Behind the Kitchen Door

Behind the Kitchen Door

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by Saru Jayaraman
     
 

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"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

How do restaurant workers live on some of

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Overview

"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

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.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For all its talk of organic foods and sustainability, the restaurant industry pays little mind to the health and welfare of its own low-wage employees. In this persuasive volume, Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director, with Fekkak Mamdouh, of the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United, draws attention to servers, bussers, runners, cooks, and dishwashers across the country "struggling to support themselves and their families under the shockingly exploitative conditions that exist behind most restaurant kitchen doors." Jayaraman recalls instances where wait staff at eateries in Washington, D.C., for example, or New York City handled food when they were sick: one woman had pink eye; another man had contracted H1N1; neither had sick days to use or medical insurance. Not only did they prolong their illnesses by working, they put their customers' health at risk. Though Jayaraman cites studies and statistics aplenty, it is stories like these that effectively illustrate her point. She also addresses racism in restaurants, where "workers got darker - literally! - as you walked from the front door to the kitchen, and the darker the workers' skins, the less money they were likely to earn." Jayaraman champions employee causes and argues fervently against discrimination, giving restaurant owners, diners, and readers considerable food for thought.
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Library Journal
Subminimum wages, discrimination, and workplace danger beset most food workers in America. Activist Jayaraman helped workers who lost their union jobs in the World Trade Center's restaurant, Windows on the World, on 9/11. The restaurant owner promised to rehire them at a new restaurant, but hired only a few at reduced wages. Jayaraman's Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) grew out of this first campaign. The author reveals why ROC is such a powerful movement: many restaurants steal workers' wages and tips, and put white workers in the best jobs out front while assigning those of color to the worst kitchen work. Women are harassed and not promoted. Few food workers have insurance or even sick leave, which is a problem not just for the workers; patrons also suffer when ill workers prepare and serve meals. Finally, Jayaramen makes a clear connection between worker abuse and filthy kitchens, rotten food, and customer illness. ROC has won back-wages and sick time for restaurant workers and partnered with responsible restaurant owners to improve both working conditions and profitability. VERDICT This book will leave readers angry at the injustices detailed within, queasy about eating out, and much better tippers.—Duncan Stewart, Univ. of Iowa Libs., Ames
From the Publisher

"For all its talk of organic foods and sustainability, the restaurant industry pays little mind to the health and welfare of its own low-wage employees. In this persuasive volume, Jayaraman draws attention to servers, bussers, runners, cooks, and dishwashers across the country 'struggling to support themselves and their families under the shockingly exploitative conditions that exist behind most restaurant kitchen doors.' . . . Jayaraman champions employee causes and argues fervently against discrimination, giving restaurant owners, diners, and readers considerable food for thought."—Publishers Weekly (11 February 2013)

"The author reveals . . . [how] many restaurants steal workers' wages and tips, and put white workers in the best jobs out front while assigning those of color to the worst kitchen work. Women are harassed and not promoted. Few food workers have insurance or even sick leave, which is a problem not just for the workers; patrons also suffer when ill workers prepare and serve meals. . . . This book will leave readers angry at the injustices detailed within, queasy about eating out, and much better tippers."—Library Journal (15 February 2013)

"Behind the Kitchen Door is a powerful expose of the labor practices of the contemporary restaurant industry. . . . Throughout the book, the author brings her points alive by providing profiles and stories from individual restaurant workers."—Janice Fine, ILRReview (October 2014)

"With Behind the Kitchen Door, Saru Jayaraman has introduced a fresh and essential perspective on our culture's food obsessions and dining habits. By highlighting the lives and circumstances of workers who are often unseen and unheard, she has helped us see that labor is a key ingredient of authentic sustainability, and greatly enriched our understanding of those people who have—whether we have recognized it or not—been part of some of the most important celebrations of our lives."—Danny Glover, actor, producer, and cofounder of Louverture Films

"Half of all Americans eat out at least once a week. The restaurant has become our second kitchen. In her groundbreaking new book, Saru Jayaraman exposes a missing plotline in the story of our food: the story of who's behind the kitchen door, how they’re treated, and why it matters. Hers is a captivating, rousing story. If you care about where your food comes from, this book is for you. Read this book, get inspired, and join the fight for fair food behind the kitchen door." —Anna Lappé, founder of the Real Food Media Project and bestselling author of Diet for a Hot Planet

"The poorest paid workers in America are the ones most likely to be cooking your food and washing your dishes. Saru Jayaraman tells their stories with searing analysis and vital compassion in this landmark book. She shows how the most exploited aren't just victims, but survivors organizing for dignity and safety in the food system. And in so doing, she helps us understand that sustainable food isn’t just about how organic or local the food is, but how high workers can hold their heads."—Raj Patel, bestselling author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801451720
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
02/12/2013
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
1,371,293
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Saru Jayaraman is cofounder and codirector of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness, and Chew On This, and he has been a contributor to The Atlantic since 1994.

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Behind the Kitchen Door 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended! An amazing eye-opening read! Everyone who eats out should read this book. We all need to advocate for food worker rights (paid sick days, a living wage, etc.) not just because it's the right thing to do but for the entire public's health!