Back in college, one of my favorite American literature professors remarked, “If you want to sense of a culture’s inner-workings, take a look at what’s happening around the kitchen table.” At the time he was referring to the plethora of metaphors of America as “melting pot” vs. “salad,” but I was reminded of his observation during this week’s interview. In the Grand Foodie race to towards Ultimate Hipness, America’s restaurant culture disjointedly seeks acclaim for its sustainable veggies, meats, and grains while skirting sustainable labor practices for those who cook, clean, and serve. As the brilliant Saru Jayaraman would point out, America’s restaurant scene is not one of yuppie abundance, but deeply ingrained inequality.
As the co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), Saru is a leading voice in workers’ rights–particularly in regard to establishing a raising a livable minimal wage. Like other successful advocacy campaigns, ROC supports restaurant workers with traditional in-person actions across the country, but its ingenuity comes through in its innovative media reinforcements. For example, ROC’s Diners Guide mobile app empowers consumers to support restaurants that cultivate sustainable labor practices and ROC’s online “Living Off Tips” campaign crowdsources narratives of injustice (ranging from economic to facing sexual abuse) in the industry. To learn more about ROC’s and Saru’s work, check out their recent book, Behind the Kitchen Door, and join their movement for a more inclusive and responsible food system.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Saru Jayaraman!