Food Workers Scramble to Put Food on Their Tables

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Nov. 14, 2016

One in seven American workers is employed in some segment of the food chain, from apple pickers to packing-house workers, truckdrivers to supermarket clerks to fast food counter staff. And many of them increasingly struggle to put food on their own tables, according to a report released Monday from the Food Chain Workers Alliance, an advocacy group founded in 2009, and the Solidarity Research Center. What’s more, the problem is worse among women and people of color.

What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Aug. 24, 2016

If I ask you what Detroiters eat to cool off on hot summer days, chances are you think of two Midwestern staples: ice cream and pop. If you know Detroit you might even think Faygo or Vernors. (You may also, to be honest, think beer.)

But folks around Lawndale Street, on the city’s southwest side, have an option that might seem, to outsiders, an odd fit for Detroit: Mexican-style frozen sweets and snacks from a six-table, five-year-old shop called Mangonadas del Barrio. The shop’s namesake, a variation on a popsicle, is a godsend on a steamy August afternoon—and it’s so popular that owner Antonio Hernandez opened up a second shop in June. Continue reading “What Chili-Mango Ice Cream Says About Urban Renewal”

Pita and Hummus: The Next Great American Foods?

“The Plate,” National Geographic • May 6, 2016

Picture a traditional American meal, and chances are good that you’re headed for the 1950s: burgers and fries, fried chicken and potato salad, maybe an Italian-turned-American-staple like pizza (see How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie.)

But chances are good that the cuisine of the Middle East, a region whose immigrants to the U.S. face varying levels of acceptance, does not come to mind right away.

And yet, at the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards this week, a Lebanese restaurant was named an “America’s Classic.Continue reading “Pita and Hummus: The Next Great American Foods?”

How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie

“The Plate,” National Geographic • May 4, 2016

If you’re wondering about how and why food gets appropriated—i.e. when Americans consider it their own—think about this: Eating Italian food was once considered “slumming.” So what does it take for a foreign cuisine to melt into America’s pot? We talked to Krishnendu Ray, the director of NYU’s Food Studies program and author of The Ethnic Restaurateur, a book about how immigrants to the U.S. shape the food culture, who gave us a step-by-step breakdown of how a cuisine can go from unnoticed to avant-garde; from popular to prestigious. Continue reading “How Italian Cuisine Became as American as Apple Pie”

Some Restaurateurs Are Building Better Benefits Into Food Jobs

“The Plate,” National Geographic • Feb. 2, 2016

The eggs and flour at Rose’s Fine Food, a diner on Detroit’s deep east side, are local. The bread and mustard, the donuts and pickles and beets, are all made in-house. The lunch menu offers a $13.75 rabbit sandwich; the chef apprenticed at San Francisco’s famed Tartine bakery; and there is a well-worn Ottolenghi book among the stack of cookbooks displayed on a kitchen shelf. In this, Rose’s is unmistakably a trendy kind of place.

But Rose’s is also becoming known for a new kind of trend: Paying restaurant workers a decent wage and offering opportunity for advancement. Continue reading “Some Restaurateurs Are Building Better Benefits Into Food Jobs”

‘Forked’ Rates Restaurants On How They Treat Their Workers

“The Salt,” National Public Radio • Feb. 2, 2016

Saru Jayaraman may be restaurant obsessed, but don’t call her a foodie. She’s the founding director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization that advocates for better wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. She’s also published several studies in legal and policy journals as director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley.

The combination of grassroots and ivory tower makes Jayaraman arguably one of the country’s leading experts on what it’s like to live as a restaurant worker in America. She’s someone celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer turned to as he decided to banish tipping at some of his restaurants to try and close the pay gap between what his servers and dishwashers make. Continue reading “‘Forked’ Rates Restaurants On How They Treat Their Workers”

Reporters love to show we had “impact.” Fingers crossed that Applebee’s is switching their focus to fresh because of me!

Huff Post Food • July 2, 2012

Everyone is allowed a small mid-life crisis — even the world’s largest casual dining chain. Applebee’s President Mike Archertold USA Today that he wants to create a “new generation of Applebee’s lovers.” Continue reading “Reporters love to show we had “impact.” Fingers crossed that Applebee’s is switching their focus to fresh because of me!”

ah: My one-time employer Applebee’s fails @ROCUnited ‘s Dining Guide. #catchingUp

I’ve been waiting for the Dining Guide from the Restaurant Opportunities Center for a while, and it does not disappoint.

Well, scratch that: It does disappoint, but only because they find such depressing norms across the restaurant industry, which now employs nearly 10 percent of U.S. workers. My alma-mater, Applebee’s, came through with straight failing grades: it doesn’t win on tipped wages, regular wages, paid sick days, or advancement.

I’ve found ROC United’s work on the links between food safety/quality and decent work conditions to be persuasive. And they make a compelling case throughout their work that if consumers are going to fret about the conditions under which their food is grown, they ought to at least glance at how the workers involved in that process are treated, too.

Besides noting Applebee’s failings, the Dining Guide subtly reveals an important point: You don’t have to sell food at high-end prices treat your workers well.  Most of the restaurants that won high-road designations, in fact, feature entrées priced beneath $20 apiece, and several clock in at under $10.