “sustainable food” because they are concerned about their health and the environment. However, “sustainable food” also needs to embody fair and equitable labor practices. Food can’t really be healthy, ethically consumed, or sustainable if it’s prepared and served in an environment that permits abuse, exploitation, and discrimination. It’s definitely not sustainable to eat food served by workers who cannot afford to feed their families and face the added burden of having their wages and tips stolen. Sustainable food, by definition, must include sustainable labor practices. (pg. 32)

Amen!

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